First stage: gone!

Done. Gone. Finito. The initial stage of the capacity building piece of work I’ve been carrying out in Guatemala the last months is over. I can recall each day but I’m also shocked: time flies! It was almost yesterday that I contacted the partner to discuss the details of the terms of reference, agree on main learning aims and plan the logistics for this one-year initiative. We’ve discussed long and wide the 12 months to build capacity on Participatory Video for Monitoring and Evaluation. And now I’m back home after delivering the first stage with my colleagues. Time really flies.

In this initiative we mainly focus on building capacity of 12 trainees, adolescent girl community leaders in charge of girl groups, and two staff of the country office of the INGO partner. Over four stages of training and fieldwork throughout the year, the trainees learn and experiment with Participatory Video (PV) and Most Significant Change (MSC), a participatory M&E tool based on storytelling. The whole process is based on experiential learning with a strong participatory ethos.

Now that I’m back, I’ve been dedicating some good time to reflect, report and share learning with the team. I would say that the key components we’ve been working on with the girls are group bonding, facilitation, PV (including participatory editing) and MSC.

So what went well and what didn’t?

It went well:

On the partner’s front…

  • Thorough process to select the right trainees, conducted by the country office.
  • Coordination and logistics by the partner in place! (it’s sounds obvious, but I founded myself before in deep waters linked to this issue)
  • Belief in participatory ethos (don’t take this one for granted either)
  • Incorporating PV MSC helped establish the ground for the trainees to better understand the partner structure as an NGO and the operating system
  • The cascading leadership system they use in girl programming was in action and at service during fieldwork! Mentors supporting girl leaders, interns visiting other interns in neighbouring community to “see what’s going on”, girl leaders supporting girl participants from other communities.
  • They’ve supported the trainees in planning a big well-deserved party to celebrate so many achievements.

On the trainers front…

  • We had a detailed content plan, that we revised each day, but that we also changed depending on the trainees’ needs. This was the only way to ensure the games & exercises were creating the right group dynamic, they had a clear purpose and timing. If you get this right, and give clear instructions, then the magic flows…
  • Visualise everything! Experiential learning is really powerful, but it can also leave the participant feeling fearful of not remembering what they’ve learnt. Well, we took the “visualising” business seriously, so after a month of training the trainees produced more than the needed material to cover all the wall of the workshop space, and realised that way how much they have learnt.
  • Taking the trainees out of their comfort zones. In this workshop, this meant taking them to the streets, to interact with strangers. For indigenous adolescent girls it’s difficult to interact in the streets of a city in a country highly divided by class and ethnicity. It wasn’t easy the first time, but the last day they all remembered the experiences in the street, acknowledged the effect it had on them and felt proud for overcoming their fears.
  • Changing teams after some weeks to refresh the dynamics and bonding
  • Good to set an iterative process for action planning using always the same tool. They took the tool, they re-created it, and by the end of the workshop they’ve owned it. They now feel confident on how to plan and organise themselves in the teams before fieldwork.
  • Building collectively the MSC structure for collection and selection, with the trainees own words, as well as the meanings the trainees wanted to attribute to each domain.
  • Using drama to create another PV after collecting testimonies made a huge difference to the collective process of discussion and expressing views on difficult issues like sexual education, and the community participants had great fun!
  • Sampling with an easy method but ensuring rigour

On the trainees front…

  • They’ve incorporated the adults easily to the team (2 staff of the partner, 3 trainers and 1 donor staff visiting). They’ve even told the donor rep that he was like “another girl”.
  • Overcoming feeling homesick after a long period away from home.
  • Overcoming normal teenage tensions in the group and grasping the concept “each one teach one” as a natural thing, creating equal relations with their peers and learning from each other.
  • Great sense of responsibility! They practised every night before fieldwork, on their own, without telling us.
  • They organised themselves easily in roles per team and were flexible enough to improvise in the field, if needed.
  • Supporting each other during fieldwork, and taking decisions independently. (We were there to support them, but with complete hands off the process.)

It didn’t go so well:

  • Having PAL cameras in NTSC land for the first days! (Yes, we did check all the equipment beforehand, but for some crazy reason the distributor sent us PAL although we ordered NTSC). Next time: Triple or quadruple check!
  • The facilitation concept was too abstract in the initial week, it needs time to evolve and experience it. We should have also facilitated an MSC process with them as participants. Being a participant is essential to then facilitate.
  • Deciding to carry out the pilot MSC on the trainees themselves instead of on staff. It was difficult for them to facilitate the process on each other, although they had really powerful stories to share (as they are all beneficiaries as well)
  • Language limitations: speaking the national language but not the trainees mother tongues. The group included girls from 4 different linguistic regions of the country.
  • It was difficult to ask probing questions in the MSC collection and interview process. Note to the self: we need more games to make it easier.
  • We were embedded in a culture of strong gossiping trying to make people tell difficult stories about themselves! Not a really good environment for that. How to create a space of trust? Next time: less people in the room and the location appropriate for building a safe space.
  • The domains didn’t work really well. Giving people a topic to discuss stories of change sometimes can hinder the real stories or confuse people on abstract concepts. During post-training assignments trainees will shift to ask a general MSC question and we will all then tag the stories into domains (based on grounded theory).
  • Consent procedure: way too complex, too many steps. Next time: a different process for testimony and for drama participation, to make it easier for the trainees as well as for the participants.
  • Underestimating the influence of the political background: the partner worked closely with local leaders to prepare fieldwork, but we were there during country elections and this played a role. In one of the communities, a leader hijacked part of the final selection process to fulfil her personal political agenda, creating a tense environment for the trainees.
  • Add to the previous point: not having enough time to screen all the rushes in the first visit, gave space for that leader to manipulate a few members of the community into her discourse. Next time: Always make time for screening everything they’ve filmed. That will avoid confusion.
  • Last, but not least, delaying the signature of MoU, ToR and contract meant that the transfer of money to the country office was delayed. Next time: Don’t diminish internal politics in INGOs

Now off to bed. Stay tuned as I’ll keep posting reflections…

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14 Comments on “First stage: gone!”

  1. Nsinazo says:

    I love the passion you put into your work Sole!! I would be sooo happy to host you in Kenya… :-) Whenever you’re ready. I’ll stay tuned for more…

  2. Roxanne says:

    It’s a treat to learn through you — Guatemala is very dear to my heart and I wish I were there to watch this project unfold.

  3. Solemu – This is excellent – thanks so much for sharing your learning with us. Could you talk a little more about the phrase “participatory ethos”? I believe I know what you mean by it, but it’s a very important one to understand and can be challenging to implement.

    • solemu says:

      Thanks Bonnie for the comment and the question. Yes, it’s challenging to implement. That’s why I mentioned that the partner’s understanding of participation is not a minor thing. It was really important to have a positive result at this stage. Belief in participatory ethos for me is linked to “walking the talk”. This means: giving space for the trainees (beneficiaries) to take decisions and be the main actors. It also means later on taking into account beneficiaries feedback & suggestions. It sounds pretty obvious but many times after participatory processes the organisation does not learn and/or implement changes to programming. There are several causes to this. I would suggest you reading the new PLA issue, in which I had the pleasure to contribute: “How wide are the ripples? From local participation to international organisational learning” http://pubs.iied.org/14606IIED.html

  4. Thanks, Solemu. I’ll take a look at the report. You and your readers who might not know of it might also be interested in the Barefoot Guide: http://www.barefootguide.org/

  5. Ale Colom says:

    I got to say that one of the trainees gave us a MASTER LECTURE on consent two weeks ago…so you are building some strong skills!!! she blew us away with her description of how you do it and why. She did it without notes, totally empowered and convinced of it, in front of people from UNFPA and NGOs from 7 different countries. Amazing!! Her presentation on MSC was also amazing.

  6. Sorry, Sole, realize I’ve been addressing you by your Twitter handle @solemu…guess it’s how I know you :-) Must mean we’ll need to meet in person very soon!

  7. [...] many things have happened since the last time I was able to sit and write about it in this blog. The Participatory Video for Monitoring & [...]


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