In the field of community development, “facilitation” is considered as one of the key concepts that make development activities effective and sustainable. There are a lot of “facilitators” involved in various development projects who work for “facilitating” activities of stakeholders. In workshops, seminars or training courses for development issues, there are also “facilitators” who help process of learning, discussing, and finding out solutions by the participants.
In fact, it is not only in the field of “development assistance”, but also in the other fields such as school education, group activities (community-based or issue-based), and business enterprises, where the concept and skills of facilitation have become more and more popular and important. In the field of education or training, facilitation skills help the learners or trainees to find out and learn something important by themselves. Many people have already realized that the traditional way of teaching (teachers just give lectures and students just receive them) is not effective for anyone to increase his/her capabilities. If a person is “facilitated” to find out something, he or she will be able to utilize it. Similarly, in a group or an organization, if a group of people is “facilitated” to share, analyze, and find out something together, they will be able to tackle the problem together. It is true in the field of business enterprises as well. In the fast-changing world, conventional top-down leadership and centralized hierarchal management can not deal with complicated issues. All the members of an organization should be “facilitated” to take initiatives for analyzing the issue, finding out the solutions, and cooperating each other for concrete actions. And it is true not only for the cases of business enterprises, but also for any types of development activities. Rather than top-down centralized approach, it is far more effective that all the stakeholders such as government officials, field workers, NGOs, various experts, and local community people think together, find out the solutions, and take initiatives for actions by themselves. Facilitation is a key for sustainable development actions involving multi-stakeholders.
Basics of facilitation – from the field experience
Japanese NGOs have been experiencing various kinds of practices of facilitation in the field of community development both inside and outside the country. One of experienced development practitioners, Mr. Toyokazu Nakata, who has worked in the communities of various developing countries and in Japan as well, has analyzed various cases of facilitation that he has been involved, studied theories related with facilitation such as behavioral science, and established a basic theory of facilitation. According to Mr. Nakata, the basics of facilitation can be summarized into the following four points;
1) Problem analysis is not easy for a person directly involved
When a single person or a group of people wants to solve a problem, it is necessary to analyze “cause-effect” relations how the problem occurred. However, in many cases, it is not easy for the persons who are directly involved in the situation to analyze the cause-effect relations objectively. It is natural that a person is reluctant to understand his/her fault and tends to ignore failure. If someone succeeded, he/she naturally thinks it is because of own effort, and if someone failed, he/she wants to concludes that it was beyond his/her control and he/she was unlucky. In these ways, people often fail analysis, and as a result they reach wrong conclusions.
2) FACT is a key for successful analysis
So, here it is facilitator’s turn. An outsider can play a vital role to “facilitate” someone to analyze problem (cause-effect relation) in a proper way. In order to do that, you should focus on “FACTS”. If someone starts thinking and telling about his/her own “Perception”, he/she will not be able to reach the right cause-effect analysis. Analysis goes astray when one mistakes his/her perception as facts. Therefore, a facilitator should ask facts. If someone is asked to “recall” the memory or focus on what he/she observed or experienced, gradually various facts are revealed, and finally he/she will be able to analyze the problem, and find out ways for solving it. By asking facts, a facilitator can also help the person learn from experience, and that person will also be aware of his/her potentials which can be utilized for the next actions.
3) SELF-ESTEEM motivates people to initiate
Another important point for facilitation is to increase “self-esteem” of the person. It is natural that if someone is criticized or even blamed for his/her own action or idea, the person will become defensive and reluctant to change his/her mind. On the contrary, if someone feels his/her own action or idea is appreciated by others, the person will become proud of what he/she did/has and consequently he/she will try to do something more in a better way. Increasing self-esteem is an important key for behavioral change. So, a facilitator should be sensitive to how the person feels on the topic you are talking. It is also important for a facilitator to be aware of the relationship with the persons who are being facilitated. If those persons feel equal to a facilitator, he/she will be free to analyze the problem based on the facts.
4) If I find it, I will use it
The last point of successful facilitation is to make the person find out something by himself/herself. In most of the school education, the students are expected to hear what a teacher teaches, to memorize it, and to understand the contents. However, it is not easy to realize what is given by others. If you want someone to change his/her behavior, it is necessary that he/she should realize something by himself/herself. You should not teach the answer. You have to wait, and let the person find out by himself/herself. If a facilitator is asked an important question, you should not answer directly, but you help him/her to find out the answer by oneself. If someone finds out something, he/she will definitely start actions based on the finding.
Case study of successful facilitation
The PCUR-LINK project started in July 2004 as one of the Grass-Root Technical Cooperation Projects of JICA. The project duration was three years, and SOMNEED (a Japanese NGO based in Takayama city of Japan) is an implementing organization together with its Indian counterpart organization, SOMNEED Trust India. The project purpose is “creation of new type of producer-consumer relationship and common property resources through women SHG (Self Help Group) empowerment”, and the target groups are the women SHGs at urban and suburban slums in Vishakapathnam city in State of Andhra Pradesh, India.
Within the three years of the project period, it is a really exciting achievement that the slum women who participated in VVK (SHG federation) have become “subject” of their activities. Now, they can manage all the meetings, savings, and loan procedure according to the rules and regulations settled by themselves. The slum women have true sense of “ownership” in the SHGs and their federation (VVK).
However, it was not easy for SOMNEED India and its partner local NGO to facilitate initiatives of the slum women. In general, the field staff of local NGO were accustomed to “teach” and “lead” SHGs in their everyday activities. Book keeping, saving accumulation, loan provision, and even calling SHG members to attend meetings had been major tasks of the NGO staff. When the PCUR-LINK project started, SOMNEED asked the NGO staff not to give any help or instruction to the groups unless they are requested by SHGs. “You should not teach them, and wait until you are asked.”
Like the above point, there are several principles that SOMNEED followed for its successful facilitation of SHGs and VVK activities. Those are;
a) Unless asked, no intervention.
b) Pose question, but do not teach.
c) Believe their capacity, but do not expect.
d) Let them do first, wait, and see.
e) Raise your hands, seek permission, then talk.
f) Set bottom line, and talk such a manner that even 10 year child can understand.
There are also some important points in the strategy of SOMNEED for facilitating initiatives of the slum women.
1) Stimulating curiosity
It had a great impact on the women’s motivation that SOMNEED took them to the successful example of SHG federation bank in Chennai. Showing visible successful cases is a good way to stimulate the curiosity of the people for further actions.
2) Setting achievable targets, and praise if achieved
SOMNEED encouraged the SHG or VVK members to settle concrete targets such as improvement of SHG management, or criteria for joining VVK. If anyone can achieve the targets and is praised by others, he or she increases own motivation.
3) Encouraging feedback and sharing information
It was always emphasized by SOMNEED that every and each information should be shared among all the members. It is a minimum condition for sustainable independent management for any organization to share information and have open discussion.
Process of facilitation
In many cases of successful facilitation practices such as SOMNEED and VVK above, there are commonly observed several important processes of facilitation. Those processes are applicable for various fields of facilitation such as development cooperation, business activities, or any kinds of training and workshop activities.
Designing appropriate “ground” for interaction: Facilitation can be taken place where and when the persons involved feel free to interact each others. If someone hesitates to express his own idea or experience freely, it is difficult to facilitate the process of exploring facts. Furthermore, if there is a hierarchal relation among the participants, a person subordinate feels difficulty to raise any idea which may oppose to a dominant person. Thus, designing an appropriate ground (types of place, atmosphere, sitting arrangement, etc.) is a vital point for creating suitable facilitation. If the participants can share their views freely, trust each other, and construct common goals, it is easy to facilitate the process thereafter.
Partnership building: In most cases, the ultimate goal of facilitation is to help the persons involved to analyze the issue they face and encourage them to initiate actions for solving it. In order to do this, a facilitator should not become a “teacher” who gives answer or instruction to them. “If I find it, I will use it” is a principle. Thus, it is vital for a facilitator to build an equal partnership with the persons he/she facilitates. Similarly, it is also important to construct partnership relations among a group of people so that the group itself can collaborate among the members. For the partnership building, there are various skills of communication that a facilitator should be equipped with. Hearing carefully, observing participants’ conditions and their relationship, receiving and sharing emotion and experience, and raising appropriate questions are some of those important skills for partnership building.
Analysis: It is necessary to analyze the issue if someone wants to tackle it. A facilitator should help the participants to find out facts, to relate them each other, to structuralize, and to find out ways for solving the issue. Again, it is not a facilitator who analyzes issue. He/she only helps the persons. However, as an outsider, a facilitator may have different perspective such as potential resources, or knowledge of similar cases in other places. If so, a facilitator should facilitate the persons to ask him/her for advice.
Action Plan: After the issue is analyzed, it is necessary to make an action plan. A facilitator should help the process of making action plan. In an action plan, concrete process of every action (when, where, who, what, and how) should be included. It is also important that an achievable and measurable target is clearly stated in the action plan. If someone feels he/she successfully achieved the target, it becomes good motivation for them to continue the activities.
How to accommodate different views: In the planning stage, it is important that all the participants agree with what they analyzed and what they will do. However, it is not an easy task to accommodate all the views and ideas of the participants. If they can realize each other’s background, worldviews, experiences, and emotions, certainly they will be able to find out ways. So, do not be in a hurry. A facilitator should patiently help the participants to interact each other with Honne (from the true sound of heart). Story telling, picture drawing, or role playing can be effective tools for such interaction.
Reflection and feedback: If all the above process is properly facilitated, the persons or a group will automatically start actions based on what they found, analyzed and planned. The only task for a facilitator is to help active and lively reflection and feedback by the persons / group. If a reflection and feedback process is facilitated, the actors will improve and continue their actions by themselves.
Fundamental attitude for facilitator
Lastly, as a facilitator, the most important thing you have to keep in your mind is that “you are not a main actor”. Facilitator is not a person who takes actions for solving issues, but he/she is a person who stays close with the others (main actors) and who facilitate the process of their self-empowerment. Being a facilitator does require some specialist knowledge and skills, but more importantly, you need to be prepared to be patient, to wait, to trust, and to believe potential capacities that everyone is blessed with.
(M. Nagahata, i-i-network, Japan)