The idea is to create an atmosphere of trust and openness where the ‘being’ of an individual is separate from his/her doing, seeing and saying. As a participant (being), an individual needs to feel safe and free to explore their lenses within the space (even things they are and aren’t allowed to say or think in a normal situation). Individuals will be accepted and respected regardless of what is expressed. Facilitators are responsible for creating a supportive atmosphere of equality and commitment to a learning process of exploration. Only in extreme circumstances they are advised to silence or exclude participants on the grounds of their perspectives.
The role of the facilitator is
- To open and close the space
- To create the right atmosphere by modelling behaviour
- To help focus when necessary
- To offer different interpretations
- To balance the mood of the space (celebration/cynicism)
- To act as devil’s advocate when the tendency of the group is to agree or see only through one perspective (to challenge consensus)
The opening and closing of the space is a necessary ‘ritual’ – especially to mark the return to other modes of engagement in schools. The opening ritual establishes the level of relationship of the group, therefore, a strategy that creates a closer environment is necessary (e.g. facilitator eye contact with members, a warm welcome, etc). The closing ritual starts with the debriefing of the learning process (last stage). Props can also be used to mark the opening and closing of the space (an activity, an object placed in the middle of the room, cards distributed to participants, special song or statement at the start and end of the session).
There is still a debate on whether facilitators should express their own perspectives to the group and take a more active role in the discussion. As a general rule, it is advisable that they should refrain from doing so until they feel confident that participants are not going to take the facilitator’s perspective as the prescribed truth they need to agree with. This might require familiarity with the methodology and the ethics of the space on the part of students.
The way facilitators create the space and relate to participants is determinant in the quality of the learning process, participation, and the level of ownership the group is allowed to have over the process. The ideal scenario is that, the role of the facilitator disappears as participants get used to the methodology and start to mediate the dialogue by themselves.
In the piloting process, the spaces proved to be a unique experience for unexamined discriminatory assumptions to be aired and deconstructed in dialogue – with a greater and more sustainable impact for long term change of perception. However, this process depends heavily on the type of space created: whether participants feel safe to express what they think (if they feel they will not be judged as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ individuals) and if they feel free to change their minds and think independently (if there is no peer or facilitator pressure to adhere to a certain perspective).