Moderating an online discussion is an exciting opportunity for some, while others can be nervous. So we'll say right up front that the SmartParticipation platform can be used without moderation.
But here's the case, briefly, for why you should try to get past your nervousness. If you invited a varied group of stakeholders for face-to-face discussion of a proposal, it would probably never occur to you to set them loose in a room, with a set of topics but no one facilitating the meeting. Even if the attendees are completely calm and courteous, it's obvious that a good facilitator can add a lot of value:
- asking clarifying questions
- bringing the discussion back on course if it wanders too far afield
- encouraging participants to engage with the concerns, interests, and ideas of others
- exploring possible alternatives and seeking new ideas
- pointing out questionable assumptions, identifying missing information, and generally focusing attention on core issues and questions
Why would it be any different when the discussion is online rather than face-to-face?
Facilitative moderation is a skillset that can be taught to most people in a reasonably short period of time. (Contact us if you're interested in training.) Obviously, some people are more adept than others, and practice improves performance for most. Still, one advantage of online facilitation is having the time to think about whether and how to respond, rather than makomg a split-second decision in front of a room full of people. If you have access to employees or volunteers trained in mediation or facilitation techniques, they will have a lot of the basic skills already.
How much time does it take? As much time as your organization has to give. Time devoted to attentive moderation during the discussion is likely to reduce the time needed after the discussion to synthesize what was said. And, without a doubt, the quality of discussion will be higher. If resources during the discussion are scarce, do what you can. If content has been organized to take advantage of the targeted commenting design, comments will be divided by subject area. In our experience, someone familiar with the issues can read a subtopic comment stream quickly and hone in on points at which the most value can be added from facilitative intervention.