In January 2017 I was contacted by CTA and asked to be part of a group of facilitators working together as part of the project called “Experience Capitalization for Greater Impact in Rural Development”.
I had some experience in this field, but this seemed like a different initiative. We have been working together for a few months, and we have already seen quite a bit, and we have also learned a lot. And I am sure that we will see much more in the future.
We have had two workshops in Accra, Ghana (in March and in June), with representatives of different organizations working in Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. I joined both of them as a co-facilitator, which meant that I had to help identify participants and to support the planning process, engage with all participants before and during the meetings, write a first report, and also contact all participants and help them communicate with each other when they were in the field (or back home). I was also asked to help prepare a similar process with French-speaking participants.
At the end of the day, what did it all mean?
Looking back, “facilitating” meant helping people get together, giving them the right tools to progress together within a given period of time, and also working together towards the production of a set of articles that could then be shared with others.
Having one person who can go through the whole process with all participants is positive in terms of coherence and continuity. But I think that having a co-facilitator was also very useful. The main facilitator acted as the pilot, while the co-facilitator (me) could serve as a “tourist guide”, giving additional bits of information and providing advice every time when we reached a strategic place. From what I saw, I think that it is always useful to have someone who can help steer the process, and make sure that it all remains on track.
Various tools and techniques
We had a set of Power Point presentations which were used during the different sessions, and which I think were adequate (they helped us share a lot if information with all participants). They also invited people to share some ideas, and to ask many questions – and we did not always have the answers. One of the points that came up several times was the difference between experience capitalization and monitoring and evaluation (M&E), especially when we were talking about the analysis and when trying to agree on a set of criteria for this analysis. Looking back, this is one of the areas where we might need to prepare ourselves better.
We tried to get participants to tell their own stories, and we also organized practical exercises such as the “recette de cuisine”, which helped us illustrate the path and steps of an experience capitalization process. We also tried to show short videos at different moments (preferably at the end, when participants were getting tired!), and found that this very effective. We found some on the internet which we used during the session on “adopting and institutionalizing”, and they helped us get participants engaged in a lively discussion.
Some of the facilitation techniques we used worked very well. For example, we had a very good “world café”, where we discussed the steps and conditions needed for institutionalizing a capitalization process. We also had a dynamic “peer review” process, printing each one of the articles being written 5 times, and in this way getting the comments of many of those present. Still, I feel that we could have thought of many other techniques to engage all participants, focusing on those techniques to enhance their participation. Perhaps we were much better in terms of the logistics and the preparation of the workshop than on the use of specific techniques, when these could have helped us during the workshop. Producing a facilitators’ guidebook might help.
During the first workshop we didn’t print forms for the practical exercises that we wanted to try with all participants (e.g. describing the case, or analyzing it). This didn’t seem so important at first, but then it was hard to gather what participants were doing at the end as each one of them did it on his/her own way. I would suggest having a printed form for each exercise. But something which did work was having participants involved in the facilitation process, with a daily “co-management committee”, in charge of managing time, making photos, helping address key issues and preparing a day report.
Facilitating while far away
The process we started in Ghana also showed that the work of a facilitator is not limited to a workshop: most of it takes place before and also after all participants get together. For example, it’s very important for the facilitator to have a clear list of who is coming, and writing about what. It seems obvious now, but I didn’t have it when I needed it! The second most significant lesson refers to the need to plan the whole process and decide/write in advance the messages we wanted to share via the email. As we were dealing with participants covering different themes and cases, we thought of an online discussion starting every week, covering a specific topic (the selection and boundaries of an experience; how to collect information; the analysis; the writing process). Having this planned in advance worked well. The problem was that, with time, the participation got a bit weak. Without reactions from many participants, it was difficult to say if what we were doing was right. And in the cases when people did reply, many were waiting until the last minute, so it was difficult to react to what they were saying. But the exchange did connect participants between themselves, and helped them share information.
After the workshop we had another challenge: we found that having participants working on very different cases makes it difficult to give relevant feedback. Looking back, we fell that it can be easier if they focus on a common subject. Or perhaps on a common experience? We might then not be able to have a long list of publications, but we can be much more effective in terms of discussions, and a general exchange among participants.
A learning experience
All in all, this has been a very good learning experience. Being involved in these workshops as a co-facilitator is a very good way of learning before taking the lead of a workshop. If we cannot organize a training-of-trainers session, I would suggest would-be facilitators to join those already supporting an experience capitalization process. And we could also think of a remote coaching or mentoring initiative.