Anonymity as a Facilitation Tool

It’s been quite a week, especially for those of us navigating what’s affectionately become known as another “mockdown” in Ontario.

Sometimes when we’re in the midst of decision fatigue and existential angst, the most helpful thing to do is something concrete and practical, so that’s what I’m offering today. A useful tool to add to your digital facilitation toolbox. Here’s how it works and what to consider:

Using the “Rename” feature in Zoom (or whatever platform you’re in – admittedly easier in some contexts than others), invite meeting participants to rename themselves “…” or “Anon” or something else unidentifiable. In Zoom, they’ll find this option at the top right corner of their video rectangle under the “…” sign, or beside their name in the Participants list under “More.” (Everyone should use the same identifier, otherwise you defeat the purpose!)

Now everyone in the meeting is not identifiable by name.

Here are three ways to leverage this anonymity:

  1. Have some fun! If you’re with a group that knows each other, invite people to answer a question in the Chat such as, “Other than work, what do you spend the most time doing in the pandemic?” or “What’s something you know a lot about?” and see if folks can match answers to people.
  2. Create space for increased candour. When you ask people to answer the question, “How are you doing, really?” under this cloak of anonymity, they tend to be more transparent than when their responses are attached to their name. The same dynamic applies with a question such as, “What one change that’s within our control would make the biggest difference to our team right now?”
  3. Increase public safety. I’ve used this approach in a public meeting as well, where the topic under discussion was tense and difficult. I offered the opportunity for people to respond anonymously to selected questions. Some people reported feeling safer that way, but admittedly others resisted having people not own their words. Use it with care so the conversation doesn’t degenerate into nastiness.

One other nerdy note: people’s photo might still appear next to their “name” in Participants or in the Chat even when they’ve renamed themselves something anonymous. You might want to warn participants of this so that they can remove their Zoom photo in their settings before participating.

I hope this idea can inject some freshness into your remote meetings this week!

One Reply to “Anonymity as a Facilitation Tool”

  1. Anonymity as a facilitation tool is a timely idea. In my experience of working with several community and church groups, the pandemic is wearing and exhausting. I can see that using anonymity in discerning ways can be really helpful. Thanks, Rebecca!

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