Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


How do you help people to develop? The SNV Way

Most development workers know that development depends on people's own initiatives. Yet, that is easier said then done. How do you then help people to develop? It's a profession! That's why SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, an international NGO, is investing in professional development of its advisors.

In 2010 I helped to develop the SNV Way, a professional development program for advisors in their first year with SNV. Last month I was again co-facilitating the program for SNV advisors in West and Central Africa (WCA). It was the second time that I worked with co-facilitators Fidele Yobo, Advisor Livestock/M&E, from SNV Cameroon, and Fauossa Tadjou, consultant based in Bamako, Mali (see picture).

The SNV Way program is designed for advisors in their first year with the organization. There was a bit of a backlog in WCA, so there were some advisors in the group who had already participated in an earlier version of the program several years ago. The SNV Way program is mandatory, so there was a bit of resistance as you can imagine.

Rita Ambadire, has been an advisor with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation for several years now. She currently works for the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program in Tamale, northern Ghana. Initially, Rita was not enthousiastic to participate in yet another SNV workshop, but as she explains in this clip, at the end of it she feels that she has learned a lot. She discovered that she had many assumptions about SNVs way of working. She will now take some new actions. The most important is reflecting. Rita didn’t reflect much before on the way she works, but she now sees that reflection will bring the change that she wants. It will help her take important decisions to advance her advisory work. She feels everyone in SNV should do this program, not just those who are new employees.

SNV also offers the professional development program to partners, national organizations who are involved in capacity development work. Thomas Sayibu Imoro is CEO of NEWENERGY. His organization is a partner of SNV in the water sector in Northern Ghana. In the clip below you can hear that he feels he got more than he paid for to join the SNV Way program. He now realizes that he makes a lot of assumptions about development situations, and will spend more time prospecting (= understand diversity in the sector, and the interests of different actors within it). He has also discovered more about his strengths, and will attempt to better balance his personality treats. For instance, he is a coordinator and a team player (see Belbin history and test), and he feels that he is controlling people too much. As you can see in this clip, he will definitely recommend this program to others.

The stories of Rita and Sayibu show that helping people to develop starts with knowing yourself, and developing yourself.


What role do facilitators play? Preparation… 

It all begins with good preparation. People who come to a workshop unprepared cannot go as far as people who come well prepared. SNV discovered in Asia that the whole organization must work together to ensure that new comers develop their practice. The SNV Way program is new in WCA and the managers were still unprepared for what was to come. Amagoin Keita, Director of SNV Ghana, visited the residential program on day 3, and the experience took him by surprise. At the end of his visit he told me: “We have had a tough year. Due to budget cuts we had to let people go and there is still much unrest in the organization. I was prepared to meet a lot of tough questions from advisors today, but nobody has come to me about these issues. They are all totally engaged with the program.”

We met again at the end of the week. Amagoin didn’t need a lecture on the importance of engaging management in learning programs for employees. Without prompting, he observed that “We did not really market the program well. A bit wait and see. Yet this is a management responsibility, which we must take up in the future.” Indeed, managers, or team leaders if you like, are in the best position to see how new advisors can develop themselves, and they are also in a position to support ongoing learning after the intensive residential week.

The SNV Way program starts with induction, during which the new advisor gets a mentor, starts exploring basic SNV documentation, and begins work in a team of advisors. Before joining the residential week, a number of exercises need to be completed:

  • A short profile with professional and some personal basics, so that the facilitators know who is coming. The ‘personal’ question is a first indicator to participants that they are bringing themselves to the program, not just their technical knowledge.
  • A preliminary assessment based on a knowledge, skills and behaviour framework that was developed for the SNV Way program. Participants agree on three personal development issues with their manager, and these are reviewed at the end of the residential week. Participants usually gain new insights about themselves as well as their practice. At the end of the residential week, they make an action plan for personal development, which will be integrated into SNV’s performance management system after another conversation with their manager upon return to the team.
  • A personal case about how the advisor has begun to develop capacity of organisations in the program of their team.

The exercises are shared with the facilitators a week before the residential workshop. Experience in SNV Asia shows that the more value country management attaches to this preparatory work, the more participants can grow on the program. The Human Resource Officers in each country ensures coordination among participants, mentors, managers and facilitators. On Sunday, before we start, the facilitation team is meeting with Eric, the Human Resource Officer in SNV Ghana. He tells us that some participants are wondering if this program is going to be useful for them. Some have been with the organization for several years, and this program is designed for advisors in their first year with SNV. I share experiences with overcoming similar forms of resistance in the Asia region a few years back.

In the evening, when we start the introduction activity of the workshop, I point out that in this week we offer everyone an opportunity to stretch themselves, to pull themselves up to the next professional level. I call upon their practice:

“As capacity builders, you know that a facilitator cannot develop her participants. It’s up to them to develop themselves. So, at the end of this week, if you have not learned anything, you may ask yourself if you have made good use of this opportunity to be in a group with so many experienced people. If you feel you are not learning, come and talk to the facilitation team.”

In my experience, if you treat people as responsible adults, they start behaving as such. And indeed, while on Monday morning there is still some resistance with a few participants, by lunch time they are all on board.

What role do facilitators play? Practice what you preach…

Although I have been co-facilitating the SNV Way program for a few years now, I am still amazed at the power of a good design and quality facilitation. The design has 4 strands that are tightly woven together:

  1. The consulting cycle. In the residential week participants spend a year in an imaginary country, Arkadia, where they have to work in a team to scale good practice, to develop capacity of multiple stakeholders, and to deal with change as it happens, while staying focused on the final impact for poor people.
  2. Theory inputs. Capacity development is not taught in any university, but that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of theoretical underpinnings. Participants learn about experiential and adult learning, systems theory, change theories, and different roles an advisor may play. Articles, manuals, links and more are available via an interactive knowledge map on the intranet. Some of the theory sessions are prepared by a participant to stress the importance of regular reading and peer learning.
  3. Skills clinics. Most development workers are good at teaching, and advising in the sense of telling others what to do. This is a very limited skill set. In the SNV Way participants develop giving and receiving feedback, asking questions / interviewing, being assertive, steering conversations, balancing advocacy and inquiry in conversations, and coaching. They immediately put their skills into practice in Arkadia (see 1 above).
  4. Reflection. At the end of every day participants spend an hour in a learning group for individual and group reflection on the day. Through daily exercises participants experience reflective practice.

Quality facilitation is very important as well. The SNV Way uses two facilitators, an internal and an external facilitator. The internal facilitator is close to, or part of, the regional management team and therefore understands the SNV organization from a strategic position. This person is known and respected throughout the region. (S)he performs the role of SNV Country Director in Arkadia (see 1 above), and can give SNV specific feedback to practice issues.

The external facilitator has Organisational Development and Change expertise. This person, and her/his organization, are known and respected in one or more of the countries SNV operates in. As an international organization that specializes in capacity development of local organizations, SNV has deliberately chosen to work with professionals from capacitated local organizations. This ‘local’ facilitator pays specific attention to individual growth of participants, group dynamics and overall learning.

The facilitators constantly demonstrate the skills, knowledge and behaviour that the program aims to develop. For instance, in the session on feedback, one facilitator gives feedback to another facilitator. In Ghana, Fidele gave me feedback on how I had handled a question of one of the participants. It was one of these questions-for-the-sake-of-asking-questions for which I have little patience. The feedback was spot on and graciously received. This impressed participants, as I had not been defensive but wanted to understand what had been observed about me and the effect my actions had on some in the group. It set the tone for our invitation to all of them to give and ask for feedback from peers.

What role do facilitators play? Keep it real and personal…

At the end of the week, Jose joins the workshop. She works as learning coordinator at the regional office, and has come to take part in the action planning and evaluation sessions. Jose:

“The relaxed and productive atmosphere struck me when I came in on Thursday, and at the end of the workshop it was moving to see the advisors being vulnerable, sharing their real personal practice issues. This has been a very meaningful experience for them.”

Eric, the Human Resource Officer overheard advisors talk: “we are not doing the right thing, if this program would have come earlier…”. He concluded that although everyone had been in Arkadia, they were questioning themselves and also seeing new ways forward in their own work. Arkadia proves to be a place where everyone can bring their own case to life.

One of the reasons why participants are so engaged and really feel themselves grow on the program is because the facilitators keep everything close to their daily practice. In some of the personal cases for instance, from which facilitators draw during the skills clinics (see 3 above), participants write about 'difficult partners'. On the program they learn that when organisations are not making progress, we can also question the approach of the development worker. What can you do differently? On the program advisors realize that they do most of the talking. They wrongly believe that solutions and suggestions have to come from their side. Through working with new skills such as coaching, they realise that it is possible to help organisations discover their own solutions, and that this is more empowering and sustainable.


When does the facilitator role end?

At the end of the week, co-facilitator Faoussa wonders: Now that participants come back to there team, will this same spirit of openness be there? In Asia it took several runs of the program before we had a critical mass of advisors and enough support from managers for reflective practice. In WCA, managers can make progress faster if they connect with and learn from their SNV peers in the Asia region.

At the end of the week, advisors make a plan to continue learning in work. They identify 2-3 areas of their practice which they would like to further develop with support from managers and peers. This plan is shared with their manager and the human resource officer of their country, so that adequate support is made available. The facilitators in a way hand the advisors back to their manager, by writing a short note about each of them.

From Asia, things that work in phase three:

  1. a conversation with the manager about the plan to develop further in work. With reference to the preliminary assessment, facilitators write a follow-up note to each manager, indicating the areas of growth and where further support may be needed.
  2. regular, reflective team meetings. What works well is the impact story, which uses the result chain of the capacity development program to explain 1) the work of the past month, and the capacities that were developed through that work. 2) the intensions with which these capacities were developed, namely so that an organisation could begin to do somthing differently. 3) These different actions can then be observed, and 4) results for poor people can begin to be documented. The impact story helps to monitor advisory work, and keeps the advisors focussed on results.
  3. peer coaching. It is amazing how good peer coaching can help an advisor see clearly what actions can best be taken next. Advisors need to learn to ask for coaching when they are thinking through important interventions. Peer coaching helps to check more angles to an intervention, helps to think in new ways. Peer coaching is not about making suggestions, but about asking the right questions. See this short video to learn more about a peer coaching method called peer assist, or these Guidelines for peer assist.

I would like to end this long blogpost with a quote from Keshab Joshi, a manager in SNV Nepal. We were discussing that advisors and managers often feel they are too busy to take time for regular reflection. Keshabe said:

When you feel that you are too busy to take time to reflect, than that is exactly the sign that you should take time to reflect.


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Comment by Edcanela on April 16, 2012 at 5:52

Wonderful article Lucia....This should still be running around. Congratulations!

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