Are you planning a workshop, meeting, or event that needs effective facilitation? If so, you might want to check out this handy tool that I use to prepare, design, and deliver engaging and productive sessions.

Benjamin P. Taylor
4 min readNov 28, 2023

It’s called the facilitation canvas, and it helps you think through three key aspects of facilitation: planning, vibes, and process.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/antlerboy_a-facilitation-canvas-taylor-activity-7135180786776834048-1Pi7 What’s your experience of being facilitated — what stands out? Good, or bad?

I remember a meeting where very experienced facilitators introduced the ‘helicopter view’ concept, to mocking laughter from some of the participants.

And a high-stakes, tense workshop where skilled facilitation had bitter enemies eating out of each other’s hands by the end.

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Facilitation is an important skill. And no, you can’t ‘avoid facilitation entirely’.

You either accept default ways of doing business, or you intentionally create a context — which is facilitation. Either one has implications, for #Teamwork, #Leadership, #Innovation, #Strategy, and #OperationalExcellence.

I teach facilitation now as one part of the Level 7 #SystemsThinking Apprenticeship (links in comments), and there’s great material out there, there’s over-simplified material out there, there’s woo-woo, there’s expensive IP-protected stuff… the usual mix.

Grabbing some Liberating Structures to run a more interesting and different meeting is cool, but it’s important to understand the difference between ‘naïve facilitation’ and ‘deep facilitation’, and not get them mixed up.

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So I created my own #canvas to help you think through how you’re approaching #facilitation. Let’s break it down:

PLANNING

🔹 It’s all about the right people. Who are the key contributors, content creators, and who needs to follow-up?

🔹 Preparation is key. Define ‘ready to roll’ and pinpoint that sweet spot of ‘just enough’ prep.

🔹 Inputs: content isn’t always king. Sometimes, it’s the other elements in play. Ask what’s needed beyond the obvious.

🔹 Environment: the silent participant. What messages is your space sending? How does it shape the interaction?

VIBES

The undercurrents of success or failure.

🔹 Pitfalls: identify them. Plan to avoid the worst.

🔹 Assumptions, values, beliefs: challenge yours. Are they serving the purpose?

🔹Intent: clarify it. One sentence, no ‘and’s.

🔹Container: cultivate the right holding space for the work ahead.

PROCESS

🔹Outcomes: visualise success.

🔹Outputs: what needs to be produced?

🔹Agenda: plan wisely, including everything essential.

🔹Reflection: how will we learn?

And then, of course, get ready to let go of any or all of it as the occasion demands.

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So planning covers the practical aspects of the session, such as who needs to be involved, what content and inputs are needed, and how to prepare for the day. Vibes covers the emotional and relational aspects, such as how to avoid pitfalls, how to align your intent with the participants, and how to create a safe and conducive space. Process covers the methodological aspects, such as what outcomes and outputs are expected, how to design an effective agenda, and how to reflect and learn from the work.

The facilitation canvas is a simple but powerful tool that can help you plan, design, and deliver sessions that are engaging, productive, and fun. You can use it as a checklist, a brainstorming tool, or a conversation starter. You can also adapt it to your own context and needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but a flexible and adaptable framework that can help you facilitate better.

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Here’s the core content of the canvas:

PLANNING

People/contributors

Who needs to be there?

Who needs to produce content?

Who needs to follow up afterwards?

Preparation

What does ‘ready to roll’ look like?

How will we know when we’ve done just enough?

Inputs

What content — if any — is needed?

What else is needed as an input on the day?

Environment

What plans does the environment have for participants?

What cues is the space giving?

VIBES

Pitfalls

How might this go horribly wrong? What’s the worst possible outcome?

How can we avoid the bear-traps?

Assumptions, values, and beliefs

What assumptions, values, and beliefs do I currently hold? How useful are they? What would be better?

Intent

Do I hold a good and clear intent? Can I write it in a single sentence with no ‘and’?

What other intents are being brought into the space?

Container

How can I create the right kind of ‘space’ for the work that needs to be done?

PROCESS

Outcomes

What does good look like?

Outputs

What do we need to produce?

Agenda

How should we best plan the session?

What do we need to include in that plan?

Reflection

How will we learn from the work?

To sign up for my sessions (consulting part (a) and (b), facilitation skills, workshop design, productive conversations, and large group interventions), look here:

https://www.systemspractice.org/events/professional-development

And if you’re interested in the Level 7 Systems Thinking Apprenticeship, go here:

https://www.systemspractice.org/node/870

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