Defining one’s role, including expectations of institutional support required for effective facilitation. Training and education of new Facilitators. Establishing initial connections with other staff.
- Institutional Context
2.1 Administrative Expectations
2.2 ACI Team Expectations
2.3 User Expectations
2.4 Physical Location
- Understanding the Facilitator Role
3.1 User base
3.2 Organizational structure
3.3 Existing computational resources
3.4 Current state of facilitation
3.5 ACI Team members
- Owning the Facilitator Role
- Moving Forward
This chapter is written primarily for newly hired Facilitators, especially those without prior experience with ACI facilitation and/or working as part of an ACI team. It is meant to assist new Facilitators as they start with the task of defining their role. The first section on institutional context views the role of facilitation and the hiring of a Facilitator through an institutional lens. Subsequent sections are on understanding and owning the Facilitator role, and examining aspects of the on-boarding process that are specific to ACI facilitation, including organizational structure, computational resources, the ACI team, the user base, and current state of facilitation.
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Whether the Facilitator is a new hire or is transitioning into the role from a related position, they will benefit from an understanding of the considerations that were important to the ACI organization as they made the decision to hire an ACI Facilitator. For example, was the value of facilitation known and in demand by the institution, or will it have to be proven? Does the organization have specific expectations, or must the role of the Facilitator be progressively defined by the new hire? Reflecting on these questions, or asking them directly of the organization, is a good place to start as a new Facilitator. Even at institutions where the value of facilitation is unknown, or the role of the Facilitator is not well-defined, it is essential that there is support for the concept of facilitation at a number of levels – the institution, the ACI team, the researcher community – and a commitment to provide the new Facilitator with the time and resources necessary to succeed.
There may have been multiple reasons that motivated the institution to establish a Facilitator position or there may have been a specific driving force, perhaps a change or planned change in ACI resource availability and/or usage. When making the decision to hire a Facilitator, the leadership of the ACI organization would have considered a number of things to ensure success for all stakeholders. To guide the hiring process and help define the position, they may have addressed the following questions:
- What gaps exist in the expertise of the existing team members?
- What are most important tasks/responsibilities of the new position?
- What is the required skill set necessary to perform these tasks?
- What educational background and experience are important?
- Is there specific domain expertise that will be important for this Facilitator?
The answers to these questions will help prioritize expectations for the new position and help guide the hiring process, including how to reach an appropriate candidate pool.
ACI Team Expectations
Having an ACI team endorse the notion of facilitation is also important to the success of a new Facilitator. The existence of a supportive working environment, backed by a team that is open to exploring new ways to enable researchers and is willing to spend time to assist a new Facilitator in learning about its resources, is a tremendous asset to a new Facilitator. Therefore it is crucial that the ACI team be involved in the hiring process.
Support from the user base is also critical. The ACI organization can begin to understand the climate of facilitation at their institution by asking the following questions:
- Are users aware of Facilitators and the facilitation services offered by the ACI organization?
- Do ACI users see the value of facilitation in their day-to-day use of the ACI infrastructure?
- What expectations might ACI users have in terms of the services provided by the ACI organization?
- Is there a culture of self-reliance – even if only necessary due to lack of this type of support – that might preclude the user base from fully embracing the new Facilitator, or is there a collaborative culture in which researchers work with the ACI team to explore solutions to problems?
Many facets of facilitation rely on the Facilitator acting as a liaison between the user base and the ACI team. If the Facilitator’s base of operation is convenient to both groups, it makes it easy for the researcher to seek out the Facilitator, and for the Facilitator to interact with the rest of the ACI team. In cases where the ACI team members are all together in one location and all of the of the user base is in close proximity to this location, this may not an issue. However, not all campuses have a physical environment that is conducive to the necessary level of interaction. In some cases the ACI resources and the members of the ACI team are not located on campus, and in other cases the ACI organization might support users in multiple locations. In both of these situations it is important to consider strategies that can be used to alleviate any physical separation.
If researchers are not all at one site, it might be possible for the Facilitator to have an office at each site and schedule when they will be in each location. An alternative solution is to have the Facilitator go to the researcher as needed. If the distance between locations is sufficiently far as to make regular travel to a site infeasible, then a selection of long distance communication tools should be offered. When the members of the ACI team are not all at the same location and therefore do not see each other on a daily basis, having set times and mechanisms for interactions as a group is important. While in many situations email communication is sufficient, there are times that some form of a web based communication tool makes sense. Face to face time, which can be accomplished by a regularly scheduled staff meetings, is also important.
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Understanding the Facilitator Role
Once a person has been hired to serve as a Facilitator, a joint effort between the Facilitator and the hiring manager to start to define the position is the next step. While some aspects of the position, such as the overall goals and major activities, may have been defined in the hiring process, many will still have to be set once the Facilitator has started. These might include day-to-day practices for carrying out activities, and modes of working with teammates and reporting to supervisors. In order to contribute to this dialog, a new Facilitator should first discover and understand a number of details about both the institution and their ACI-providing organization, including whether the ACI organization is already established, or in the process of establishing a user base for a new resource. Facilitators coming into an institution with existing resources and an established user base, whether or not they have had a Facilitator in the past, will have different priorities than those who were hired to help assist in building up ACI resources and utilization.
Usage statistics can help Facilitators understand the user base and identify users that may need assistance, and opportunities for improved use of ACI resources
It is crucial that a new Facilitator understand the existing and prospective user base. A new Facilitator should identify the major ACI users, the departments and fields of study that are represented, and identify any special needs. This information may or may not be readily available in the ACI group’s systems; if not, efforts to obtain this information should be a priority. For instance, the ACI group may already be collecting user and usage statistics, or be able to assist the Facilitator in the collection of this type of data. In addition, a Facilitator can explore publications or other reports of research completed using ACI resources in order to obtain information on the existing user base. While studying the existing user base, Facilitators should ponder their prospective users as well. At this point, it is important to begin identifying avenues and opportunities for reaching out to both current and prospective users (see outreach chapter).
The Facilitator will also need to understand the management and reporting structure within the ACI organization, as well as how this structure affects day-to-day operation. The reporting structure is critical because it will determine whom the Facilitator should contact when working on issues relating to responsibilities, priorities, and projects of others in the organization. Similarly, learning the roles and expertise of the organization’s staff members is important because it will determine whom to contact for help with research and technical questions.
Additionally, the Facilitator should understand where the ACI organization is located within the organizational structure of the institution. For example, some ACI teams may be stand-alone entities, located within an institutional-level IT department, or under the direction of a CIO or VP of Research; others may be separate from institutional-level IT or located within a Computer Sciences department. Is this group the sole provider of research ACI services for the entire university or are there multiple providers of similar services present across campus? Knowledge on how, and possibly reasons why, the ACI organization interacts, or does not interact, with other ACI and non-ACI services at the institution will directly impact the Facilitator role by defining the scope of the position and the potential for forming productive cross-organizational relationships (see Interfacing with other ACI Personnel for more detail).
Existing computational resources
A new Facilitator should make extensive efforts to understand the ACI resources for which they have been hired to support, while also developing an awareness of other related resources available to researchers, both on campus and elsewhere, whether or not the resources are currently being utilized. This includes detailed knowledge about what resources exist and the types of resources directly managed by the ACI organization, as well as knowing how to use these resources in order to be able to effectively provide assistance. Specific knowledge includes:
- Details about the compute hardware
- what compute resources are available
- what file systems exist
- what is the networking infrastructure
- what operating system(s) are supported
- Details on the batch scheduler and batch policies that are being used
- What services are provided
- Existing policies and procedures for use of the resources
- Tools being used for user provisioning and tracking usage
For more on this topic, see the chapter on Assisting Researchers in the Use of ACI Resources.
The ACI organization should provide the Facilitator with sufficient accounts and access to enable facilitation. Depending on the position and responsibilities, full or command-limited administrative access may be required for troubleshooting ACI use problems. Minimally, a Facilitator will need to view and read user files; they may also need to move file directories from a user’s area to a test area of their own. Facilitators are encouraged to speak with the system administrator of the ACI team to discuss how these special administrative permissions can be configured. Similarly, for general assistance, the Facilitators should know whom to contact for assistance with tasks beyond their expertise, and for tasks that require access beyond what they have. For much more on this topic, see the chapter on Enhancing ACI Knowledge.
Current state of facilitation
If the ACI organization is new it will be the responsibility of the Facilitator to establish good practices for facilitation. If the Facilitator was hired to replace an existing or previous Facilitator, the new Facilitator should start by learning about current facilitation practices and to understand how these can be continued and improved for the best research outcomes. When a new Facilitator is hired to augment an existing Facilitator, it is important that they work together to find ways to coordinate, so as to complement each other, based on differences in their background and expertise.
If there are established facilitation models, tools, materials, and/or preconceived notions of the working model for user interactions in place, they should be reviewed in order to understand the current state of facilitation as well as its effectiveness. These may include items such as:
- Facilitation materials Documentation (both user facing and internal to the ACI organization)
- Training materials Practices for interacting with researchers
- Engagement practices
- Issue/ticket systems
- Office hours
- Training events
- Tools for managing users
- Account creation
- Usage tracking
- Engagement tracking
- Tools for assessment of facilitation efforts
All of these are discussed in more detail in subsequent chapters of this Leading Practices of Facilitation Guide.
ACI Team members
In addition to learning about ACI resources, the new Facilitator should learn about the other members of the ACI team, with a focus on their expertise, their responsibilities, and the ways the team interacts with one another in order to support researchers. Beyond ensuring a productive relationship with coworkers, this knowledge will assist the Facilitator in accomplishing specific tasks, such as finding answers to researcher questions, troubleshooting problems, and, most importantly, coordinating assistance contributions from other staff. See chapters on Assisting Researchers in the Use of ACI Resources, Implementing a Researcher’s ACI Plan, and Interfacing with Other ACI Personnel for more information on these Facilitation practices.
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Owning the Facilitator Role
In the introduction to this document and in the following chapters, we describe a wide range of facilitation activities to serve as a starting point in determining the specific responsibilities of a Facilitator. It is up to the Facilitator and their supervisor(s) to define and prioritize the specific practices of a given position, in order to meet the specific needs and context of their organization. The goal is to be able to identify and prioritize a set of responsibilities, including day to day tasks, that focus on facilitation.
The Facilitator should work first to establish a presence within the ACI organization, and then to identify ways to inform the larger ACI community of the existence and role of the new Facilitator. A first step is to prepare materials to introduce the Facilitator and enable them to start to engage with the user base. This might include doing the following:
- requisitioning business cards
- developing an online presence (on the ACI website/social media stream)
- introducing yourself in a newsletter article
- giving a presentation to administrators/staff
- giving a seminar to users
- sending an announcement to a mailing lists
- posting an announcement on the institution’s website
Some of these activities may require preparing new materials or modifying existing ones in collaboration with the ACI team or communications staff. Once the presence of the new Facilitator has been established, it is time to begin to engage with the user base.
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In the remainder of this document we present information about what we see as the major aspects of facilitation, as presented in the overview chapter, and share lessons learned from our collective experiences from both being Facilitators and from numerous discussions on facilitation leading practices as part of the ACI-REF program which funded the creation of this document. While each organization will have unique facilitation needs, much of the information provided is on the fundamental tasks of facilitation: outreach, engagement, assistance and education. Each of these topics are covered in the subsequent chapters of this document.
As Facilitators, we hope that this chapter, as well as the remainder of the Leading Practices of Facilitation document and the additional information found on our website, www.aciref.org, serves as a useful starting place as you begin a career as a Facilitator. The material was designed to answer questions, explain topics and suggest options that may not have been immediately obvious when you first considered the facilitation process.
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