SRCCON Facilitator Guide
Session facilitators make SRCCON what it is: a collaborative, hands-on conference that brings peers together to work on the practical challenges facing journalism today. We’ve put this guide together to help you think about planning and running a great session.
In This Guide
- What Sets SRCCON Apart?
- What Is a Facilitator and What Do They Do?
- Key Moments for Facilitators Before SRCCON
- Planning Your Session Before SRCCON
- Facilitating a Great Session Once You’re at SRCCON
- 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
- Sessions From Previous SRCCONs
What Sets SRCCON Apart?
SRCCON is a highly participatory event, where everyone is engaged in learning, building, and problem-solving together. That’s one of the reasons we refer to you as facilitators, not speakers or presenters. When you run a session at SRCCON, 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.
We created SRCCON with a few principles in mind that lay the groundwork for our program as a whole:
- SRCCON is built around participation, discussion, and collaborative problem-solving.
- SRCCON exists to respond to the needs and interests of our community, and we’re intentional in including perspectives from throughout the field.
- Every attendee is a peer. Conference badges don’t flag organizations or speaker status—we’re all here to learn from each other.
Our sessions inhabit these values in different ways, through structured discussions and problem-solving groups; peer-to-peer workshops; even games, drawing, or field trips. We avoid traditional lectures and classroom-style trainings, but we welcome your creativity across a range of hands-on and collaborative session styles.
What Is a Facilitator and What Do They Do?
As a facilitator, you use your experience and excitement (or even skepticism) to lead 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.
Key Moments for Facilitators Before SRCCON
- End of May: We’ll ask you for any supply and scheduling needs you might have.
- Early June: We’ll offer an optional checkin with a volunteer facilitator coach who has led sessions at SRCCON before.
- Throughout June: We’ll check in regularly, on a timeline you can use for outlining your session and updating your title and description.
- Late June: We’ll build this year’s schedule and let you know about time slots and room assignments.
- SRCCON week: On the Wednesday night before SRCCON begins, we’ll hold a facilitator welcome session at the venue for anyone who’d like to attend.
Planning Your Session Before SRCCON
SRCCON attendees show up ready to pitch in, whether that’s writing code, working through activities, or participating in conversations. Much of the work you’ll do as a facilitator will take place in the weeks leading up to SRCCON, 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 SRCCON 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. 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 can help 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. Slide presentations and lectures aren’t what you’re after, but conversations and small-group work are staples on the SRCCON 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
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 also schedule a Wednesday night facilitator meetup before SRCCON begins so you can 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 300 people attend SRCCON. We program 6 or 7 topics at a time, so most sessions will have 30 to 50 people in the room. Some topics will draw fewer—and that’s fine! Some of the smallest sessions at SRCCON 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 as they come up, 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. About a third of the attendees at SRCCON will be session facilitators themselves. Most participants are developers, designers, and data analysts who work in newsrooms, but we also welcome reporters, editors, managers, and multimedia journalists, as well as attendees from related fields like civic tech, art, mapping, and open data. 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 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, for example, involve a designer in your software session. Or bring a filmmaker’s thoughts into a conversation about writing. 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 installing software 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 (like a TA for a particularly technical session), let us know and we’ll get you what you need.
What Materials Will I Have?
Every room at SRCCON 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 walk through a software lesson or 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 schedule. This is a great place to drop links to useful resources for your session attendees.
If you need any special supplies for your session, we’ll ask you to tell us about them about a month ahead of SRCCON 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 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’ve budgeted your time helps you stay on task while you’re doing it live.
Will My Session Be Recorded?
SRCCON works with White Coat Captioning to provide live transcriptions in many of our sessions each year. This helps some people at the conference track conversations more easily, and allows additional people to participate remotely. It also provides a great record of sessions that have taken place in previous years.
As we build the conference schedule, we’ll decide which session formats will translate well into transcription, and we’ll let you know in advance if there will be a transcriptionist in your room. If there is, you can always ask participants to note “off the record” before speaking if they’d like the transcriptionist to pause their work. Or if you’d prefer your session to be off the record entirely, that’s not a problem—we’ll make sure your session isn’t transcribed at all.
Tips on Effective Facilitation
SRCCON 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 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 staff will fully support you in making SRCCON 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
- Great Conference Sessions, the SRCCON Way, by Brent Jones of St. Louis Public Radio
- 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
Sessions From Previous SRCCONs
We archive each year’s conference site and schedule, so if you’d like to take a look back at the topics we’ve tackled before, dig in!