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Amplifying Facilitation Outcomes: Designing for People, Technology, Data & Systems

By: Aaron Wolowiec | May, 24 2024
Facilitation Methods & Strategic Planning

This design considerations grid was first drafted by Aaron Wolowiec for a Technology of Participation (ToP) Strategic Planning Online (TSPO) course in November 2023.

Designing a successful facilitated session involves a delicate interplay of various factors, each influencing the overall participant experience and project/initiative outcomes. Whether it's a brainstorming session, a strategic planning exercise, or a team-building workshop, the effectiveness of facilitation hinges on thoughtful consideration of key elements from the outset. One of the critical aspects shaping the facilitation process is the set of questions asked during the initial design phase. By probing into areas such as the people involved, the existing technology, the available data, and the current systems in place, facilitators lay the groundwork for tailored and impactful group facilitations. These questions serve as guideposts, illuminating the path from strategy to implementation via a cohesive design plan that aligns with the unique needs and objectives of the participants, organization, and industry.

Understanding the intricacies of the people, technology, data, and systems not only informs the facilitator's design decisions but also sets the stage for a collaborative and productive session. Each aspect presents its own set of challenges and opportunities, demanding careful consideration and adaptation. From assessing the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of participants to leveraging the right technological tools for seamless communication and collaboration, every choice made in the design process plays a pivotal role in shaping the facilitation journey. Moreover, delving into the available/desired data and systems provides valuable insights that can be leveraged to foster innovation, problem-solving, and collective decision-making within the group. Therefore, by asking the right questions early on, facilitators pave the way for an engaging and purposeful experience that maximizes the potential of every participant. 

This blog post on 10 Practical Ideas for Overcoming the Implementation Gap, written in March 2022, introduces a core concept called the implementation gap and outlines 10 practical ideas for overcoming it. Below, you’ll find a deeper dive into some of the key questions and associated design choices in four principal areas of facilitation — people, technology, data, and systems — to help amplify your implementation efforts. When groups start with the end in mind, they’re more likely to reach the end of the facilitation journey prepared, supported, and ready to follow through on the most important part of any planning effort: the action items. Without clarity around who will do what by when, you’re left with a beautiful and well-intentioned strategy that does little more than take up space and collect dust.


In my work with associations, including strategic planning efforts, I’m often asked to work with two different sets of participants on a single project/initiative. One group comprising Board members and other senior/experienced volunteers may be charged with lending their subject matter/industry expertise to craft the core organization strategy whereas the other group may comprise staff and other key volunteers who will be tasked with implementing the identified strategy.

  • Is the strategy group different from the implementation group?
    • If yes, consider diverse working groups with clear roles, responsibilities, tasks, and timelines to ensure a more seamless transition from strategy to implementation.
  • Is the implementation group participating in the strategy process?
    • If no, schedule and lead an orientation/transition call once the strategy group has concluded its work and before the implementation group begins theirs.
  • What will the handoff look like between the two groups?
    • In addition to an orientation/checkin, consider having one or two representatives from the strategy group tasked with participating in the implementation group to ensure continuity and to answer questions of clarity that may arise as implementation begins.
  • Who will serve as the overall project manager?
    • This should not just be the person with the most seniority, but the person most skilled at project managing the details. It may be helpful to organize additional coaching/mentoring for the project manager either on a short-term or long-term basis to maximize outcomes.


The success of many group initiatives often lies in having and appropriately using technology to support ongoing implementation work. After all, these are often long projects implemented over many months with lots of variables and potential roadblocks. However, if not everyone knows what technology is available, how to use it (i.e., at a baseline), how to maximize it (e.g., through automation), or consistently uses it to manage action items and meet deadlines, implementation plans can quickly stall out as barriers are encountered or priorities shift.

  • What project management platform does the group use?
    • If there is one, does everyone have a login and know how to access it? How many people are using workarounds vs. the identified project management platform? If no tool is available, it may be helpful to share platform recommendations or even support the organization through an RFP, selection, and onboarding process.
  • How proficient/consistent is the team in using this technology?
    • If a project management tool exists, but stakeholders are not consistently using it, it may be necessary to train/coach them in their existing platform (or source an expert who can).
  • What communication tools/automations are available?
    • Often, groups have and are using some technology tools, but not to their fullest extent. If you can help inventory a group’s communication tools (e.g., email, Slack, and Teams), you might be able to coach them into certain automations, reminders, or other features to  optimize existing workflows that will ultimately lighten the load.
  • Does this platform have dashboard capabilities?
    • If yes, demo what the platform is capable of producing. This should help the group better envision how they could organize, manage, and use dashboards to make data-informed decisions moving forward.

Data & Dashboards

Speaking of data and dashboards, it was Peter Drucker who said: “What gets measured gets managed.” It’s a basic tenet that if you're measuring something then the probability of the group following through on action items and acting on the resulting data is a lot higher. So taking the time to help organizations think through not only the data and dashboards they might find most useful, but how often they will review them, how roadblocks will be identified, and when course corrections will be initiated will help the group to better act on the plan when you’ve exited the facilitation engagement and they’ve begun implementing in earnest.

  • What do you want to track?
    • This might include anything from measurable outcomes/SMART goals to total tasks completed, outstanding, or overdue. 
  • What visuals will be most compelling for your group?
    • One group might benefit from a Gantt chart of tasks where another might benefit from a red/yellow/green stoplight system seeing what initiative is most ahead of/behind schedule. It’s not enough for the visuals to be pretty; they also need to be easily understood and actionable. 
  • How will the dashboard be monitored on an ongoing basis?
    • Not only should the dashboard data be inputted/updated on a regular basis (e.g., weekly or biweekly), the group should also add a regular review of the dashboard to the start of each team/staff meeting.
  • How will needed course corrections be identified and initiated?
    • Whether in team/staff meetings, one-on-one meetings, board meetings, or other outlets, it’s important to not only regularly monitor the plan but also timely identify/initiate course corrections. Ultimately, the goal is to overcome roadblocks quickly, get back on track with as little delay as possible, and regain momentum. 


Finally, while a substantial amount of time goes into a strategic planning exercise, the bulk of the work happens during the implementation phase. And if those implementing the plan don’t change current habits/systems to best integrate implementation steps into their day-to-day work, it surely won’t be successful. The strategy will have been great in theory, but everyone will go back to their busy pre-strategy habits and tasks (which could actually be moving the organization further away from its desired future). 

  • Are staff blocking dedicated implementation time?
    • Encourage staff to block dedicated implementation time on their calendars each week. Even 30 minutes a week would make a big difference!
  • How is the group celebrating wins and supporting setbacks?
    • Infusing these win/setbacks into regular team meeting agendas, deploying/reallocating appropriate organization resources to support setbacks, giving kudos on internal communication channels (e.g., Teams, Slack), and publicly acknowledging successes, as appropriate. 
  • How will the plan be represented on meeting agendas?
    • Consider adding a 15-20 minute checkin at the start of regular team/staff meetings focused on strategy and interpreting high-level data/metrics.
  • How will the strategy/plan be used as a decision-making tool?
    • Help the group think through scenarios in which they could use the strategy/plan to make decisions about resources, including staff/volunteer time, budget implications, and innovation considerations. How would that be different from their current approach?
  • How will the next 90-day implementation plan be initiated?
    • Typically, we recommend groups work in 90-day implementation sprints. So they should add periodic staff summits to the calendar (at least once every 90 days) to review and refresh implementation plans, including accomplishments, outstanding tasks, and new initiatives/tasks.

The facilitation journey is ultimately enriched by the interconnected elements of people, technology, data, and systems. By posing insightful questions during the design phase, facilitators set the stage for impactful sessions that cater to participants' needs and organizational objectives. The seamless transition from strategy to implementation hinges on clear role definitions, consistent technology usage, and vigilant data monitoring. Additionally, fostering a culture that celebrates wins and supports setbacks can help embed the plan into day-to-day operations. Ultimately, by aligning these critical components, facilitators not only guide effective discussions but also empower groups to plan for and navigate challenges, innovate, and amplify their envisioned outcomes. 

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