Leading an Inclusive Group

A successful group is one that ensures all participants feel included and positive about their involvement. Read on for tips about how to ensure all participants stay safe and feel like valued group members.


Participants will have differing levels of physical fitness. Some participants may be able to walk at a brisk pace for an extended period of time without feeling any exertion, whereas others may walk more slowly and need to take regular breaks. The “talk test” is a simple method to ensure participants are not overdoing it: participants should be able to carry on a conversation at all times.

Participants may be motivated to walk for various reasons: some may view the walk as their daily exercise and may be looking for a challenge, whereas some may be more motivated by social connections or the opportunity to observe the environment around them. For these reasons, it is necessary to have at least two facilitators supporting your group walk, with more support providing extra benefit. Having additional staff, students, volunteers, or peer leaders means more people can be comfortably accommodated and feel supported as part of your group. For tips on how to accommodate walkers at different levels, see “Troubleshooting: Overcoming Obstacles.”

The following Walking Distance Table can be helpful in route-planning as a rough guideline for the time it will take walkers to cover a specific distance (without breaks!):

Walking Speed Time
10 minutes 20 minutes 30 minutes 60 minutes
Slow 0.6 km 1.2 km 1.8 km 3.6 km
Medium 0.9 km 1.8 km 2.7 km 5.4 km
Fast 1.1 km 2.2 km 3.3 km 6.6 km

Source: Walking Program Walk Leader Handbook (BCRPA)

Another way to estimate your walk timing is to use the following guidelines, courtesy of Hike Ontario:

Leisurely Less than 2 km/hour
Slow 2–3 km/h
Moderate 3–4 km/h
Fast 5 km/h or greater

Social Interactions

All participants should feel safe on group outings, and recognize that they are valued and included group members. For some participants, joining a walking group may feel like a risk, and they may harbour doubts or insecurities about being part of the group. They may not spend much time in public places and may be self-conscious in the community. Participants may be socially isolated outside of this group and feel intimidated by social interactions, or experience troubling thoughts in social situations. Initiating and sustaining conversations may be challenging.

As a leader you can help create a safe, inclusive, supportive group environment by keeping the following in mind before, during, and after a walk:

When Planning a Walk

  • Designate one group facilitator to lead at the front of the group, and one to keep up the rear (the “sweep”) to ensure the group loses no one.
  • Remind all facilitators that no one walks alone! Participants can buddy up, or walk with a group facilitator.

Before a Walk Begins

  • Arrive at your meeting location a few minutes early to welcome new members and assure people that they are in the right place.
  • Ensure all participants know each other’s names, as well as those of volunteers, students, and guests. When new walkers join your group, start with a round of introductions and maybe a quick icebreaker. Participants can introduce themselves and state their favourite place to walk, or how long they have been involved with the group.
  • Remember how many walkers you have with you, and remind participants not to leave the group without letting a facilitator know.
  • Introduce the route: describe its length, how long it will likely take to complete, the terrain and gradients, and its overall difficulty.
  • Outline any hazards you may encounter. Encourage participants to share their perception of any other hazards with the group to help keep everyone safe.
  • Make sure everyone has a buddy, and encourage participants to change their buddies sometimes! This will ensure that no one walks alone and allows your participants to get to know each other.
  • Get walking within five minutes of the advertised start time, to keep the group on track.

During a Walk

  • Group leaders, volunteers, and students can move among pairs of walkers, facilitating conversation and observing participants’ physical exertion and overall mood.
  • Make sure all walkers are managing the demands of the walk—use the “talk test” (see “Pacing” above). Be attuned to signs of physical distress. Dehydration can be a concern; watch for light-headedness, nausea, headache, or cramping. Encourage participants to respect their bodies’ limitations; reduce the pace or call a rest break when needed.
  • Some participants may be directive with others, ask overly personal questions, or share uncomfortable personal information. Be attuned to conversations that may leave participants feeling deflated or frustrated, and intervene. Be prepared to step in if a participant appears uncomfortable.
  • Observations about the natural environment and wildlife you may encounter can be a safe, engaging topic to facilitate conversation.

After a Walk

  • Do a quick head count to make sure everyone has returned, and congratulate the group for their efforts.
  • Be sure to ask participants for their feedback on the walk: How was the pace and the length of the walk? What did they think of the route? Are there any suggestions for the next walk? See “Documenting Participants’ Experiences” for other questions for debriefing after a walk.
  • Update the group about the next meeting or any upcoming events they should know about.
  • Offer specific feedback to participants, perhaps in private, about your observations of them as part of the group. If a participant made an effort to include another participant, or seems able to walk more comfortably, let them know! For some, participating in the group may be a major accomplishment, and recognition may help keep their motivation up.

Source: How to Lead a Walk (Walk4Life, Walk England)

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