Managing Discussions, Blog 2 of 3: Recording and Online Moderation

This week, we explore the functions of recording an online moderation.

Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation Part 10

Ensuring that participant interactions work well for everyone requires a number of key skills centered on managing discussions, including facilitating face-to-face groups, recording, moderating online forums, setting ground rules and giving feedback.

Last week, we provided an overview for facilitating face-to-face groups. This week, we'll explore the functions of recording and online moderation. Next week, we'll complete this series on managing discussions with a blog on ground rules and providing meaningful feedback with participants.


Recording or scribing during facilitation can be done on flipcharts or butcher paper in front of the group, on a laptop or tablet, or through audio taping and other technologies.

Recording has many benefits. It lets people know they have been heard and that their ideas have been recognized. It provides a “transcript” of the meeting to help with future discussions and decisions, and can provide information to those who did not attend the meeting. And it helps keep participants on track with the agenda.

When recording is done visibly, for example on flipcharts or butcher paper, people can see what has happened and are more likely to submit ideas. Moreover, it can increase people’s attention and reduce the likelihood that they repeat themselves or obsess on a particular idea.

Visible recording is generally less helpful early in a process. It can be intrusive when participants are sharing experiences and getting to know each other better.

Skills for effective recording include writing legibly, capturing every speaker’s main ideas (without writing sentences word for word) and organizing a great deal of verbal data. Some tips for scribing include alternating colors, numbering pages and using a “parking lot” to capture ideas that are relevant, but off-topic, or that need to be discussed at a later date. Click here for more tips on scribing and recording.

Online Moderation

Online forums, which exist in many places, can be excellent formats for generating and sustaining participation. They provide a convenient space for people to connect, have meaningful conversations and sometimes develop plans for public action.

The presence of one or more moderators can increase the quality of an online forum. Moderators can play a wide range of roles in online forums, some of which are listed in the textbox below.

Moderators of online forums need basic familiarity with the internet, but assuming the platform is relatively simple, technological skills are not that important to this role. However, online moderators do need many of the same qualities that make face-to-face facilitators successful, such as a friendly disposition, good listening skills and a desire to hear different perspectives.

Sometimes the role of a moderator varies depending on the life span of the forum. Steven Clift recommends that when a forum is first set up, online moderators:

  • Welcome new participants and encourage a round of introductions.
  • Encourage people to use their real names (and, if possible, configure the forum so that participants must register with their real names).
  • Explain how the forum works, and how participants can adjust their settings, for example to receive posts or messages with the frequency they would like.
  • Start a discussion about the purpose of the forum and the ground rules participants might want to adopt.
  • Configure the forum settings so that the first post or message from each participant must be approved by the moderator. After that, participants can post or send messages immediately to the group.
  • Encourage people to share school or neighborhood announcements, and to offer their ideas and opinions.

Once the forum is up and running, Clift recommends that moderators:

  • Continue to welcome new participants and ask them to introduce themselves.
  • “Seed” the discussion when forum interactions slow down, for example by presenting a relevant topic and questions, or by finding and posting relevant announcements.
  • Keep an eye on the messages or posts, without necessarily reading them word-for-word.
  • Monitor and enforce ground rules on civility and posting, and if necessary facilitate a discussion about whether (and how) ground rules should be changed.
  • Seek assistance from other moderators or participation allies to deal with those who continually break the ground rules. (In many cases, continual offenders can be barred from the forum, but this must be done carefully and in accordance with all rules and laws governing the forum.)
  • Find ways to bring forum participants together face-to-face.

Moderator Roles

Moderators of an online forum can take on many different roles:

Greeter: making people feel welcome

Conversation Stimulator: posing new questions and topics, playing devil’s advocate in existing conversations

Conflict Resolver: mediating disagreements and helping people move toward agreement, or at least agreeing to disagree

Summarizer: synthesizing and extracting main points from conversations

Problem Solver: directing questions to relevant people for response

Supporter: bringing in external information to enrich debates and support arguments

Welcomer: bringing in and introducing new participants

‘Cybrarian’: providing expert knowledge on particular topics

Open Censor: deleting messages deemed inappropriate or against predefined rules and criteria (and giving feedback about why the message was deleted and an opportunity to rewrite)

Covert Censor: deleting messages deemed inappropriate, but without explaining why

Cleaner: removing or closing dead threads, hiving off sub-discussions into separate threads

Read other blogs in this series:

Part 1: Ten Key Talents for Better Public Participation

Part 2: Building Coalitions and Networks

Part 3: Cultural Competence and Engaging Youth

Part 4: Recruiting Participants

Part 5: Communicating About Participation

Part 6: Managing Conflict

Part 7: Providing Information and Options: Issue Framing

Part 8: Providing Information and Options: Sequencing Discussions and Writing Discussion Materials

Part 9: Managing Discussions, Blog 1 of 3

Portions of this post were excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy by Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger. Copyright© 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.


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