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Not So Fast! Summarize to Create Closure

June 15, 2021 3:40 pm

The Power of Participation & Engagement: The Five Core Facilitator Best Practices Series (Stay Neutral | Listen Actively | Ask Questions | Paraphrase | Summarize)

In the fifth instalment of the Five Core Best Practices series, we end with effective summarizing techniques to ensure your group can successfully move on to a new topic.

Not So Fast!
Summarize to Create Closure

How many times have you been in a meeting where the group has moved on to a new agenda topic and you weren’t clear if the previous topic had been sufficiently completed or if a decision or action had resulted? When done well, summarizing creates satisfactory closure before moving on to a new topic.

A good summary includes the following components:

  1. Letting the group know that the topic has come to closure e.g. “Well folks it sounds like we’ve debated all issues and that issue ABC is the one that seems to be generating the most excitement. Am I reading you right?” The group agrees. You state: “OK. So, let’s document this decision” In this example the facilitator sums up what has been discussed and what will be done with the summation
  2. When summarizing, keep it high level, stating themes or trends that arose from the discussion, not individual or specific statement made by individuals e.g. “It seems from this discussion that we have 2 themes we need to focus on in our next discussion, which are X and Y. Does this seem right?” If the group agrees you then have permission to move on to the next discussion
  3. Having a participant sum up the discussion spreads the accountability for taking ownership on what the group has said. You can do this by asking a participant” “Theo, I was wondering if you could sum up any themes that you noted during our discussion so we can capture them before we move on to the next topic?
  4. Summarizing can focus on the ‘content’ of the discussion (e.g. what we discussed) and/or the ‘process’ of the discussion (e.g. what process or technique(s) were used to help generate ideas like ‘brainstorming’, ‘prioritizing’, using a ‘round robin’ or ‘breakouts’ for generating ideas, etc.)
  5. Following any kind of summary, the facilitator should ask: “Have we missed anything before moving on to our next agenda topic?” The importance of asking this is to ensure no group member feels the need to reopen the topic as all ideas have been recognized and closure has now occurred

Summarizing is critical in creating effective closure of a topic before moving onto a new topic. A good summary helps to illuminate key trends or themes that weave together individual ideas into a more collective whole. When a summary works well the participants feel satisfied that the topic has been closed and are now in a position to open a new topic.

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