SRCCON:POWER Facilitator Guide
Collaboration is at the core of the SRCCON:POWER program. Facilitators lead hands-on sessions that explore how power operates in journalism, and prepare us to push for change in our own newsrooms and communities.
In This Guide
- What Sets SRCCON:POWER Apart?
- What Is a Facilitator and What Do They Do?
- Planning Your Session Before SRCCON:POWER
- Facilitating a Great Session Once You’re at SRCCON:POWER
- How Many People Will Be In My Session?
- What Kinds of People Will Be In My Session?
- What Materials Will I Have?
- How Much Time Will I Have?
- Will My Session Be Recorded?
- Tips on Effective Facilitation
- Tips on Running an Inclusive Session
- Additional Resources
What Sets SRCCON:POWER Apart?
SRCCON:POWER, like all our SRCCON events, is highly participatory. Everyone is engaged in learning, building, and problem-solving together. When you run a session at SRCCON:POWER, you’re in a room with dozens of other smart people with an opportunity to compare notes, share skills, and help everyone learn from each other.
SRCCON:POWER is an intentionally small event, with about 125 attendees, but we have some big thematic goals. We want to explore the ways power operates in our organizations, in our relationships with communities, and in the tech and algorithms we use and make. Our days will bring everyone together for a small group of talks and research presentations, then we’ll break out to dig into these themes in participatory sessions like yours.
Here are a couple ways we’re thinking all this comes together at SRCCON:POWER:
- We want to equip attendees to push for change. As a facilitator, you can help that happen through building new resources together, leading conversations that connect people who can support each other’s work, or sharing information that can help attendee to make the case for change with stakeholders back home.
- We want to support your work not just at SRCCON:POWER, but down the road too. What kind of change do YOU want to see, where you work or in your community? We’ll be asking about ways we can continue to support you, because we see SRCCON events as the place work starts, not ends.
Attendees will come into your session as peers and collaborators. Our name badges don’t flag organizations or speaker status—we’re all here to learn from each other. We put a lot of intention into the composition of the crowd at SRCCON:POWER, to pull from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds while still gathering folks interested in similar questions. Your session will be THE thing some people take home from SRCCON:POWER, because they learned something new and vital, or they were heard for what feels like the first time. That’s an incredible thing, and we’re so excited to work with you to make it happen!
What Is a Facilitator and What Do They Do?
As a facilitator, you bring your experience and excitement (or even skepticism) to leading a discussion or workshop with a highly engaged group.
- Guide. You set an agenda for the group. That could be laying out the contours of a problem you are wrestling with, and then guiding a group conversation that explores solutions. Or it could be teaching participants a new skill or technique they can take back to their newsroom.
- Invite. You gather the wisdom in the room. You help make sure everyone feels able to participate, not just the people who already feel comfortable speaking up. You have the power to make conversations inclusive and to help the room reach consensus, build connections, and find best practices.
- Organize. You help everyone make the session productive. That means keeping an eye on time and working through the activities on your agenda. At the end, you bring everything to a close, helping attendees summarize what they worked on and calling out key takeaways.
Facilitators don’t need to come in with all the answers. You’re there to guide discussions or collaborative work, and to help attendees contribute and walk away having learned something new.
We’ll also have an in-person facilitator training the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the conference venue. It’ll be a great chance to check out the session rooms, meet other facilitators, and get any last minute facilitation tips.
Planning Your Session Before SRCCON:POWER
SRCCON:POWER attendees show up ready to pitch in, whether that’s working through activities, writing collaboratively, or participating in conversations. Much of the work you’ll do as a facilitator will take place in the weeks leading up to SRCCON:POWER, as you outline your session. We’ve found that keeping two things in mind can help translate your awesome ideas into a meaningful experience for attendees:
- Scope. Broad topics need some boundaries, or conversations won’t go anywhere. Niche sessions are great but need enough topical space for a variety of people to participate. Similarly, over-programming a session with too many activities can make it impossible to get to your goals—but a session that’s underdesigned can easily turn into a conversation between a handful of the loudest people.
- Outcomes. Think about what you want attendees to take away from your session. A new or improved skill? A broader sense of community? The excitement of solving a problem they’d been facing alone? If you start planning your session by thinking about the end, it helps you focus everything leading up to that moment.
From there, you have a huge amount of room to explore creative ways to work with attendees. Big slide presentations and lectures aren’t what you’re after, but conversations and small-group work are staples on the SRCCON:POWER schedule. There are many outstanding session formats to consider, as well: design exercises, games, technical workshops, role-playing, even physical movement and field trips outside the conference space. Fun is good. We’ll support all sorts of ways to help you engage with people and make abstract concepts real.
Another thing to consider as you map out your session outline: Expect the unexpected. It’s easy to imagine the best-case scenario, where everything runs smoothly and according to plan—and that’s probably exactly how your session will go! But what if you ask your first question and no one answers? What if someone shares an amazing idea, and you want to follow up on it? You’ll be responding to situations like these on the fly, and you’ll be a lot more confident if you’ve thought through some scenarios in advance. Plan more material than you think you’ll need, and know you can feel good about dropping some of it—you just don’t know which parts it will be.
And finally, make sure to block out time in your outline for wrapup. We’ve found that hourlong sessions often don’t leave quite enough space for that—between engaging activities and interesting conversations, it can be tough to fit in a closing moment before the hour is up. We set aside 75 minutes for sessions so you have room to pull groups back together to report on their work, or to share final thoughts and next steps before people head out the door.
Facilitating a Great Session Once You’re at SRCCON:POWER
Once you’re at the venue, conference staff and volunteers will be around to answer questions and help you with any problems that come up. We’ll also have time at the Wednesday evening facilitator training for you to see the venue and check out the room where you’ll be leading your session. Here are a few more things to help you anticipate what the facilitation experience will be like:
How Many People Will Be In My Session?
About 125 people will attend SRCCON:POWER, and we program 3 or 4 sessions at a time, so most will have 20 to 30 people in the room. Some topics will draw fewer—and that’s fine! Small sessions are incredibly meaningful for the people who are there, and we want to encourage those conversations.
Some sessions might bring in larger crowds as well, so we encourage you to spend a little time thinking about how you might accommodate different group sizes. Will you be working in small groups that can scale up or down? Are you running an activity that might need extra supplies? We’ll have volunteers available to help you make room adjustments on the fly, but you’ll be happier if you go in knowing how you’ll respond to different crowd sizes.
What Kinds of People Will Be In My Session?
First and foremost, you’ll be surrounded by peers—people excited about journalism and ready to share their expertise at a journalism-centric conference. More than a third of the attendees at SRCCON:POWER will be session facilitators themselves. All of the participants are folks who expressed an interest in spending two days delving into how we work together, and how to support one another. Folks come to these discussions from a variety of roles related to journalism and tech and with different amounts of time in the field. Most participants come from the U.S., although many countries will be represented. We draw from large media organizations as well as smaller, regional, and noncoastal newsrooms.
Every person at SRCCON:POWER is smart and creative. But not every person in your room will be an expert in the particular subject you’re covering. We encourage attendees, in fact, to go to sessions that challenge them, covering topics they might not normally choose. So think about how you might include folks who are learning something for the first time—in the same way they’re in the room to be exposed to new ideas, your topic might be energized by an outside perspective.
As a facilitator, there are a couple ways you can really support the people in your room:
- Be a mindful and inclusive leader. There are some simple things you can do to help all your attendees feel able to participate and make the experience better for everyone in the room.
- Help your attendees prepare before they get there. Many (but not all!) of the attendees check out the schedule and plan what to attend in advance, so your session description is an important preparation resource. Be clear about what attendees will do in your session and what they’ll walk away with. If they should do any prep (like reading or bringing examples of their own work), let them know, but be ready for folks to join you last-minute as well. If you could use additional resources, let us know and we’ll get you what you need.
What Materials Will I Have?
Every room at SRCCON:POWER will be well-stocked with note paper, post-it notes, pens, and sharpies. We’ll make sure you have a whiteboard or a giant scratchpad on an easel, too; if you want to send people away with ideas they can act on, grabbing a marker and whiteboarding the best comments from the room is a great way to do it.
Each room will have a screen so you can connect your laptop and show examples to kick off a discussion. We’ll also set up a shared document for live note-taking, linked right from your session on the SRCCON:POWER schedule. This will be a great place to drop links to useful resources for you session attendees.
If you need any special supplies for your session, you can let us know in the weeks before the conference so we can order them and have them ready for you.
How Much Time Will I Have?
The conference schedule sets aside 75 minutes for each SRCCON:POWER session. You don’t have to fill the entire time, but we want you to have plenty of room to dig into a topic and respond to threads that emerge along the way. If your session needs more than 75 minutes, let us know and we can adjust appropriately. The conference schedule also builds in a 30-minute break between sessions—plenty of time for attendees to hang around and ask questions or continue conversations before they head out.
How you use your time is completely up to you. While you won’t need a script like you might for a traditional conference talk, we do thoroughly encourage outlines. Sessions are always a little less daunting once you break them into smaller pieces, and knowing how you plan to budget your time helps you stay on task while you’re doing it live.
Will My Session Be Recorded?
SRCCON:POWER works with White Coat Captioning, and we’ll transcribe about 1/4 of our breakout sessions at this event. We know that “off the record” conversations will be important, so session transcripts will not be shared live. If the stenographer will be in the room for your session, we’ll let you know in advance, and we’ll coordinate with you after SRCCON:POWER about any editing and sharing you might like to do.
Tips on Effective Facilitation
SRCCON:POWER is built upon participation, and folks are coming to your session expecting to be involved and active. Some things to consider in your role as session facilitator:
Start by setting some ground rules. This can be super helpful for participants, and for you to refer back to as facilitator. Some examples:
- Everyone should speak 1/n of the time, where n is the number of people in the room. This encourages folks to be conscious of how much they are speaking. An additional note is that speaking and offering opinions is not the only way to contribute to a session: listening and asking questions are also powerful ways to participate.
- Respect the schedule.
- Be curious and generous.
Take advantage of your power as facilitator. You’ve set the agenda, and your role is to guide and support conversation.
- You can decide in the moment how to handle unexpected challenges. You can also decide when it is best to throw out your original agenda and try something new.
- If a problematic comment comes up in your session, you can confront the issue. For example, if a participant only uses male pronouns to refer to developers, you might clarify that there are skilled developers of all genders, including folks right there in the room.
- Guide the tenor of the discussion—it’s a conversation, not a debate. Try to make sure the room isn’t dominated by just a few voices; keep an eye out for body language that says “I might have something to add” even when that person doesn’t feel confident enough to cut in. Go ahead and call on that person to see if they’d like to say something. You can also tell people who keep chatting that you’d like to hear from others in the room.
- Elicit reflection from the group. “Noticings,” or observations without judgment, can help participants build self-awareness and explore statements. For example, “I noticed that you referenced a study, could you say more about what struck you about it?” When you do get a comment that’s not quite what you expected, you can almost always find part of it to build on.
Work with people in the room. Leading a group of creative people toward a common goal can be hard, especially while you’re juggling time, information, and conversations. A cofacilitator can help lighten the load, and keeps each of you from having to be “on” the whole time. But also don’t be afraid to ask an enthusiastic attendee to help keep time, take notes, or watch for people with something to say.
Be clear about outcomes. Call out the goals for each discussion at the outset, check along the way that you’re making progress toward them, and review goals at the end of the session. (This is sometimes referred to as “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.”)
Overall, use your wisdom and passion as your guide. We greatly appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge with the group, and trust each facilitator to create an optimal sharing environment.
Tips on Running an Inclusive Session
Inclusion is about creating space where people can feel more able to share and work together. It includes respecting things like pronouns and accessibility needs, and at SRCCON:POWER we also encourage you to:
- Avoid jargon, and explain it when you can’t work around it.
- Talk about your assumptions about the group’s background at the beginning, and consider doing a “temperature check” on those assumptions—are there mostly journalists in the room? Mostly developers? Checking in helps you know how to tailor your session.
- Think about how to welcome people who aren’t experts without feeling like you have to revert to an introductory approach.
- Consider who is taking more visible speaking and participation roles in your session, and encourage multiple voices to take part.
In your sessions and outside them, the SRCCON:POWER staff will fully support you in making SRCCON:POWER a safe and welcoming space. If you witness or hear about incidents of harassment, intimidation, or other problems, please get us involved. You can find plenty more information in our conference code of conduct.
- How to approach planning a session
- Three ways to facilitate a great conference session, by ProPublica’s Sisi Wei
- How we facilitated a huge, participatory, highly charged SRCCON session, by NPR’s Alyson Hurt
- Teaching and brainstorming inclusive technical metaphors, by Vox Product’s Nicole Zhu
- Stuck in a rut? Tackle newsroom frustrations with board games, by Sara Konrad Baranowski of the Iowa Falls Times Citizen and Andrea Suozzo of Vermont’s Seven Days
- Behind the decisions that help make SRCCON, and your sessions, more humane
- Our favorite facilitation guide from AORTA Coop
- Tips from our friends at Aspiration Tech about running a breakout session
- General facilitation tips from Aspiration Tech