Moderator guidelines

Introduction

  • Moderation is not for everyone. It can be a grateful but also a very ungrateful role. As moderator you get to speak your mind the least. You facilitate others speaking their mind.
  • The process of moderation is no exact science. It is a road filled with trial and error. Self-doubt and pessimism might occur at some point.
  • So, why bother? In our experience it is beautiful to see people opening up and see trust grow as well as self-confidence – and to know that you were instrumental in this.

Participants

  • You need to select and invite participants personally. Make sure they have different social statuses – don’t make the mistake of only recruiting individuals with a self-perceived distance to society or the labor market. At the same time, pick people who care about a common topic and organise the group around this topic. It doesn’t matter really what the topic is as long as it provides participants with an intrinsic motivation to engage.
  • Do not invite more than 15 individuals. Bigger groups tend to fall apart into subgroups.
  • Frame the group not in terms of problems or challenges. Stress the social part (“belonging”) and the potential advantages (“achievement”). Stress the common topic.
  • For ‘have-nots’ make it clear that the group will not be a self-help group, nor a community or a cult. It is a place for people to empower each other and together achieve a better position for themselves and their offspring.
  • For ‘haves’ stress that empathy during the pandemic has become a key qualification in the workplace, especially among managers (and up).
  • Establish with the group whether participants may choose to be anonymous during sessions (this means: chat-only for them) or not. Establish whether video is to be turned on by the participants during the sessions. When dealing with a group with low internal trust or with sensitive topics, anonymity might be a good starting-point. Anonymity loosens the constraints on behavior in the sense that participants feel less social inhibitions and a lesser need to be personally consistent.

Technology

  • Be aware that not everybody is tech savvy. Fortunately, as a result of the pandemic, many are used to online communication. Nevertheless, be prepared to offer assistance.
  • Be aware not all have high-speed internet and suitable devices. Be understanding.
  • Choose a communication platform that respects user privacy. You’ll find a list here.
  • Do not change the platform after you have chosen one, unless there are grave reasons to do so.

Style

  • As a moderator you are responsibility for the safety of the participants and the rhythm of the sessions. Being a moderator you are not ‘better’ than the participants. You fulfill a role.
  • It is essential that you never distance yourself from the participants. They are ‘us’, not ‘them’. You should never be arrogant, condescending or invoke a hierarchical position. It is tempting to feel important and all-knowing while moderating. Don’t. You facilitate. You do not rule.
  • You are to make participants feel ownership of the sessions.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Stimulate an atmosphere of compliments and recognition. Interfere when compliments are condescending, sarcastic or ironic.
  • Interfere in case of negative, evaluative (“you are …”), rude exaggerating, condescending, ad hominem sarcastic or ironic and off-topic remarks or reactions.
  • Speak clear and not too fast. Use pauses.
  • Understand automatic behavior. Certain types of actions will provoke foreseeable reactions.  An attack will be followed by a rebellious reaction, leading behavior by following behavior, supportive actions by cooperative reactions and competing behavior by withdrawing or rebellious behavior. Interfere in that process when a negative reaction is foreseeable.
  • Use non-verbal communication like emojis, action words or sound imitating words or by accentuating by using bold, italic or underlined words or by using capitals, punctuation marks or odd spellings.
  • Stimulate close reading and listening.
  • Stimulate critical thinking and asking questions. Discourage a belief in simple solutions.
  • Gently interrupt rambling participants.
  • Gently prompt silent participants to join in.
  • Discourage self-aggrandising remarks or complaining by participants.
  • Let participants find fault with themselves . It’s their journey. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to become personal. And, stimulate them to see shortcomings and failures as the starting-points of an interesting challenge.
  • Affirm positive passions.
  • Try to avoid asking questions to the whole group, rather ask specific individuals.
  • Don’t ask who agrees, ask who disagrees.

Ground rules

While recruiting and at the beginning of the first session ground rules for being a part of the group should be explained.

  • Participants should avoid negative, evaluative (“you are …”), rude exaggerating, condescending, ad hominem sarcastic or ironic and off-topic remarks or reactions. This is part of the ground rules. The moderator enforces these ground rules.
  • Participants should be patient with each other. They should withhold snap reactions. Ideally, every participant should feel that they have time when they speak – not because others are multitasking but because they show genuine interest. Having time even after taking a breath or a pause makes participants feel that they are taken seriously – especially when reactions show close listening.
  • Participants should follow the protocol, which you have to explain to them. They should know what is expected from them during the different modules: check-in and check-out: only one participant is engaged at the time; discussion: all are engaged.
  • During check-out participant make notes of their remarks. They are to be used during an evaluation session.
  • Participants adhere to confidentiality. What happens in the session stays in the session.
  • Participants are to be open to being open.

Structure

  • All sessions are synchronous, live online meetings.
  • Participants are to meet weekly, at a set day and time.
  • The meetings should last no longer than 60 minutes. This seems to be the maximum time frame in which people can refrain from taking up their smartphones, provided they are engaged. The moment participants start multitasking the seams of the meeting come loose: communication becomes asynchronous and trust quickly evaporates.
  • Be aware that online communications is slower and costs more energy. Maybe have a two minutes break after 30 minutes.
  • Organise five regular sessions and then an evaluation session.
  • The regular sessions follow the same protocol.
  • Ideally participants provide concrete topics for each regular session.
  • During check-in and check-out use a different moderation style: direct your default question in the same form, over and over, to one participant at the time; focus all attention on that participant; make sure that no other participant interferes; show no emotion during the interaction; react by saying ‘Thank you’ when the participant has finished their answer.
  • During check-in you take short notes regarding the answers of the individual participants. They are to be used during an evaluation session.
  • The evaluation session is different from the regular sessions. In the sessions individual participants are to reflect on their achievements. The moderator will present an interpretation of the subsequent check-in answers; the participants will reflect on their check-out answers, as written down in notes.