What is a "Process Observer" and When is Their Role Utilized?


From time to time any group can benefit from having somebody observe how it works. During periods of conflict or transition (changing consciousness about sexism, for example) a process observer may be of special value.

While functioning as a process observer be careful not to get involved in the task of the group. A notepad for short notations will help you to be accurate. Remember to notice helpful suggestions or procedures that have moved the group forward. Once a group has sense of its strengths it is easier to consider the need for improvements.

Here are some specific things you might look for:

  1. What was the general atmosphere in which the group worked? relaxed? tense?
  2. How were the Decisions made?
  3. If there was any conflict, how was it handled?
  4. Did everybody participate? Were there procedures which encouraged participation?
  5. How well did the group members listen to each other?
  6. Were there recognized leaders within the group?
  7. How did the group interact with the Facilitator?
  8. Were there differences between male and female participation?

When you as a process observer (whether appointed or not) are paying specific attention to patterns of participation, an easy device would be to keep score on paper. In a small group a mark can be made next to a person's name every time s/he speaks. If you are looking for difference in participation patterns between categories of people, such as fe/male, black/white, new member/old member, etc., keeping track of number of Contributions in each category is enough.

In giving feedback to the group, try to be matter of fact and specific so that people do not get defensive and can know exactly what you are talking about. Again, remember to mention the strengths you observed in the group.

If you take it upon yourself to function as a process observer without checking with the group beforehand, be prepared for some hostility. Your Contribution may turn out to be very valuable, but a lot of tact and sensitivity is called for.


Source: Building Social Change Communities

Contributors: Berit Lakey, The Training/Action Affinity Group of Movement for a New Society

Recommended Reading: Building Social Change Communities