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< prev - next > Social and economic development Social Development learning_from_practice (Printable PDF)
c. Practise light touch facilitation
A light touch approach reaps greatest rewards
in avoiding creating dependency. As part of
this, facilitation is key to enabling what a
community or group wants to see happen –
helping them to better understand and analyse
their own needs, articulate their vision for
change, and then search and plan for their
own solutions.
Facilitation means not directing or
imposing, or telling people what to do. Instead,
facilitators must ‘create the conditions for
trust, be flexible and patient’8 (see Box 2).
It even means allowing people to reject
advice, and potentially to make mistakes, as
they make real choices; as such, facilitators
should never come with ready-made solutions:
‘Ultimately, a community organization must
“own” their plans, not follow ideas from
outside’.9 Nevertheless, facilitation can be
a difficult, ‘messy’, and sometimes time-
consuming process, because it is dynamic
and not controlled. It demands great skill and
confidence from facilitators, to adapt tools
to the needs of a particular situation, and to
guide process as well as outcomes.
Practical Action has observed two key
challenges in particular for practitioners
shifting to facilitation. First, practitioners can
be driven by a desire to be seen by partners
and communities as ‘doers’, perhaps motivated
by a perception that this is necessary in
order to remain in a location or protect jobs.
However, this way of thinking can change
over time. In Eastern Sudan, Practical Action
saw a changing mindset in a project manager
who now describes his role as a facilitator as
‘bringing all actors together and helping them
find their own solutions… I see myself as a
gear within a machine. I want to help others
Secondly, practitioners – both field staff
and NGO management – can feel the need
for ‘quick fixes’ and controlled processes
to show results for donors, to ensure that
project objectives and timeframes are met and
funds are spent on time, forcing them to take
matters out of the hands of community people
and complete them themselves.11 Yet such
interference and taking control disempowers. A
community organization that has not made real
choices over planning can have no ownership
of a project, undermining efficacy.
Box 2. Principles for facilitators
Skills in facilitative processes are crucial
for productive, participative relationships
with communities. Whilst tools for this
approach can be learned through training;
good community facilitation also demands
the right attitude – a commitment to
letting communities be in control. Some
key principles to observe are:
• be neutral and be willing to relinquish
control – limit your interference,
have confidence in communities, and
trust them to take decisions and own
responsibility for them;
• build trust, respect and honesty;
• create an open and empowering
atmosphere – create conditions for
community members to ask questions
and find answers themselves;
• empower everyone to participate – be
proactive about giving those who may
be excluded the skills and confidence
to take part on an equal basis; and
• be flexible – use a variety of facilitation
tools to encourage full participation,
to help a group manage conflict, and
to respond to the needs of particular
situations; allow for ‘messy’ processes
and mistakes.
Further information
Hope, A. and Timmel, S. (1995) Training
For Transformation: A handbook for
community workers (Books I, II, III, 2nd
edition). Practical Action Publishing.
Rugby, UK.
FAO. (2001) Op. cit. http://www.gdnonline.
d. Build capacity for collective action
To contribute to empowerment, an important
role outside partners can play in supporting
community organizations is to strengthen
skills, confidence and efficacy: capacity
building. This can involve training in practical
managerial skills, and enhancing a group’s
ability to analyse problems, vision aims, and
implement solutions.
Practical Action can assist leaders
and group members in the processes of