• Jenny Klenke

Moderating Complex Moments

Updated: Jun 2

Qualitative research is both a human art and a behavioral science.


It is in qualitative study where data collection meets a nuanced understanding of human behavior. It is not as simple as asking a linear list of pre-set questions. A moderator’s or facilitator’s job is to not only dive into the selected topics but also to sift through the perspectives, listening and identifying not only facts but also insight. The talent is moving past what is already known—or is consciously or unconsciously predisposed.


Why are they making the choice? Why do they have this mindset? Why are they doing it this way? There are many “whys” to uncover as a researcher and strategist, which hopefully illuminate “how” to solve a problem.


At a basic level, the moderator or facilitator has the role of managing the dynamics of groups and individuals while covering a wide range of product, program, or consumer experience topics. This is where the art begins—building respect, trust, and rapport with participants, according to Sandy Hentges, Bureau Chief of Cancer and Chronic Disease Control at Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.


Regarding facilitating capabilities, “Possessing both a subject matter expertise and ability to build rapport is extremely important to meeting objectives. Especially when working with a group of decentralized stakeholders to accomplish innovative and groundbreaking change,” Hentges shared.


Hentges has worked with Simply Strategy Program Manager, Elyse Washington, for more than a year and a half to facilitate and convene stakeholders around innovative chronic disease interventions. “We’ve found that facilitation is critical to uncovering new learnings and understanding behavior,” Hentges stated. “Elyse has both the knowledge base and facilitation skills necessary to help us accomplish our goals and ultimately improve outcomes.”


In addition to managing the inputs and logistics of group process, facilitators manage the human interaction and must possess the ability to extract the emotional and behavioral insights, especially in health-related research where behaviors and outcomes are inextricably linked.


“First and foremost, empathy is very important, especially when discussing personally sensitive information,” stated Teresa Terry, Senior Manager, Strategic Insights at Centene Corporation. “Powerful empathy also includes being able to put aside personal bias to connect to the participant experiences.”


Group facilitation and moderation extends beyond noticing individual responses to include managing the way participants relate to the moderator and to one another. From assessing how to de-escalate a hostile participant to redirecting the conversation when drifting off course, moderating is a constant exercise in allowing the natural flow of conversation while guiding the group so that the discussion actually produces meaningful content or feedback.


Clients rely on moderators like Dorothy Carlin, a Simply Strategy researcher with over 20 years of experience, to understand the context of sensitive issues and challenges within organizations and systems.


“Another crucial skill is the ability to adjust your approach depending on the demographics of your groups –recognizing the bias or assumption we carry as humans. The capacity to move beyond hypothesis and being able to convince clients to do the same through communication, analysis and reporting,” Terry said. “Dorothy has been effective in doing so on many of our complex health care questions.”


Clients count on moderators and facilitators to conduct research effectively in order to provide a deeper understanding of their problems in programs, products, or services and share implications and opportunities based on what is discovered. Each client’s needs may be different, but moderating skills transcend categories.