Capacity building through horizontal learning PACS – POOREST AREA CIVIL SOCIETY PROGRAMME Preface 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 building. 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 administration 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 implementation. 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 have 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 plenary. 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 collectives? -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 committee? 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 encouraged. 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 issues 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 10. 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 decided. 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 i. j. Forums must create new learning agenda for itself to maintain the interest of the members. 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 process. 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 energies 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. 11. 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.
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