Facilitating EDI Discussions

A guide to creating safe spaces in group settings

Talking about EDI can be challenging. Many are not used to speaking about EDI related topics in the workplace and may not have built confidence to do so. Discussions can bring up sensitive topics, provoke difficult emotions and force us to consider differing viewpoints. They also make us explore our own experiences, biases and privilege. A well facilitated discussion can help people reflect on EDI topics in a safe and intentional way. This toolkit document offers guidance on how to create an environment that will encourage respectful, considered and courageous dialogue.


Finding an appropriate setting for a discussion can help to make participants feel comfortable. Holding a session online can make it easier for people to attend and adds an extra level of safety because participants are not sharing the same physical space. On the other hand, holding the discussion in person can enhance connection and make it easier for some people to communicate. If you are holding the session in person, consider booking a space that is different from peoples’ usual working space. If the session is likely to include sensitive topics, you’ll need to find a space that will allow for confidential discussion.


Is your session open to everyone or open only to certain people? If the session is restricted to certain groups, what is the rationale? E.g., if you are planning a session to discuss men’s mental health it may be appropriate to restrict attendance to people who identify as men to allow attendees to discuss things that they may not feel comfortable discussing in the presence of people of other genders. 

How many people can you safely facilitate a discussion for? Would the activities you have planned be suitable for a small group, large group or multiple groups?

Is your session open to staff, students and/or members of the public? Consider whether there is justification for closing the session off for one group or whether all are invited. You may deem it appropriate to notify security of your event so that they can make arrangements for risk mitigation.

What are the power dynamics within the group of participants? If you have staff of different seniorities in the same room, it is good to acknowledge this. Clearly and truthfully state the capacity in which senior colleagues are attending. Do you wish to level out hierarchy for the duration of the session and have you talked to those senior colleagues about how they can support this?

Shared principles of engagement

Set ground rules for the session. Tell attendees what behaviours are expected of them during the session. Shared principles of engagement are a common set of ground rules that allow the conversation to happen in safe and boundaried way. It is a good idea to ask participants if they would like to add any principles to the list and ask attendees for verbal consensus before starting the main part of the session. You could take this one step further by asking people to agree to the principles for the session when they register online for the activity or event.

Here are some example principles for engagement that you can select from and adapt:

• Remain respectful and considerate
• Listen to understand
• All respectful viewpoints are welcome
• Be mindful that different people have different lived experiences
• Set boundaries and respect boundaries
• Be present but feel free to mentally or physically zoom out to protect your wellbeing
• Have an awareness of the gaps in your own knowledge and experience
• Speak from your personal experience, not on behalf of others
• Anything mentioned in the discussion should be kept confidential

Setting the intention

To keep the discussion on track, it is a good idea to set out the intention of the session at the start. What are you trying to achieve from having the conversation? What do you want attendees to contribute, gain and reflect on? What relation does the session have to the University’s values and EDI priorities?

You could share an accessible resource with attendees ahead of the session to provoke thought and help them prepare beforehand.

Facilitating the conversation

In order to maintain safety, it is a good idea to plan for a semi-structured discussion, even if it is an informal session. Careful preparation can reduce the risk of conversations going off into tangents and losing their purpose. Would it be useful to have activities planned for the session or would you rather give attendees time and space to talk based on prompts?

What prompts or questions could you offer attendees to get them talking? Do you want to make these available before the session so people can consider them or would you rather save them for the session so that attendees can raise what first comes to them? 

It is advised that an EDI discussion is either co-facilitated by two people or that one person facilitates with another person on hand to help if needed. Do you need to reach out to a someone with specialist knowledge for help or advice?

When discussing topics of a particularly sensitive nature, it may be appropriate to seek out a more specialist facilitator. This could be a colleague from the university who works in the particular area or an external specialist.

Dealing with Challenges

Even when a session has been carefully created and facilitated, challenges can still occur. Some challenge can be useful opportunities for development and growth; in these circumstances groups can be encouraged to notice their discomfort and ‘sit with the discomfort’ while the issue is worked through However, if you feel a participant is saying things that are harmful, inappropriate or not in line with the university’s values, ask them to pause, reflect and think about the impact of their words. If the person persists, you can ask them directly to stop. You can then have a follow up conversation with them after the session. If you think a participant is upset or distressed, follow up with them after the conversation. It may be appropriate to sign post them to further support.

End/follow up

Go back to the intentions you shared at the beginning of the session. As a closing exercise or as a follow-up, you can encourage attendees to reflect on what occurred for them during the session and what their main takeaways are. Here are some example questions, though you may wish to write questions that are more closely related to the topic that was discussed:

• What did it feel like to be talking about topics such as XXXXX in a work setting?
• Which skills or attributes did you have to utilise during the conversation today?
• Were there any points raised in the session that you disagreed with? Did you voice your opposing view? If not, why?
• How did the points raised in the session relate to your work setting/role or the university’s EDI strategy?