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The Role of the Facilitator in Computer-supported Environments

This multiphased study represents a rigorous exploration of the role of the facilitator in computer-supported environments. The purpose of the study was to identify and empirically measure the importance of the critical dimensions of the facilitator's role. The study examined the following research questions:

1) What are the critical dimensions and their related behaviors that contribute to the role of the effective facilitator in face-to-face computer supported environments?

2) Are there impacts on or differences in critical facilitator role dimensions/behaviors when facilitating with different types of group support systems (GSS) (computer based technology to support group work)?

The critical incidents methodology was employed to collect two hundred thirty-five reports of facilitator experiences from fifty experienced facilitators in computer supported environments. One hundred forty-six (146) generic and one thousand two hundred ninety-eight (1298) specific facilitator behaviors were identified. These behaviors were then categorized into critical role dimensions.

The results of Phase I of the study indicated the existence of sixteen critical role dimensions. The empirical measures of importance in Phase II produced significant findings, identifying Planning and Designing Meetings as the most important facilitator role dimension overall. Other extremely important dimensions were identified. Statistically significant agreement on the relative importance of a number of role dimensions, along with significant differences across technology on mean importance rankings were identified. These differences were quite dramatic considering the small sample size.

The study findings have important implications for organizational practitioners and researchers alike. This study is the first to identify and ground the critical role dimensions of the facilitator's role in computer-supported environments. These precise descriptions furnish a starting point for future research on the role and process of facilitation in both traditional and electronic contexts. The richly grounded dimensions also provide an excellent practical foundation for the development of behavior based selection criteria, performance measures and skill based facilitator training programs.