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FSToT participants trying to stand up

Participatory methods: Let us give it a go and see what magic it offers

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Image: FST0T participants trying to stand up during an activity with Uka Pinto in the maroon shirt.

I was one of the participants in the Facilitation Skills Training of Trainers for Peacebuilders workshop in Davao City, Philippines, from November 25 to 29, 2019. The workshop was co-facilitated by Inke Johannsen from Germany and Carino “Rockrock” Antequisa from the Philippines. It was a fascinating five-day learning journey where we learned and practiced how to design and facilitate training. MPI organized this workshop to equip MPI alumni and staff with knowledge and skills in facilitation. These are my reflections on some of the lessons learned from this workshop that I have applied back in my country, Timor-Leste (TL), some feedback from the participants, and the challenges I faced when doing something different.

Through this workshop, I learned new methods that improved my facilitation skills and how to actively engage participants during a training session. At the same time, I was able to deepen my understanding of other facilitation methods that I used previously. During the five days of the training process, I was impressed that the facilitators did not use a single PowerPoint presentation, computers, or projectors. Instead, the facilitators used meta-cards, flipcharts, blu-tack, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. All the sessions were planned carefully in advance and delivered by using various exciting methods. I must admit that it was one of my “aha!” moments. This workshop led me to believe that I can facilitate a training session like this one, too.

In Timor-Leste, the common practice in almost every training session is to have a PowerPoint presentation. The facilitator will just stand in front of the participants and give the presentation. Another common way of engaging the participants is to break them into small groups to discuss a particular topic. This would be followed by one person representing the group, sharing the results of the discussion with the big group. Most of the time, we only use flipcharts and markers. Does it sound familiar in your country, too?

Uka’s presentation on ‘we remember’ where she translated the information into Tetum (national language)
Uka’s presentation on ‘we remember’ where she translated the information into Tetum (national language)

When I had a chance to facilitate a training session with the trainers of an organization that will then be working on training their members, I decided to apply some of the methods I learned during the Facilitation Skills Training of Trainers for Peacebuilders workshop. As good facilitators know, it is crucial to prepare well before the actual training. In preparing for this training, I used the facilitator checklist provided by Inke and Rockrock as my guide. This is a very effective and efficient checklist to follow. It helped me stay focused on preparing for this training session and organizing myself before the training days.

I began to plan for this Training of Trainers (ToT) together with a colleague. We decided on the methods to be used and translated them into Tetum (TL national language). As drawing and coloring are not my gifts, finding an excellent colleague to help with this would make a tremendous difference and ensure that the preparation process would go smoothly. Following the checklist, I identified my target group, the objective of this training, the content of the training, and the timeline, leading me to have each session planned in an overall schedule. I then decided on methods to convey the message and the resources needed to make it happen. In facilitating this ToT, I used various visualization methods, symbols, a “car park” where people can post questions that are not entirely relevant to the current discussion topic, mind-mapping, and simulation. The three-day training sessions went by so quickly. Towards the end of the last day, participants provided their feedback.

We Remember FSToT Poster
We remember activity from MPI's FSToT

Some highlights from participants’ feedback were that these ToT sessions used methods that were engaging and made space for participants to participate actively; this training used different approaches, nothing like what is usually expected in a training. One participant said, “the methods used during training were very engaging and I felt comfortable to share my ideas. Some methods are not new, but we just do not use them like the way you use them.” For all the participants, this was the first training in which they engaged actively throughout the entire day. Everyone’s contributions to the whole learning process were equally important. Some also highlighted the importance of having enough breaks between the sessions, even if only five minutes. These short breaks proved to bring a significant impact on the participants’ ability to stay focused for the next session.

As I observed, the participants followed each step that I shared with them. They listened to the instructions carefully and participated actively in every session. Because we set the guidelines at the start of the training, everyone felt comfortable sharing their ideas and was open to listening to other ideas. I also emphasized the “how we remember” and shared it with them, as you can see in the picture. I think it is essential to share this point so that the facilitator will always have this in mind when planning training sessions.

My takeaway is that it is possible to make the learning process enjoyable when we, as facilitators, are willing to invest more time and energy and go beyond our daily routine and comfort zone. I was exhausted at the end of the training, yet, when the participants shared their feedback that they have learned a lot, enjoyed the sessions, and expressed that they may be able to use some of the methods, I felt all the efforts were worth it. We do not need to always rely on electricity, a computer, and a projector. In my country, power outages happen regularly, and projectors are not accessible if you are in remote areas. This model provides an alternative to work in this environment.

I also learned that good preparation is the key. This includes giving enough time to and becoming familiar with the topics, preparing handout materials, and asking the right questions to guide each session during training days. Adequate preparation can take a lot of time and energy. As this was my first time using a different learning method, I was unsure of myself at the beginning. After completing this first trial, I have the sense and understand better how to move forward and adjust some materials for my future facilitation of trainings. The truth is we, as facilitators, will know what we did well, what was not done so well, and what we would need to improve in the next training session. Finally, I think it is important to give it a go and let this new learning process surprise you!

Elsa ‘Uka’ Pinto is a researcher and training facilitator at the Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, at the National University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL) in Dili, Timor-Leste.

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