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Facilitation Essentials: Summarizing and synthesizing during a meeting

This quick reference tool is intended for employees at all levels who want to learn how to summarize and synthesize discussions during a meeting. It provides a list of strategies to consider and a worksheet that can be used as a template.


Purpose

As a facilitator, summarizing and synthesizing can help you:

  • Highlight your group's progress and the key points they discussed.
  • Prepare the group to make a decision or, following the decision, determine the next steps.
  • Share deliberations and outcomes beyond the group, if needed.

You can summarize and synthesize throughout your group's discussions. You can also do it if the group chooses to share meeting outcomes with others.

What's the difference?

Summarizing

Highlighting what's important by identifying key elements of a discussion and paraphrasing them to solidify understanding.

Synthesizing

Putting the key points together and using the generated ideas to create new insights, perspectives, and ways of considering the topic at hand.

Thoughtful summaries and syntheses serve multiple objectives

Show full participation
They help everyone see the topics discussed and the key areas of divergence and convergence, and help them consider what might still be missing.

Highlight mutual understanding
They reflect key points the group discussed and help participants validate that the points captured accurately reflect the discussion.

Inform inclusive solutions
They offer an opportunity to see and hear the key elements informing decisions and next steps.

Establish shared responsibility
They highlight the rationale for the group's decision and communicate it to others who may need to know.

Strategies for summarizing and synthesizing

When to Summarize

  • Include space in your agenda for participants to summarize their progress after each topic.
  • If the group gets stuck, invite someone to highlight the progress made to date, and then offer a question to help them validate their next steps (e.g. "Do I understand correctly that the next steps are A, B and C?").

Who Summarizes

  • Invite a participant to summarize the discussion.
  • Another option is to offer a moment for silent reflection, then invite participants to share their ideas in small groups. Come back together and do a roll-up. This helps keep ownership of the discussion in the group's hands.

Where to Share

  • Capture the summary in a place everyone can see and refer to it.
  • Use this summary to report back or as a record of decision.
  • Provide templates to capture synthesized ideas and make reporting back easier.

What to Include

  • Use keywords or phrases that people have used during their discussion.
  • Summarize and reaffirm that you heard and what people said.
  • When summarizing someone's intervention, start with the last point they made. It's almost always the most important one.

Worksheet to practise your summarizing or synthesizing skills

  1. Meeting topic(s)
  2. Meeting objective(s)
  3. Decision-making (If your objectives included decisions, what approach will/did you take?)
  4. Issues that came up during discussions
  5. New ideas/questions that came up
  6. People and perspectives not yet included
  7. Parking lot (ideas to address later)
  8. Summary (some of the main ideas that came up)
  9. Synthesis (how can these ideas and other considerations fit together in new ways)
  10. What could we do next (e.g. decisions, next steps)

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