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.


Reality Training - getting the 10% of learning right

“I have got the best experience in my career in the last 5 days.” This is an example of the great comments we received from participants in a training for new grantees of the Ethiopia Social Accountabiltiy Programme phase 2 (also on FaceBook). So, what was so special about this training?

“It was so real, I almost felt like I was attending the interface meeting between citizens and government officials,” one of our team  said during the facilitators meeting at the end of the third training day. Initially, the  facilitators were a bit skeptical: would it work to bring the whole project team together, and to train finance officers together with M&E officers, District Coordinators and Project Coordinators in the same week? Well, it worked great, and here’s why. Participants learn best when they are put in situations that resemble the real work as close as possible. This training therefore followed the Social Accountability project cycle, and each group of participants was learning about their specific job in the project along the way.

This is the visual representation of our training design. Each box represents a session, and the boxes with a red border are attended by everyone in the project team.

As an example, some District Coordinators were invited to facilitate the interface meeting, using the findings from the community score card exercise they had conducted in the morning session. During the interface meeting, for which the trainers had prepared various roles for citizens, Service Providers and District Officials to make it as real as possible, other District Coordinators were observing the dynamics in the interface meeting: who was helpful, who was challenging? Observation is an important skill of facilitators that is often overlooked. Meanwhile, the Project Coordinators were observing the facilitation by District Coordinators and learned to give appreciative feedback. Finance officers attended the interface meeting as well, and one of them commented later: “This gives me a better understanding of the type of costs involved in organizing interface meetings.” In this way, everyone was learning what they had to learn in the same practical session.

I call this approach to learning “Reality Training”. All the sessions in the training program are designed so that participants are prepared for their upcoming work, individually, and as a team. At the end of each day, the team came together to share important learning from the different sessions they had attended. This proved to be a real team builder, an additional benefit of the training. We are pleased that the evaluation showed that our design worked very well, but the proof is in the pudding. Will the new grantees do better with project start-up than the grantees that have started before them? To be continued…

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Comment by Lucia Nass on November 5, 2013 at 22:01

Comment on behalf of Mouss:

Thanks a lot for sharing that. That should be the normal practice in
training. Your experience showed me that it is possible. Last year I
was asked to facilitate training on advisory skills for public civil
servants in the WASH sector and I suggested involving in the same
training the public civil servants and local district employees they
are supposed to support to perform well. But my client thought it
costly. In our countries, attending a workshop means getting perdiem.
And they are other logistical arrangements such as accommodation,
transportation, etc.) So I just planned a practical session on ground.
What do you think about?
From another angle, what I did not really get from your story is: why
trainers had to prepare various roles for citizens, Service Providers
and District Officials to make it as real as possible? Without
preparing for it, shouldn’t the exercise be real enough?
For example: this week I trained ten district employees on workshop
facilitation and conflict management. They are in charge of
facilitating multi-stakeholder groups. These multi-stakeholder groups
are composed of all stakeholders (such as district deputy (mayors),
tax services, private sector actors like artisans (handicraft), CSO,
etc.) concerned with local resource mobilization through local
development tax from citizens. If just after the training these
facilitators are introduced to facilitate a multi-stakeholder group
meeting on real topic, wouldn’t it make it real? But in the room, we
just practiced on issues of concern but not with the real actors. We
have experimented facilitation and conflict management skills but we
did not address real problem with real actors.
Once again thank you for sharing such a great experience.

Comment by Lucia Nass on November 5, 2013 at 22:20

Hi Mouss, nice to hear from you. I think nothing can beat the real thing, so your move to organise a practical session on the ground is very good, maybe even better than the classroom.

You are asking about the roles during the interface meeting. It was a mock facilitation exercise, so we needed to create a close to real situation. Part of that came from a session in the morning with community score card. The outcome of that session was the input to the 'mock' interface meeting. Next to that the trainers had prepared 3 sets of very short role descriptions, For instance one paper read: "You are the head master and you have been newly appointed; you have not been part of the process, and you are sceptical about the citizen views. What do citizens know about education?!" This role was to simulate the high staff turnover at district level, for which facilitators need to be prepared. Apart from a 2 line role, 'participants' in the mock meeting were free to be themselves and behave as if they were ordinary citizens, service providers or district officials, as per their role.

Again, your point about the real experience is very true, but "classroom training" has it's place as well: it is a safe environment in which mistakes can be made without too many consequences. The participants in this training immediately start their projects after this training, so they can directly put into practice what they have learned. We have a program of monitoring in which we provide further on the ground feedback and support.

There are many challenges, because we work with 50 local partners and these again have sub-partners. They cover more than 200 districts all over the country. I'll write more about it in future blogs.

Take care Mouss, and Keep sharing!

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