Somebody the Food and Agriculture Organization recently asked about the difference between moderation and facilitation of meetings, events and knowledge sharing networks and communities. She also asked when to opt for one and when for another. Here is what I responded to her:
The difference between moderation and facilitation is often either over-looked or unintentionally blurred despite being quite substantial.
In my view, moderation of meetings, events, networks and communities, focuses on keeping the information and communication flow clear and accessible to all who participate, at all times. In this sense, the moderator is at least in some ways an information manager. In an online environment, s/he monitors the communication flow, makes summaries and digests, approves participants’ requests and posts, and even maintains the online environment. The moderator is often quite invisible for those who participate in meetings, events and communities, but nevertheless indispensable!
To the contrary, the facilitator of meetings, events, networks and communities is much more visible and active. S/he steers the communication flow and keeps it on track. In this way, facilitation focuses on including all participants in the discussion, even the ones who are less comfortable with speaking and contributing, ensuring all voices are heard and discussion is vibrant, interesting and useful to those who participate. The facilitator makes it clear to all when milestones as part of the meeting, event, or network/community activity, have been achieved and then moves on to the next milestone. Having good people skills, the facilitator enables a comfortable and inclusive environment of openness and trust for those who participate.
When to opt for moderation and when for facilitation? I would say you mostly need both in effective interplay. Understanding the differences though is important as each requires a different set of skills.