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Published by: Allan on Jan 06, 2009
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Participatory Approaches: A facilitator’s guide
Participatory tools are specific activitiesdesigned to encourage joint analysis, learningand action. Special ‘packaged’ techniques can bevery powerful ways of getting people involved.However, no one tool or technique is applicableto all situations. Beware of falling into the‘solution trap’ – believing that a gadget will fixthe problem. Some questions toconsider:
Q. What is your aim or purpose? Q. Who are your stakeholders? Q. What is the setting? Q. What resources do you have to hand? Q. What level of participation do you and the group want? 
These and many other questions need to beanswered before you pick up a tool and try to useit to solve your problem. This toolkit presents aselection of tools in alphabetical order anddiscusses their strengths and limits. However,you will need to build your own personal toolkitthat is appropriate for your own unique situation,taking into account the culture, resources, needsand capabilities of local people.
Each tool encourages different levels ofparticipation. Nevertheless, the same tool canbe run at vastly different levels of participationdepending on the agreed purpose, thetechnique used, and critically, the attitudeofthe facilitator. Tools that generate a highlevel of participation can be used to assessthe capability and desire of a group to work inthis style, with relatively little direction.
PA tools should neither be seen in isolation nor just as activities for building rapport in the initialstages of a project or partnership. Part I hasshown the value of involving people throughouta participatory process, and Part II hasdiscussed possible methods that link a series oftools together to generate richer informationand achieve project or process goals.
The only way to realise the value of PA tools isto try them out. Explain their value to thegroup you are working with. Experiment.Learn what works and what doesn’t. Thegolden rule is never assume that somethingwon’t work until you try it. The likelihood isthat the communities and cultures you workwith are highly receptive to creative and activemethods. Tap into local creative forms andincorporate them into your activities.
III-1.1 Watch and listen: Guidelines forchoosing the most appropriate tool
Think about which extension efforts haveworked well (or not so well) in the community ororganisation in the past. Learn how people thinkand communicate information. This will give youclues about what tools might work best.
For example, ask a number of local peopledirections to the next village, and observe theways they relay this information. If peoplesketch a map or a diagram, this could meanthat visual tools would work best for them. Ifpeople give verbal or written instructions,they may be comfortable with discussion-based or written tools. If verbal directions areparticularly detailed, this may indicate anaptitude for tools like storytelling, drama andvisualisation.Do local people have books and magazines? Dothey have pictures decorating their homes? Dothey use symbols to decorate theirimplements? How is information relayed: byword of mouth, written materials, posters?These kinds of observations will give cluesabout people’s use of written, oral or visual
Participatory Approaches: A facilitator’s guide
communication types. This will help you tomake a shortlist of tools that are likely towork in a particular setting. Be aware too ofother factors that may limit participation suchas visual or hearing impairments, or otherphysical or learning disabilities that maymake one tool more or less suitable thananother.Figure 12 on pages 64–65 shows a matrix ofthe dominant communication type of each toolpresented in Part III (visual, oral or written),together with an at-a-glance summary ofwhich tools are appropriate for which stage ofthe development process, and the level ofparticipation for which they are most suitable.
III-1.2 Organising participatory exercises
Without being too formulaic, most participatoryactivities or workshops will benefit from:1.an introduction, clearly explaining thepurpose and benefit2.some kind of icebreaker or warm-up activityto get people used to working together3.a brief exploration of what people wouldlike to achieve from the activity – anyexpectations or fears4.some commonly agreed ground rules,such as:• each person has the right to contribute• there is no right or wrong observation,experience or feeling• there can be consensus, but alsodifferences of opinion and experience5.opportunities for regular synthesis, andclarification
6.clear summary of the process and outcomes
7.conclusions and clarification of agreedactions – who does what, and when.It’s important too to be sensitive to the dailyand seasonal activities of different groupswithin a community when deciding when andwhere such workshops should take place. Forexample, farmers are often away in theirfields during the day and may only be free inthe evenings; the busy parts of a woman’sday may be different from a man’s etc. Manycommunities and organisations have somesort of regular meeting which, in some cases,could be used as a venue for participatoryworkshops or shorter participatory activities.
III-1.3 Small group activity
There are many ways to form small groups.In some cases, it may be appropriate todivide larger groups randomly to promptdebate and get a mix of views within thegroup; in other cases, dividing by gender,age, means of livelihood etc may facilitatebetter participation of more disadvantagedgroups and/or highlight differences betweenthem.You may find it useful to compile a list ofparticipants and a bit about them in advance,so that you can think about how to splitpeople into groups. During a workshop, askparticipants to join with people sitting besidethem; if you wish to split up people who haveclustered together, ask them to form groupswith people that they have not yet workedwith.Alternative ‘random’ group-forming methodssuggested by VSO Pakistan, Ghana andCameroon include:‘Numbering off’ participants into groups, eg‘one, two, three; one, two, three…’. Lettersof the alphabet, names of fruit or otheritems may be substituted for numbers.Before the workshop, add coloured dots toname badges. Ask participants to find thepeople with the same coloured dots ontheir badges and to form a group together.You may substitute small stickers ofdifferent items on the badges, eg animals,fish, birds, instead of coloured dots andthen proceed as above.
Participatory Approaches: A facilitator’s guide
III-1.4 How was it for you?
Hopefully this guide will have given you someprinciples to understand what participation is allabout; a framework to help you organise yourefforts; some guidelines on the essentialattitude and function of the facilitator; and somepractical ideas for methods and tools – justenough to give you the confidence to
have a go
.Try things. They might work. And they mighthelp disadvantaged people to find their voice.
How well did you do? Ask the group. With anyprocess, method, tool or workshop, it’salways important to review how things went.This will provide feedback on the activity, butalso on your progress as a PA practitioner.
Q. What did you find out about the topic/abouteach other? Q. How did you work together? Q. Did the activity help you to work together? Q. Did the facilitator help to make things run smoothly? 
Evaluation sheets or questionnaires areuseful, but you need something else to liventhings up. Many tools have been highlightedas having value for reviewing. Here are tenideas from VSO Ghana to help you end on ahigh note:1.‘The best thing about today was…’Participants write or draw their answer.2.Participants draw a road, river, mountainor other journey that shows their progressthroughout the day, indicating highs, lows,challenges and successes.3.The group imagine they are a directorialteam who are asked to make up a story-board for an exciting documentaryon theworkshop – with no budgetaryrestrictions!4.Compose and perform a song/poem/rapabout their major learning point.5.Draw a mapof their learning.6.Draw a picture, logo or posterof theirlearning.7.Devise and present a drama/mimeof theirlearning.8.Devise and present a tableau/groupsculptureof their learning.9.Draw up and present a press releaseontheir learning.10.Draw up and present an advertisementfortheir learning.Move around as the small groups arepreparing their presentations. Which appearsto be the most lively and entertaining? It is agood idea to ask this group to present last,thereby ending the session on a bright note.
The following
from VSO Ghanamay help to organise small group activity.
Before the task:
‘Break out’ rooms or spaces are available toaccommodate the small groups.
Each small group forms a circle to ‘close’ it off from theother small groups and to enable contributions to beheard by all.
The task should be clearly visible on a flipchart,distributed to all participants as a handout.
Before beginning, invite the groups to clarify the task;nominate a chair, observer or reporter as appropriate;and check they have all necessary resources to completethe task.
Ensure that the time available to the groups is adequateto the task.
During the task:
Time limits are set, and notice is given to each group toconclude the task – “You have five minutes left”, “Youhave one minute left”, “Time is up”. Flexibility must beconsidered where appropriate.
The facilitator is available to the groups during the task.
Groups are monitored for difficulties, misunderstandings,apathy, disagreements etc.
After the task:
The whole group reforms to present their findings asappropriate.
Creative approaches to presentations and feedback avoidrepetition.
The facilitator synthesises and concludes on thepresentations to close the session.

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