Rebuilding civil society

December 2, 2020

Recently I had the opportunity to co-create, host and facilitate the annual workshop of Accountable Now.   We used many of the approaches that we have developed through the Testing Change project as the farming for the workshop.  The approaches we used included:

  • Paradigm not just incremental change.
  • Circular (not linear) planning – plan, test, learn and adapt, repeat.
  • Change needs personal and organizational accountability and structure.

The broad theme of the workshop was rebuilding as we go through this disruptive pandemic period, and specifically to focus on inclusion; equity and power shifting; and resilience.

The slides we created for the workshop (including our ‘flip charts’ with daily takeaways) can be found here.

Some specific ideas that were shared include:

Re-defining community engagement – The importance of community was repeatedly emphasized.  We discussed the need to redefine the concept of partnership so that partnerships are more equal and not driven by financial (or other types of) power.  Who should be part of the discussion?  How are discussions initiated and conducted?  Some important components to a more equitable partnership model: (i) engaging local organizations from the onset of the program design process; (ii) basing community focused actions on community knowledge – local standards may be different and more appropriate than external standards; and (iii) co-create a plan for how communities can take ownership over data and the knowledge created.

These discussions among international organizations (mostly headquartered in the global north) around the change needed have often been siloed (eg in the environmental, global health, international development and other communities having separate discussions) but we are starting to see more linkage which will enable approaches to be developed more holistically.

Human centered design – putting local groups at the center – is one approach to include a wider group of local voices. Here are an example from maternal and child health (not part of the workshop but doing similar country focused work) of how human centered design is being used, and a Self-assessment tool shared by Global Giving as part of the workshop.

Inclusion and equity – If we become more creative with our feedback mechanisms, we can include more perspectives into our discussions, decision-making and program design.  We discussed the need for a menu of different communication and feedback approaches in order to be most inclusive of the particular group you want to involve, and an intentional, committed, sustained organizational effort: intentional inclusion is a mindset and a practice.  World Vision shared some research they have conducted on how civil society organizations are becoming more creative with their feedback mechanisms during the covid period (and a Mural whiteboard helped participants share their own experiences).

Each day we used questions to focus our discussion.  Some of these for power shifting/equity included: (1) Can you identify where the power lies in your organization and your work? (2) What experiences have you had that show the need for power shifts/more equity? How can we share our stories better?  (3) How can we incorporate power shifts into our own approaches?  Encourage others to come along?

And some questions that bubbled up during the day included: (1) What are the ‘invisible injustices’ that exclude people? (within our organizations or externally) (2) Knowledge is power – where does expertise/knowledge reside? How can it be accessed? decentralized?

Resilience – What do we take forward from disruptive periods?  Leaders from Restless Development, the YWCA and the Global Fund for Children led us through discussions of how we lead through disruption and what we can learn from it. For individual leaders it was noted that the skill of pursuing post-traumatic growth is for individuals both a resilience practice and a leadership skill.  For organizations, it points to the need for an accountability practice, a cultural working norm or approach that can be adapted to become more responsive.

Two powerpoints from these discussions: Resilience as a leadership practice and Wellbeing (including a Wellbeing tool).

Resilience and learning from this time of disruption will be key to the next phases.

Interactive virtual work – The workshop was held over three sequential ½ days and as with so many others in 2020 was held virtually.  This blog is not specifically about conducting a virtual workshop (I wrote previously about virtual meetings here), but there were a few learnings reinforced from this meeting worth sharing here: (1) Having a team to split or share tasks (technical issues, content focus, facilitation/inclusion), is very helpful in order to ensure the sessions are inclusive and run smoothly. My goal is always to ensure that the technology does not become a barrier to participation and having those who can actively guide attendees technically through the sessions can be very helpful; (2) Although we are all learning a lot about virtual work this year, we are at different stages of our learning journey so consider providing some tips or guidelines to participants, and particularly to those who may be presenting; and (3) Especially with global sessions where connectivity can be challenging on a regular basis, but knowing that we all can experience technical problems periodically, make sure everyone has a back-up plan – who can carry on if a presenter or facilitator loses their connection?