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Priest & Gass' (1997)
Six Generations of Facilitation

James Neill
Last updated:
01 Aug 2004

Priest & Gass (1997) extended Bacon's three stages in the evolution of the Outward Bound process.  Priest and Gass (1997) outline six generations (or types) of facilitation

  1. Letting the experience speak for itself (1940's)
  2. Speaking for the experience (1950's)
  3. Debriefing or funnelling the experience (1960's)
  4. Directly frontloading the experience (1970's)
  5. Framing the experience (1980's)
  6. Indirectly frontloading the experience (1990's)

The three additional stages emphasize more elaborate and conscious use of frontloading and metaphorical processing:

  • 4th stage: Frontloading, involves conducting a preview discussion before an experience to help orient and focus participants during the ensuing activity. 

  • 5th stage: builds upon frontloading by introducing an isomorphic framing, that is, a metaphorical structure for the activity which has a meaningful link to other aspects of participants’ lives. 

  • 6th stage: used where up front frontloading and isomorphic framing may not work, and thus is may involve using paradoxical means, such as telling participants that an activity will probably be too hard for them to complete in order to fire their motivation. 

The explosion of adventure education formats in the last 15 or so years makes it possible to see Bacon’s three stages of program design and Priest and Gass’ (1997) six stages, all in existence - from boot camps to sophisticated adventure therapy - in different countries, organisations, and even in different programs run by the same organization. 

Research on facilitation styles has even suggested that all three styles could be used within a single program, with different orderings creating varied processes and outcomes (e.g. see CAT studies by Priest – www.tarrak.com). 

Whilst it can be tempting to focus on the intricacies and complexities of the latter stages, there is no doubt that the vast majority of outdoor education programming utilizes the first and second stages – letting the experience for itself and using post-experience reflection to help make sense of an experience.  Thus, we shouldn’t let the proposal of advanced facilitation models blind us to the reality that the guts of current programming lies in these two more fundamental and critical stages.

It is also noted that Priest and Gass’ (1997) six stages of facilitation do not go where Thomas James (1980) and Stephen Bacon (1987) were heading in their papers – towards describing a deeper spiral in which each of the three models was an important thread, a transformative, spiritual, even Jungian, type model. 

Priest and Gass’ (1997) six generations of facilitation seem to describe some specific techniques for presenting and sequencing the interaction between activities and instructor intervention.  At the very least, we should be wary and critically examine the proposed linear evolution of stages suggested first as the “mountains” versus “facilitation” duality suggested by James (1980) and then expanded by Bacon (1987) and by Priest and Gass (1997).


Priest, S., & Gass, M. (1997). Effective Leadership in Adventure Programming. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.