News and Comment

International facilitation – overcoming cultural barriers

Monday 24 September 2012


I previously wrote a blog on pictures that tell stories, in which I talked about how children and young people at CRASAC (Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre) draw pictures as a method of overcoming difficult conversations about life after sexual assault and rape.

Another use of pictures that I’d like to discuss here is the potential images have in enabling participants to collectively develop a vision of expected outcomes and impacts they would like their organisation to achieve.

I have recently returned after a year in Guyana, working with a government ministry to develop the infrastructure for the voluntary and community sector. They have called this structure the ‘Volunteerism Support Platform’. On my arrival no one really knew what this organisation would look like, so we started by drawing a platform with legs and discussed what these supporting legs or columns might represent (e.g. leadership, advocacy, standards, web site etc). This pictorial representation has now been used to create a 3-year development strategy.

As part of this work I was also asked to fly to the ‘hinterlands’ – huge savannahs, mountain ranges, and miles and miles of tropical rainforests. Within this environment lie a number of small Amerindian villages, each with their own Tushao (village chief) and local village council – a picture of one such village, Moco Moco, is shown below. A number of the village leaders have formed an organisation to conserve the natural habitat of the Kanuku mountains. In order to do this however, they need to ensure that there are sustainable livelihoods for village people, so they are currently developing new approaches to agriculture and tourism. As part of this process, the villages are being encouraged to make use of and develop the capacity of local and international volunteers. I was asked to facilitate a workshop to enable this process to happen.

I was forewarned that the Tushoas do not like formal workshops, preferring to talk and tell stories, but they also have to see the benefits of such activities or else they leave. Feeling slightly apprehensive I decided to use participative exercises, including the visioning exercise described above. The outputs were brilliant and enabled real discussion around the vision and use of volunteers in development – an example is shown below.

It goes to show that this type of facilitation activity can work in various settings and with different age groups, different cultures and even in different continents. So when in doubt, get the flip charts and pens out!