THE ART OF BEING A FACILITATOR

One of the most eagerly awaited sessions began with a challenge for those participants who arrived late: to carry out the Make an Eight forfeit, which involved drawing a figure of 8 with their bodies. This was a fun way to start our discussion on the following question: “What are we talking about when we refer to facilitation and facilitators?”.

Using a kinaesthetic version of multiple choice, the participants decided between true and false options regarding evaluation matrices, questions, social action theory, sources and tools.

Jorge Chávez–Tafur ran the session for facilitators and invited us to use introspection and hindsight to evaluate our own practice. He also took us on a tour of accepted international definitions of the term facilitation, which included entries as varied as yanapai -a Quechua term which means help- and Voorlichtingskunde -which alludes to the science of “lighting the way” in Dutch-. Taking into account the diversity of names, which at times shared little in common, he insisted that rather than agree on terms, the important thing was to capture all that they covered: content, effects and impact.

In a crowd sourcing activity, the participants pooled their ideas on what being a facilitator involves. Put succinctly, you could say that it involves meeting objectives, motivating impact, creating products (in terms of change and reports) among various other activities such as guiding processes, working on the ground, motivating, including all voices, reflecting, creating space for learning, etc. Everyone agreed that being a facilitator is about much more than hosting workshops. A facilitator is responsible for ensuring that PE is truly participatory and that it fulfils the real task of evaluating.

This was followed by a dramatised version of an imaginary but typical situation featuring a recruitment interview.  This illustrated through a different lens what is usually requested in terms of expertise, skills, the ability to work in a team and available resources. This activity showed the difference between a typical facilitator versus an ideal one.

Following in the same vein, the next activity split the group into four smaller groups to discuss facilitation and the role of the facilitator at various points of the process: team training, data collection, design and use of tools and general logistics.

Regarding team training, the groups discussed the need for clear communication, a certain know-how in conflict resolution and the need to base training on the group’s reality. Diversity within the group should be protected at the same time that a commitment to setting objectives should be upheld. By doing so, each and every participant can be empowered.

In order to do this, they need to be able to constantly manage and gather diverse information which goes beyond identifying stakeholders and categorising them. This does not only refer to groups but also to people who they will work alongside in order to establish outreach strategies for different groups of stakeholders.

Dialogue on tools was limited to four questions: Why am I going to apply these tools? Who am I going to apply them with? What resources will be used? How do they work?

Ultimately, these questions can be considered in all types of evaluation, but in PE it incorporates an evolution, empowerment and ownership of the tools.  Another important aspect is that these should not be seen as ways to extract information but rather as potential instruments to be used throughout the process: starting with the initial planning through to its implementation.

In terms of logistics, flexibility was mentioned as a main feature throughout the process. This relates to caring about people both in terms of physical spaces and timescales, requiring attention to agendas and factors that are essential to create a helpful environment.

In the second part of the day, there was a discussion on the role of facilitator in relation to five pillars and the problems generated for each of these: Matrices/plan, data collection, synthesis/dissemination, the use/adoption and institutionalisation.

With regard to the matrices, it is important that the facilitator can:

    • Define what to evaluate – the difficulty here lies in involving all stakeholders and reaching a consensus which takes into account possible conflicts of interest.
    • Define criteria – a stage in which it is important that participants understand what the details of each mean.
    • Define questions – the difficulty here is in making sure participants understand the criteria and that everyone is on board.

With regard to data collection, it is necessary for the facilitator to be able to:

    • Identify necessary data, even though sometimes this data and/or their sources are not available.
    • Design data collection instruments, attempting to avoid the temptation to return to the more well-known ones and/or use inadequate instruments as this can be an impediment to comparing information gathered from this data.
    • Test instruments and adapt them if necessary, despite time pressures.
    • Make data collection plans and timescales which factor in contingency plans related to time management.
    • Coordinate with informants and participants – in this sense, the biggest difficulty is in not being able to reach more stakeholders and information sources.
    • Execution and record keeping – being careful not to lose information or have incomplete records.
    • Verify that the plan is followed – for this, it is essential that the evaluator can constantly reassess the various stages.
    • Order the collected data – for this to be a success, the data should already be well organised.

With regard to data collection the facilitator needs to be able to:

    • Draft and/or delegate drafting of report – for this, the most important information has to be carefully selected.
    • Share results with the community and/or stakeholders to get important feedback – this can be difficult at times due to the document not being streamlined or easy enough to read.
    • Define the communication and synthesis product – this is an important point because usually not enough time and/or a sufficient budget is assigned to dissemination.
    • Determine the aim of dissemination – this is where conflicts of interest often surface due to fears linked to the dissemination of results.
    • Build capacity in the person responsible for dissemination – as this person may be subject to intimidation from others

With regard to use/adoption, the facilitator needs to be able to:

    • Provide space for reflection on viability/usefulness of recommendations, avoiding the temptation to focus only on data collection.
    • Provide moments for those interested to hear the results and recommendations, avoiding language that is either too technical or too basic.
    • Promote ownership through suitable methodologies – this usually takes time and may involve deepening/expanding methodologies.
    • Make a multi-level follow-up plan which should be well structured and should set out who is responsible for which commitments.
    • Think about an incentive package, without falling into the trap of objectives.
    • Build capacity for monitoring among stakeholders who have been involved in participation processes, insisting on sustainability (motivation, attitude, resources, etc.)

With regard to institutionalisation, the facilitator should:

    • Involve decision-makers in evaluation processes. This is generally a challenge for all stages of the process and can be beyond the facilitator’s capabilities to manage.
    • Communicate positive results and rigor to convince others that it is a good method even if not many experiences have been systematised/revised.
    • Support guides/documents on PE – one of the main obstacles for this is obtaining finance.
    • Use tools which facilitate capacity building in community and which demonstrate the robust methodology involved in this process.
    • Take the PE approach and apply it to academic and professional fields so that PE is used at both local and macro levels even though this is not simple.
    • Promote/participate in evaluation networks which support the PE approach.
    • Demonstrate that the facilitator is doing a good job. This will encourage the use of this type of evaluation.

Finally, all agreed that they grew to love the process and that they were subsequently committed to evaluation and to each of the stakeholders they came into contact with.

And this concluded the fourth day of the First Gathering of Experiences. Tomorrow is the final day and will feature a Participatory Evaluation Tools Fair.  See you there!

For now, we will leave you with this photo gallery from today.

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