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.


Stimulating the Social Accountability movement

When we were talking about facilitating the last learning event in the Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2), we noticed that more and more stakeholders are gradually taking an interest because the program is producing real service improvement results. How to bring relatively new stakeholders on board with those who have already been involved with Social Accountability for two years or more? This workshop needed to help old and new to start moving as one into the future. As workshop facilitators we would be stimulating the SA movement - here are the key facilitation ingredients (with thanks to Inigo Retolaza Eguren for reflective support).

Close your eyes

Inspired by Otto Sharner’s U-Lab, I designed a mindfulness exercise to let people experience the movement they were part of or coming into, and to imagine the potential of that movement for the future. It was an unusual choice in the context of Ethiopia, with a mix of citizens (vulnerable groups!), service providers, government officials, and development partners, most of who are used to very formal workshop settings. But we had done "strange" things before, and my Ethiopian colleagues responded well to the exercise, so we went ahead with it. One of the team developed a perfect translation in Amharic, which is critical as he did not just translate the words, but the cultural meaning of it as well. Due to the mixed nature of the group, we chose to read the mindfulness guidance in two languages – which seemed to work well.

Almost all of the 500 people joined in each exercise. There was something magical about it, really. It is as if we could feel everyone starting to open up a bit and “gel”. Here are some experiences with the exercise, as expressed in learning groups at the end of the first workshop day:

It helped all stakeholders in the room to understand social accountability with a full heart, as citizens. Lucia thinks for our community more than we do. We can all think about our attitudes and contributions to our country. We now better understand how SA can contribute to the development of the country, especially in good governance and improving service delivery. It inspired us to work strongly and gave us ideas for sensitizing our neighbours back home. (citizen representatives group) 

It made us think about our values and responsibility for the program, about all people as human beings and Ethiopian citizens, and about the living conditions of the grassroots community. It impressed on both service users and providers to develop a sense of belonging, ownership, honesty, sustainability and patriotism towards the community that we belong to. It will help participants to implement the program with total commitment and in a sustainable manner.

Sector results

In the previous biannual workshops, learning had been around generic SA themes, like mobilisation of vulnerable groups or facilitation of interface meetings. Now that most of the 49 projects are beginning to have service improvement results, we opted to organise sector specific learning. We work in 5 basic public service sectors (education, health, water and sanitation, agriculture and rural roads), and the session started with interviewing a panel of SA innovators – citizens and service providers that achieved remarkable results. Participants then worked in small groups guided by ‘a learning benchmark cluster report’ and a set of questions – food for thought.

Next to helping us  document more specific service improvements that have been achieved, the session also demonstrated the potential of SA for policy makers. Through SA projects, sectors can get an overview of front line service issues and how local solutions have been found to improve these. Patterns of issues and solutions might point policy makers towards the development of new guidelines, and adjustment of supervision checklists. The SA movement benefits all stakeholders, not just citizens.


At the end of the first day, participants we mixed up to enable cross-sector reflection on learning so far. This happened in communication clinics – where they were supported with a reflection exercise, and then helped to share their SA learning in a creative way. We had 5 clinics: participatory video (staff from 39 partners had already been trained, so there was enough experience in the room), radio, photo story, Most Significant Change story (this is a methodology promoted by ESAP2 as part of quarterly reporting), and theatre for SA (we are piloting this in August 2015 – it’s a form of theatre that engages the audience). Two take-ways for participants:

  1. It is not about listing lessons learned, but it is about finding what touched or impressed you, and reflecting why this is important for you. This gets to the heart of meaningful learning.
  2. When meaningful learning is captured in a creative way, it can help to bring others into the learning, in this case: into the SA movement.


It is interesting how NGOs may have an experience with one program, but they may not apply it to another program. On the morning of the second day, we created space to learn from the Civil Society Support program, which works to “reach the hard to reach”. This helped the ESAP2 partners to review their empowerment strategy. In turn, they also considered how SA principles and practice might be taken into other projects of the organisation.

This session brought home at a deep level that SA is about making services accessible to all citizens, including vulnerable groups. While we could only invite a few representatives of vulnerable groups, the involvement of such groups in the SA movement is crucial for achieving responsive service delivery. Plenary sharing of lessons at the end of each workshop by a representative from vulnerable groups was also moving and inspiring for all. There is nothing more effective than bringing the real world into the workshop!

When I closed my eyes at the beginning of the workshop, and thought about beautiful Ethiopia, I could not see myself in it.At the end of this workshop I feel different, because I have sat at the same table with senior government officials. They listened to me and we shared meals together. I cannot begin to tell you what this means for someone like me, so I wrote a poem. (Visually impaired participant, who then read the poem he wrote using braille.)

World Café

Finally, everyone came together in a World Café to do some forward thinking. There was one session with 3 rounds before lunch on the questions – what will the future with SA look like for you? Who will benefit in what way? The second session with 3 rounds happened after lunch on the questions – what will you do to make it happen? What would you like others to do? Who still needs to come on board of the SA movement?

I captured the richness of this thinking in a creative booklet that uses the “table cloths” as illustrations. We will share it in yet another setting – the bi-annual review of Promoting Basic Services, the program of with ESAP2 is part. The meeting will reflect on the future of SA in Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, we will continue to stimulate the SA movement.

The facilitation team

Top row - Rolf Hunink, Meskerem Grima, Tenaw Mengist, me, Marijke Bos, Tamiru Lega, bottom: Bottom row: Sofia Imam, Abeje Teffera, Sosena Lemma, and Blen Fitsum

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