Moderation & Facilitation: Two different brothers!?

moderation facilitation

Some facilitators think that if they call themselves “Facilitators” instead of “Moderators”, it is simply a matter of semantics. They are different words, but with the same meaning. So why do some people refer to“Facilitation”, while others prefer to call it “Moderation”? Are there any differences between these two terms and, if so, what exactly is the difference? Is “Facilitation” perhaps a new form of “Moderation”?

Although there are differences between the words “moderate”, which stems from the “Latin word “moderatio” for temperance, guidance, and leadership and “facilitate” which in English means to make possible, enable and make easier, the terms “Moderator” and “Facilitator” are currently frequently used to describe the same thing.
Facilitation, as well as Moderation, means instructing or steering group discussions. However, if someone is looking for a Moderator, usually he/she is not looking for a Facilitator and vice versa. And a person who would like professional training in Moderation does not necessarily want training in Facilitation. Two different “scenes” actually coexist. Ultimately, the question is if these are simply two sides of the same coin.


How this happened: the differentiation

In the 1960s, the “Quickborn Team”, a management consultancy company for office design and communication, and its successors, developed a special method to design group discussions. It was the result of a so-called “training for decision-makers”, the aim of which was to make decision-making processes as participative and structured as possible. Among other things, it used the “ModerationsMethode” as a special way to design group discussions. Since then, many consultants and trainers have varied and developed the methods used. For the most part, the term “Moderation method” has been used. Nowadays, the number of offers using this term can hardly be overlooked. The relevant literature is very varied and as multifaceted as life itself. Anything goes, if that is what people want.

Beyond the large variety of individual approaches, some “standardized” Moderation methods, such as the “Moderationszyklus (moderation cycle) or “SixSteps Moderation” (Josef. W. Seifert) or “Zukunftswerkstatt” (Future Workshop by Jungk and others) were developed. Approximately at the same time, special methods or “designs” for steering groups were developed, especially in the USA, like “Open Space” (Owen) and World Café (Brown) – to mention only a few.

Whereas in German speaking countries, people talked about and are still talking about “Moderation”, in Anglo-Saxon areas, the same activity is referred to as “Facilitation”. The question is why.


Does the country need new methods?

Just as many management approaches have found their way from the USA to Europe, the “Facilitation approaches”, which originated, for the most part, in the USA at the end of the last century, found their way to German speaking countries and were eagerly absorbed. Something new from the USA – that is exactly what organizations and personnel developers, consultants, moderators and trainers were waiting for. They were able to present something new and work with shortcuts with which managers, bosses and project leaders were unfamiliar. The “moderation method”, “the thing with the little cards”, on the other hand, was already familiar to everyone and everyone felt competent to talk about it. The consultant was no longer an expert, but simply someone who used a specific method. So Facilitation & Co. appeared at the right time. Also, terminology is subject to fashion and terms change. Over time, “individual consultation” became “coaching”, “team development turned into “team coaching” and “organizational development” is now called “change management”; this list could be extended.
Of course there are experts who are quite willing to explain why a given expression is unique; this also applies to Moderation and Facilitation. Nevertheless, new expressions are constantly appearing and when established terminology is suspected of being old fashioned, it is avoided. So, the new replaces (or abolishes) the old.


Do you speak English?

Globalization means that management and project teams are becoming increasingly international. Thus, English has to be used ever more frequently for Moderation. The degree of networking and self-organization is rising worldwide and a new wave of employee participation and co-management is sweeping across the globe. Moderation / Facilitation are more in demand than ever and they are necessary. Groups meet face to face and also virtually, in online meetings in the internet. In an international context, Moderation turns into Facilitation and online-Moderation becomes eFacilitation. The question remains open if what has been described will result in “Moderation” being replaced by “Facilitation”.


Where are we today: Common features

Since the Anglo-Saxon concepts have been used by German-speaking Moderators, “Moderation” is sometimes referred to as Facilitation by some persons if used for structuring processes or process consultancy, and is sometimes referred to as Moderation by others. Some moderators have specialized in (or restricted themselves to) these approaches and call themselves “Facilitators” instead of “Moderators”. When asked for the reason why they call themselves “Facilitators”, they often say that it is the more suitable term, because their work is to “facilitate”. Would this inversely imply that the Moderator’s task is to make the work more difficult? No, a representative from the Facilitator group would respond, not more difficult, but not much easier either.

From the “New Moderators’” point of view, the classic method of moderating is too structured and the Moderator is the group’s obligatory “information manager”. He/she offers structured methods, keeps himself/herself in the background and is responsible for all of the collected topics to be properly “processed”. However, the Facilitator is, from the point of view of the Facilitator, the “arranger”, or the person responsible for actively designing the group process. He /she puts things into a more general framework, relies on self-organization and stays with “the flow”. While the ” genuine Facilitator” thinks that processing principles propagated, for instance, in Open Space, such as: “Whoever comes is the right person” ,” It starts when it starts”, “It ends when it ends” are just brilliant, the “classic Moderator” just turns away and shakes his/her head.

To put both points of view in a nutshell, one could say that Facilitation is self organization within an externally organized framework or self organization precedes external organization. Moderation is external organization with “controlled self-organization” or external organization precedes self organization. But do the “designs” really represent the term “Facilitation” and are the aimed at organizational patterns of “the two dissimilar brothers” really so different in the day to day life of a consultant? Is the “Moderation scene” really so strictly structured, has it missed the signs of the times, slept through progress? Did development end with brown packing paper, colored cards and red header clouds? The answer is a clear no. No, the concepts don’t represent the term Facilitation and no, the “Moderation scene” is not stuck fast – the opposite is the case.



While in German the term “Moderation” is also used for the presentation of a radio to TV broadcast, panels and talk shows, the term “Facilitation” in English is often used in the context of teaching and learning. However, it is also used independently from popular “standardized Moderation methods” like Open Space & Co. for designing participative problem-solving with groups.



In the area of Moderation or (to differentiate from radio and TV Moderation), more concretely in the area of “business Moderation” represented by MODERATIO, progress can be seen externally, among other things, in the professional equipment, such as the light-colored, friendly, recycling paper, solvent-free markers etc. as well as the very conscious use of colors and forms. New techniques and new technology are used: “Moderation goes Online.

In the future, Moderation will increasingly use digital media not only for web-conferencing, but also for live meetings. “Internally”, Moderation is “systemic” nowadays. To manually structure the Moderation, the “moderation Cycle” is used as a framework and choice of method. For the “psychological steering” of the Moderation, systemic Method know-how is useful.



One of the principal duties of a “systemic Moderator/Facilitator” is the reduction of complexity and the canalisation of self-organizing tendencies on the one hand, and the focusing of attention and solution-orientation on the other hand.

Reduction of complexity and self-organization

This means that the topics need to be cut into small “time slices” that need to be worked on “step by step”. The Moderation Cycle”, for instance, with its individual steps of Introduction, Gathering Topics, Selecting a Topic, Handling the Topic, Planning Measures, and Conclusion offer a clear process structure which can be easily communicated. For each of the “Six Steps”, an individual target is formulated and a suitable set of methods is available. The Cycle is used as a “Meta-Rule” for organizing common work.

Common work is thus given a clear and understandable structure which helps reduce complexity and makes things easier for everyone and is also a good process framework to add time slots for self organization. To do away with a wide-spread prejudice: giving clear structure to a process does not stand in the way of efforts to use the self-organizing forces of a system. The attempt to give people more responsibility by creating more autonomy for self organization must not lead to participants simply being left to their own devices. It would be a fatal error to think that a higher level of self-organization would justify transferring the responsibility for the process to the group. Rather, the new “systemic Moderation” encouraged by MODERATIO expects the Moderator to accept the responsibility of structuring the Moderation, but to also accept the fact that the Moderation Situation, the workshop, is a complex system that cannot be steered like a trivial machine. The Moderation Cycle, with its “firm structure”, the SixSteps, has thus been supplemented by the “relativizing element” systemic-constructivist perspective and (hypno-) systemic intervention methods.

Focus of attention and finding a solution

It is essential to focus attention on resources and possible solutions. Focusing attention on “problems” only robs energy and time from working on solutions. Naturally, it can sometimes be of help to have a look in the “rear view mirror”, for instance, in the framework of conflict-moderation or during a Lessons-Learned-Workshop after finishing a project. But here, too, the basic idea needs to be to focus on possible solutions. To counteract a common prejudice in this context: blind solution orientation is as harmful as blind problem orientation. Usually the problem contains suggestions for the solutions, since problems are expressions of needs. Problems are frequently the results or “side effects” of attempts at problem-solving, with which a “previous problem” was to be solved.


How to proceed: the future

Moderators as well as Facilitators profit from a systematic and systemic orientation in their roles as “problem-solving process consultants” when dealing with their highly complex tasks as consultants.

The “positive/constructive” basic attitude that has been described is the foundation for systemic Moderation with concepts and techniques from the systemic clarification of tasks to circular questions. These are concepts that will play a central role in the future for “Moderators” as well as “Facilitators”. On the one hand, the technological changes which have been mentioned and on the other hand, the systemic approach will be a kind of melting pot that unifies Moderation and Facilitation, even if the two different terms continue to be used in German speaking countries. In the future, differences will no longer be determined by terminology, but rather by the degree to which the approach is structured and the consistent use of systemic consulting know-how, with intervention concepts specifically designed for Moderation. The crucial factor for terminological differences will still simply be the language framework: Moderation in German and Facilitation in English.

Josef W. Seifert
(MODERATIO®, Seifert & Partner)