Facilitators manual

Capacity building through
horizontal learning
Indian Forum for Inclusive Response and Social Transformation (IFIRST), managing Poor Area Civil
Society (PACS) program is implemented in 120 select districts with high incidence of poverty (across
seven states). Building capacities of CSOs to enable them to access services and entitlements in the
national flagship programmes is the key focus of the PACS.
District knowledge and learning forum is a one of the methodologies for building capacities through
creating new knowledge and perspective by horizontal sharing and learning amongst CSOs operating
in similar circumstances, and bringing together the CSOs for advocacy on commonly agreed issues.
PACS program initiated this methodology in their intervention in four northern states namely Uttar
Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. Two district knowledge and learning forum
were promoted on specific thematic issues in two districts of each of the four states. The forums
comprised of CSOs of the same or nearby district working on a particular thematic issue such as
MGNREGS, FRA, RTE, Health etc. Horizontal sharing of experiences amongst the CSOs promoted
learning besides providing a platform for district level advocacy. There has been significant
achievement of the learning and knowledge forums as they have also been instrumental in providing
a platform to district CSOs for advocating the issues at the districts, as districts are large
administrative units and have large amount of funds earmarked for flagship programs.
This is a simple guiding manual for initiating and facilitating such knowledge and sharing forums at
the districts. We hope that this manual will facilitate building of sharing platforms at district level
and strengthen district level advocacy.
Yogesh Kumar
Facilitators Manual : District Knowledge Learning and Sharing Forum
1. Context
Promotion of learning amongst the civil society organisation is an important need for
effective intervention in any program. Innovative methods of capacity building among
organisations and field workers have been tried in the past. Exposure meetings, trainings,
workshops are some of the common methodologies of promoting this learning. Promotion
of learning amongst the civil society organisation is also one of the critical and strategic
outputs of the PACS. Therefore, PACS too tried innovative methods of capacity building
among organisations and field workers, particularly for promoting horizontal learning
between organisations, where both gain from the experiences of each other. Looking at the
limitation of exposure visits organised in places of different socio- economic context
(participants of MP/UP visiting Kerala to understand decentralisation), wherein, participants
find it difficult to apply the learning and replication becomes a challenge, it is realised that
small successes of the peer group in the same socio-cultural context provide greater
learning and potential for application by other CSOs. This horizontal way of learning is
conceptualised as knowledge and sharing forums. This method combines learning with
coming together for advocacy.
2. What is a District Learning Forum?
CSOs intervening on a particular theme viz. MGNREG, NRHM, RTE or Nutrition, working in a
district come together for sharing of their learning’s through sharing the strategies that
resulted into successes as well as failures. Since all the participating CSOs operate in the
same socio cultural background, there are easy chances that some of the successes will find
ways of replication by other participants. Whereas, some of the failures shared may require
collective advocacy to address the challenges and operational bottlenecks. This forum of
civil society organisations of a district for learning and sharing is essentially a District
Learning Forum (DLF).
Since it as a group of likeminded organisations operating in a district in a similar socioeconomic, political, administrative, and geographical context, the group may come up with
an advocacy agenda that can be followed up collectively. Therefore the DLF serves two
purposes, first one that of horizontal learning through sharing of experience and the second
one, on district level advocacy, as this provides for a sizeable group for action and pressure
The district learning forums may have following objectives:
1. To promote horizontal learning among the participants
2. To identify relevant issues demanding collective initiatives for advocacy
3. To develop collective action plan on the issue
4. Prepare an advocacy agenda and a pressure group for negotiating with the district
3. Why a ‘District Learning Forum’?
Districts are an administrative and programmatic unit, with developmental funds to the
tune of 300 to 400 crores spent annually in the district. Many of the key developmental
programs like MGNREGS, FRA, and TSC are administered at district level with districts as
critical unit of implementation. The performance of the program is influenced by the
enthusiasm and style of district administration, and therefore there is large variation
amongst the districts on implementation of different programs. The geographical, physical,
and administrative conditions of the districts provide specific issues to the civil society
organisations for strategising their interventions and come together for advocacy on
commonly agreed agendas. Poor implementation of certain programmes may also result
into emergence of certain issues which may vary in different district.
The commonality in physical, geographical and administrative conditions provide an
appropriate platform for learning from each other’s experience besides joining hands to
build pressure on district administration for changes in practices and mechanism in program
4. Selection of themes/Issues for DLFs
It is important to select the theme/issue carefully, as it will not only bring pertinence and
value to the forum but will also bring motivated participation. Themes should be relevant to
local context and period of intervention. For instance a district with very high rate of
malnutrition may select malnutrition as the theme for DLF, while a district with low literacy
rate may initiate the same on primary education. The only condition for selecting the theme
should its relevance in the given period of time and availability of sufficient CSOs intervening
on the issue. If the theme is not sufficiently intervened, the forums will not generate
sufficient experience and participants will not come forward for the advocacy.
Some criteria for selection of appropriate themes for the district
High level of underdevelopment/below average performance on the given theme in the
district for instance Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh with alarming rate of malnutrition may be
appropriately take nutrition as theme, while a district with alarming rate of diarrheal deaths
may take sanitation as theme for knowledge and learning forum.
A large number of partners working on the thematic issue in the district may decide to
follow the particular theme collectively through DLFs
Focus of the administration on the issue may also motivate the partners to follow the
particular issue in the district DLF
Many of the district level CSOs should be ready to participate on a particular thematic issue,
and the decision of the theme should be mutual amongst partners.
5. Who should participate in DLFs
It is important to see that there is sizeable number of participants; however, the numbers
should be manageable from the perspectives of detailed sharing. Twenty to thirty is a good
number for sharing. It is better to avoid less than 15 or more than 35 participant in a DLF
workshop as it affects the sharing and learning adversely. It is not important to select the
partners on the basis of identity of funders; however, an only a manageable ideological
diversity should be invited as this will minimise the generation of such ideas/practices that
are not replicable by other partners. It will
World cafe methodology for DLFs
minimise the ideological clashes as well.
However, diversity in nature of participants will The participants are seated around
bring in new experiences and methods of tables, like a cafeteria, to discuss
experience on the given topic in the
interventions. Therefore the diversity or
theme. The questions for experience
homogeneity in the nature of participants
sharing, emerging from the point of
should be chosen carefully.
Since only district level CSOs are invited, it is
difficult to make them stay for more than a day.
Even for cost consideration, it is advisable to
keep the forum meetings day long but not
extending beyond a day. Considering the
learning forum event is likely to of ‘one day
only’, it is worthwhile to invite only those
organisations/ participants who are working on
the decided theme and have substantial
experience in the subject. The success of the
DLFs depends on the experiences that
participants will bring in, and therefore it is
important to invite right kind of participants to
DLF meetings. It will also keep the discussions
focused and help build a clear advocacy agenda.
For instance a DLF forum workshop on
MGNREGS in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh
should have participants from CSO working on
MGNREGS. The representing participant should
sufficient and
preferably direct
engagement with strategy/action on the
thematic issue, and therefore have rich
experience to share amongst the partner. The
actions of participating CSOs will be
placed on each of the table ( one
question on one table) and there will
five or six rounds of discussions, of 15
minutes in each round, will be
organised around the questions. In
each round participants will choose a
host on each table and after the
discussion, host will have to keep the
notes. For the second round of
discussion, participants will shift their
table and join a new set of participants.
Each one will shuffle in five rounds in
such a way that he/she joins each of
the table in these rounds to share
experiences around 5-6 set of
questions. One participant will be host
only one time so that a large number of
participants take responsibility as host.
Hosts of the question 1 will assemble
together and consolidate their learning.
Similarly, hosts of other tables will also
work together to collate common
points. The data/ consolidated points of
each question are presented in a
CSO should preferably be operating in the same district. If some CSOs from other districts
need to be invited, they should definitely be from the adjoining districts, and not any far
flung districts, unless any person has very specific expertise or experience. Though
participants from other districts may bring in interesting experiences, but may have
different administrative background, not quite relevant to the majority of participant. These
participants will also not be interested in district level advocacy.
6. How should the event of DLF be designed
It is proposed that the forums are organised in an appreciative enquiry format so that every
organisation positively contributes their experiences and learn from others.
It has been experienced that the CSOs working on the similar issues and in close proximity
find it difficult to appreciate the efforts of others. As a result, the sharing and drawing
lessions for the group does not take place. The appreciative methodology helps build an
environment which is positive and allows each participant to be appreciative of the
strategies used and outcomes.
The DLF workshops should always be organised in a participatory approach for maximising
interactions and effective horizontal sharing. It is good to identify the common interest/
common concerns, around the theme based on the kind of actions promoted by the
participating organisations for appreciative enquiry among participants. By appreciative
enquiry, it is meant, that while one of the participant shares his experience of success, the
others asks him/her relevant question to understand the strategies, methodology and other
details, to be able to replicate it in their own areas. These questions/ topics for discussion
bring focus to the discussion, and minimises tangential discussion. Therefore one of the key
preparations for the workshop is to identify questions/discussion topics. Therefore, the
facilitators should have good idea of the thematic issue/development program and
condition of the district, to be able to design the topics for appreciative enquiry.
Some possible indicative discussion agenda is listed on few of the themes; however they
need to be suitably adopted in context of the particular district of particular focus in an DLF.
-Indicative discussion agenda for MGNREGS
 What methods and strategies did you employ for increasing the demands in MGNREGS and what has been
the impact of these?
 Have you used any method to improve transparency in implementation of the MGNREGS. How did you
go about it? What was the result and outcome of such interventions?
What type of collectives did you promote in implementation of MGNREGS? What have been the
achievements of these collectives?
 What has been specific achievement regarding improving the situation with respect to payment of wages
(how did you do it?
 In which specific provisions of MGNREGS, could you achieve success?
What efforts did you make towards Social audits? What success did you achieve in the same?
What collectives did you make in implementation of MGNREGS? What successes were achieved by those
-Indicative discussion agenda for FRA
What were the campaigns strategy for accessing individual and community forest rights and what level of
success achieved? How many families /individuals got benefitted?
What success could Gram Sabha and FRA committee achieve with your intervention?
What strategies were adopted to improve the functioning of the Sub-divisional and district forest
What success was achieved in application filing, collection of evidences, distribution of forest rights and
reapplication of rejected applications
Number of topics for experience sharing/appreciative enquiry may be decided on the
number of participants for the workshop, however should range in 3 to 5. The design of a
DLF workshop should be so, that it enables in depth discussions on each of the designed
topic on the given theme. There should be sufficient time for asking questions and response.
7. Facilitation of the DLF workshops
DLFs are essentially an experience sharing workshops in an controlled environment,
therefore active facilitation is essential to keep the discipline of the workshops, and
facilitate discussions in a manner that bring out maximum experiences. The facilitators have
to see that no participants are intimidated and nobody dominates the discussion. The
facilitator should also see that everyone is able to participate in the discussions. Therefore
the workshop should be designed in a manner where discussions are initiated in small
groups, to enable maximum participation. The participants should be encouraged to ask
questions for clarifications, additional information, knowing details on what did not work
etc. No question or observation which is evaluative or judgemental of the work should be
8. Consolidation of discussions and sharing
Intense discussion bring out rich experience,
however, there is always a chance of losing the rich
data emerging from discussions if this is not
captured appropriately. Thus, the DLFs should have
strong mechanism for capturing the discussions and
experience. Also since the use of this data is
immediate, if the data is captured in workshop
reports to be seen later by the participants, makes
the data relatively useless. Therefore, it is important
In world cafe method, host of the table
takes notes of all the discussion taking
place at a table and presents the
discussion in a plenary. The workshop
organisers may also assign a reporter
to the table, which will consolidate the
discussions on each of the topics and
present it in the plenary.
to design the workshop in a manner that generated data is immediately
captured/documented, presented and reinforced on the audience. A set of facilitators can
join the participants while discussion is taking place, and note down all the relevant
discussions. A reporter may be assigned to each discussion table, or a participant may be
asked to note down all the discussions. However, it is critical to note down the discussions
and not lose any of the rich experience that is shared during the workshop.
The sharing of the consolidated points, issues or learnings can be presented with the
participants, inviting relevant Government officials, credible journalist, and academician
sensitive towards development action. The perspective of the resource persons from
different sectors may enrich capturing of the best practises. We should be careful in
selecting the penalists by checking their political position, knowledge about the issue and
positive thinking.
9. Preparation of the Joint action agenda for advocacy
The discussion on experience can potentially lead to challenges and problems in the district.
A joint action agenda can potentially emerge where the data generated during the sharing
of learning’s is useful.
The questions that can be posed for the joint action planning can be the following:
1. What are the issues related to the theme which need to be addressed collectively?
2. What are the strategies and actions required for advocating around the possible solutions?
3. Who will take responsibility of action and follow up in the next six months?
The group can collectively choose an agenda for the action as well as advocacy. Some of the
agenda may also be targeted towards itself, for instance the CSOs may feel that they have
very little capcities on social audits procedure and need to strengthen their capacities
alongside pressurising the district administration for effective social audits. Similarly the
participants in a forum on FRA may decide that they have to build their knowledge on subdivisional and district level committees to strengthen their advocacy with district
administration on speedy disposal of FRA applications.
Flow chart for organising a DLF
Preparation phase
Select a theme
Select a district ( if the initiative is taken by an external facilitator)
Select the participant and a mutually convenient date and venue for the first forum meeting
Set the agenda after a preliminary consultation with the participants
Formulate the questions/topics for discussion. These questions may be decided in
consultation with the participants and may be communicated to them in advance to give
sufficient preparation time
Prepare a design of the workshop
Invite the participants well in advance to make to allow them to make suitable adjustment
in their schedule and participate in the forum meeting
Conduct of the workshop
Introduce to the objective, methodology, and design of the DLF
Introduce to the questions/topics for sharing of experience
Appoint reporter for each topic of discussion
Facilitate sharing of the experience amongst the participants
Ensure presentation of shared experience to all the participants
Move to the agenda for action and advocacy
Freeze the agenda for self directed action/capacity building
Freeze the issues for collective advocacy
Freeze the roles and responsibilities amongst the partners for working on the emerging
Possibly fix dates for designed actions
Fix dates for updatation and responsibilities in the same
Fix date and venue for the next meeting ( it is best to rotate host and venue to all the
participating CSO)
Follow up of the workshop
Share the progress on the agenda set in the previous meeting
Discuss the success, failures, and strategies
Redesign the agenda and strategies accordingly
Move ahead as done earlier
Follow up of the DLFs
A DLF is not an event, it is process of collective learning and collective advocacy, and
therefore, it is essential that a clear cut follow up strategy is formulated even before the
beginnings of the forums. The DLF meetings require time, money, energy, and sustained
interests. The continued interests of the participants in the DLFs can be ensured only if
learning level is maintained and advocacy yields positive results. If these two outcomes are
insufficient or below expectation of the most participants, there is likely hood that
participation will dwindle and forum will dilute.
Therefore an immediate follow up plan should be prepared with clear cut division of the
roles & responsibilities, agenda, date and venue of the meetings. It may be essential to
invite an expert to facilitate a few forum meetings in the beginning; however, emphasis
should be developing a collective leadership as soon as possible. The facilitation of learning
forums by an external resource person is always useful so that the personal biases and
limitations of the organisations do not come in the way of sharing and collective action.
Some critical essential with respect to follow up of the DLFs
a. There should be clear cut theme for discussions in DLF forums. A large number of
organisations should have sufficient experience in the theme selected.
b. There should be pre-decided and well communicated agenda, date, and venue of the
follow up meeting. The date of forum discussion should be decided in consultation
with the participants checking convenience of most of them.
c. There should be clear division of role and responsibility amongst the participants and
it should be ensured that responsibilities are met with.
d. There should be clear identification of ‘learnings to take back home” so that each
organisation comes prepared that they need to learn from the discussion.
e. There may be a decision on capacity building of the staff of CSOs in a particular area.
The lead organisation to organise the training and resource person should also be
f. Follow up with district administration on advocacy issues should be ensured and
forum should see to it, that it achieves success with respect to advocacy. Small
success will boost the morale of participating organisations.
g. The success with district administration should be well disseminated so that positive
energy is generated in the forum
h. Regular meetings and participation should be ensured initially to create bonding and
comfort between the participating organisations
Forums must create new learning agenda for itself to maintain the interest of the
It will be good if meetings of the forum are held in the premises of different CSOs so
that the responsibility is shared and no one takes individual ownership of the
Things that must be avoided while following up a DLF meeting
a. No CSO, individual or ideology should capture the DLF as it will create negative
b. Conflict of leadership should be mandatorily avoided in the forum as it will completely
disintegrate the forum.
c. There should not be undue delay in follow up meetings as it will dilute and dissipate all
the energies created in the initial forum meeting.
d. The forum must not deviate to other thematic areas and remain focussed on given
theme till certain degree of progress has been made in that area.
What is a potential future of the district learning forum
Given the fact that programmatic funds at districts are large and districts are yet a viable
unit for sharing and influencing program practices, it is essential that CSOs, other
institutions like media, academician and other likeminded individuals should come together
to influence practices at district level in an informal forum that is collectively owned by all
its members.
It is expected that the group/forum will continue to meet and discuss on the issues of
collective action on monthly basis. The process will be effective for a small group (max. 30
participants) working on the theme. It will remain as a forum (rather than a formal network)
with a collective responsibility which will be shared based on the emerging demands. Similar
efforts can be initiated around other themes in the district so that like-minded organisations
may come together.
There is a possibility that a larger collective of the CSOs, who work on multiple themes, may
emerge based on the success of the thematic association. The CSOs may be together for a
particular issue at any point in time where even the CSOs not associated with the theme
demonstrate solidarity and provide support and their expertise.
The forum may become a collective force for a large scale monitoring of programmes, rights
and entitlements. The forum may also influence donors for determining their funding and
priority issues. The forum may build connections with the state and national level networks
and advocacy groups that may help build micro-macro linkages and support.