Every teaching or meeting situation is unique and offers its own challenges. I work in rural Africa and have found the follow seven tools especially helpful for engaging community members.
- Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.
- Agree on pre-set rules or a set the standards. Before any community meeting, facilitate a conversation about meeting rules or agreed protocol. For instance, begin by informing the group that “no answer is wrong, and no question is stupid.” Rules may include “no walking around during the meeting, no phone calls and no mini-meeting during the training.” The most important thing is that the rules come from your participants and are agreed to by everyone. Checking in on these rules from time-to-time can help keep them top-of-mind – one good time for this is at the start of each day in a multi-day event.
- Manage the power in the group. Your ability to manage those with power or privilege in the community is crucial to the success and participation of others – some of these may include the chief, unit committee member, the rich, and men. Your event stands to risk being high-jacked by the most vocal or privileged unless you have strategies for equalizing this power. Some ways to do this are: solo work, pair work, small group work, and inviting in specific voices at specific times i.e. “Let’s start by hearing from those who live past the hospital, and then we will hear from a few people on the other side of the river.”
- Use energizers. People come to meetings and events with many things on their mind and with different levels of energy. Make use of energizers to keep participants active and engaged. They should be purposeful and easy to execute. However, sometimes it is helpful just to have some fun and be a little less focused on the goals of the day. Learning takes energy, so monitor it carefully.
- Schedule events at participants’ convenience. Meetings should be scheduled at the preferred time of the community members, especially to suit women to encourage their participation. As much as possible, market days should be avoided since most women go to the market daily. If market days are selected as the best time to meet, keep the discussion short and focused. It is better to have a successful 1-hour meeting than to have a half-day session with little participation.
- Share real-life stories. There is no better way to get people talking than through story. Invite them to share a personal story with a partner, to share through a proverb, or to create a song with a small group. Stories are powerful tools for learning and can take many forms.
- Ensure safety. If the community members don’t feel safe they will not want to share much with those at the event. Greet them as they arrive, check in with them often, ensure they know why they are invited and their input is of value, and engage them in meaningful ways.
What tips or tools can you add to this list?
Augustine N-Yokuni (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Ghana Program Manager of Canadian Feed the Children, based in Ghana.