Building your cultural capacity for capacity building

A couple of weeks ago we co-facilitated the first of the Co-ops UK ‘Working with Conflict’ workshops in Manchester, part of an innovative and responsive training programme commissioned by Co-ops UK and being provided by experienced training co-ops across the country. Rhizome is leading on the working with conflict workshops and we’d opted to pitch the training at the level of cultural, attitudinal and behavioural change, rather than just skills building. Skills building is important, but to us changing attitudes and behaviour is where the real, solid and effective change happens.

It was heartening to find that many of the coops attending were very aware of the impact of organisational culture on their ability to function effectively. That’s not something you can always assume – historically cooperative development and support was aimed at structural issues such as finance, legal frameworks and marketing. In this training we gave the participants space to share their struggles and their successes in terms of avoiding, controlling or turning round cultures of conflict. And there were lots of examples of coops doing just that. One coop shared that they now prioritised recruiting for the ability and attitudes to co-operate, not for skills to do the tasks of the business.

This awareness and willingness to work on changing organisational culture isn’t always so easy to find. Through other work we’ve done recently we’ve had reason to ponder the nature of capacity building as an act of growing the culture of activism. Our work often focuses specifically on growing and supporting networks of grassroots activists (and not just growing the numbers of activists, levels of skill, amount of activity or any of the other criteria by which capacity building success are often measured).

Discussing one organisation’s plan to build up an activist network was disappointing. What they said they wanted turned out to be very different from what they’ve ended up going with. In Rhizome we’ve seen this same, flawed, approach so many times – so many assumptions that demonstrate an underlying culture of the organisation which conflicts with their stated aims and plans.

Of course many of us don’t always live up to our aims – none of us are perfect. But to thrive we need to recognise that an organisation’s values and impact are not defined just by their mission statements, their stated aims, but by the attitudes and behaviours of the organisation as a whole, as well as those of the individuals in it. And where there is a substantial difference between what we say and what we do, it fundamentally dilutes our message, compromises our abilities, weakens our capacity. Ultimately it hobbles the organisation and risks its future.

If you want to see the gap between your rhetoric and your reality – check out your work against the Ladder of Citizen’s Participation. Sherry Arnstein wrote:

“There is a critical difference between going through the empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process… participation without redistribution of power is an empty and frustrating process for the powerless. It allows the powerholders to claim that all sides were considered, but makes it possible for only some of those sides to benefit. It maintains the status quo.”

Many of us working for social change might read that and heartily agree that that’s exactly what corporations, politicians and states do. We may be less inclined to notice when NGOs do the same through their own ‘democratic’ processes, or when ‘grassroots’ networks do the same through informal hierarchies and unacknowledged oppressive behaviour.

If you want to have a lasting effect then social change organisations need to be honest about which rung of the ladder they aspire to, and which they currently occupy. Our experience is that unless this is firmly out in the open, and groups are actively working towards integrating the rhetoric and the reality, the level of participation will almost always slip downward as other factors assert themselves at the cost of empowerment.

At Rhizome we feel that relating to or working in an organisation or network is all in the attitude. And that attitude needs to be nurtured and held throughout the organisation – in other words be part of the organisation’s culture. It’s not sufficient for a team of paid or voluntary capacity builders to have the right attitudes, if they don’t have the support of the wider organisation, or the power to make organisation-wide change. The right attitude to engagement needs to be part of your organisational culture from top to bottom. Otherwise you risk being seen as milking the networks for more action, more funds, more weight to your campaign, and ultimately your capacity and support will wither.

So if you’re building or supporting an activist network, some of the ways in which a culture of participation and empowerment might demonstrate themselves in your capacity building programme include:

  • Make involving staff realistic and genuine. There’s often an ideal of all staff taking a part in the life of the network through some kind of support or mentoring role, and that’s a laudable way to ensure that the network becomes central to the whole organisation. However, it’s rarely in every staff member’s job description, it’s unlikely to have been a consideration in their recruitment and in reality, they may not have the interest or relevant skills. If you’re going to do this you need to do it properly – check, assess and train them and integrate it properly into the roles.

  • Whatever you’re planning needs enough lead in time. It doesn’t matter how urgent the campaign, the emphasis is on you to get your act together – strategise and plan appropriately, don’t dump unworkably short project plans on your volunteer networks. There’s your own internal bureaucracy, plus giving your activists a genuine chance to contribute, co design and participate at a pace that works for them – which, if they’re volunteers, may be a lot slower than you’d like. Working with the conflicts will take time. Whatever lead in time you were thinking of, double it, and then double it again.

  • Involve activists and potential activists from the start. Check out even your most basic assumptions (that they want a network / that a network will work for this organisation etc) and keep them involved. And by ‘them’, I don’ t mean just the easy to relate to/ ‘onside’ activists. You need to talk to the ‘hard to reach’ and the ‘awkward squad’ as well as the potential & as yet unreached activists. And whilst you’re talking to them, try to understand them better. You might find that they’re not so hard to reach, or so awkward after all.

  • Consider that the networks might be able to be more self-supporting than you first think. Whilst setting up and running networks can be time-consuming and difficult from a distance, if you’re willing to trust people and cede some/all control, supporting people to do it themselves allows you to focus your resources and empowers the networks.

  • Commit to a proper programme of mentoring and training. Give it time, proper resources, and look for depth as well as breadth. Plan to see how it can be made self-supporting; a mentoring programme that turns out new mentors, a training programme that builds the skills and attitudes needed to train others.

  • Don’t just assume it’s just the network folk that need training. Your staff and organisational culture needs to be supported and developed. Training them is a fast and effective way of doing this.

The bottom line is that there’s a need to build the cultural capacity of your organisation for change, which allows you to accept and celebrate diversity, feel safe devolving some or all power to your activists, and co-produce and co-design projects, materials, strategies, campaigns. That needs to be replicated in (and learnt from) the network itself. Without building this cultural capacity no amount of people, funds, webspace, petitions, hashtags or events will build you a genuinely resilient and effective network.

Advertisements

Oh, time it is a precious thing…

Having limited time to deliver a workshop focuses the mind wonderfully. What can actually be achieved, in terms of getting people thinking differently and then doing differently, if you only have 60 minutes? This was the situation for a short capacity building workshop for LeedsTidal at their Crisis Opportunity event in late October.

If it is a group who don’t know each other well, if at all, how do the vital things, like making sure everyone knows everyone’s names and where they are coming from (in many senses) and feels safe and comfortable, come about? If a facilitator concentrates on that important process, only 40 minutes will be left at most, and probably only 35 if we start late due to toilet or smoking needs, people getting lost and so on.  So the choice is whether to sacrifice a high quality start to a workshop, getting people feeling welcomed and included, or trust that in the ensuing activities relationships will form and the group feel empowered and safe.

Another choice is the type of activities. Do you play safe, knowing that if the temperature in the room isn’t right, certain things may not work, especially something that is a bit more challenging than an ideas storm? Do you try role plays or even a forum theatre approach when, without the time to get people feeling really comfortable with each other, they might shrink from this? Or do you trust that the urge to learn and experiment will carry people through? Do you negotiate? “We don’t have much time, we could do this or this, what would you like to try?” “How would you feel about over-running by 10 minutes to enable us to reflect on our learning?”

I opted for a fairly traditional kind of facilitated discussion with a focus on thinking about motivation and what people want out of groups. We explored though private pair discussion and the use of post-its what made everyone in the room get involved in a group, what they actually wanted out of joining something. We looked at a couple of classic motivational theories –  Maslow and McClelland – then broke into small groups to think about an imaginary group member and how the group might meet this person’s needs – I handed out “character cards” for this – and ended with an ideas storm about what a group can do to make a new person feel welcome and involved, what roles or tasks they could be offered. On the wall, a flip sheet diagram to show the tension between task focus and people focus worked very well to help people see what needs doing to keep a group healthy.

I admit I was exceedingly anxious and spent far too long working on the design of the workshop, all the time worrying about the lack of time. I apologised frequently about having to be directive and pushing discussions along too fast, but at the same time noticed there were very thoughtful comments and exchanges in the discussions about how to meet the needs of various imaginary characters, and the suggestions for ways of including new people were sensitive and creative. Maybe I was focussed too much on the lack of time, and had not been trusting the creative cooperative spirit of the participants!

Jo

games for activists and non-activists

Inspired in large part by Augusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors and Improv practice, we proposed a games workshop to Co-operatives UK for their Big Fun Pod at last week’s International Co-op Conference. Rather than writing a reflective piece, I’m just going to describe what we did and provide some pointers for readers who want to explore the field of games. If you want to use these, think about how you might debrief the exercises. For example, “What did you observe about your desire to lead/to follow/to withdraw etc?”.

Intro – Wander around the space and say hello to everyone, without touching them. Continue wandering, but this time say hello non-verbally. Continue wandering, but this time shake hands with someone. Before you let go of their hand, you have to have held someone else’s before you release your first hand.

Control and co-operation – wander around the room and follow the instructions of the games ‘leader’. Instructions start with ‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘forwards’,’backwards’,’up’, ‘down’. Let this play out for a while, then pause and say that now everyone is to do the opposite of the command. Continue for a while and then shift the energy by saying some new commands – shapes, letters and numbers. People get into the shapes, letters and numbers.

Co-existence – in pairs, one A and one B. A starts by putting their hand about a foot in front of B’s face. B follows the (gentle) movements of A.

Swap over. Then say – “Now you have to mirror each other, there is no leader and there is no follower.” Then pairs join together and mirror each other.

Group work – put enough pieces of paper on the floor so that everyone can just stand on it. Stand on one yourself and say, “The rules of this game are that you must be in touch with the paper, but not the floor”. Everyone gets up and stands on the paper. Then take half of the paper away and repeat the exercise. Gradually diminish the paper. If the groups talks about the problem and searches for solutions which observe the rule, they’ll solve the problem.

If they don’t, there will be some mayhem.

Circle time – in a circle play Bippety Bippety Bop. One person in the middle. They point to someone and either say, “bop” or “bippety, bippety bop”. If they say “bop” the person pointed at has to stay silent; if they say “bop”, they’re in the middle. If the person in the middle points at someone and says, “bippety, bippety bop”, the the person pointed at has to say “bop” before they have finished saying,”bippety, bippety bop”.

You can add other games into it. For example, we added ‘James Brown’. If you say ‘James Brown’ to someone, then before you count to ten, they have to wiggle and sing, “I feel good”, whilst the person to their left and right does a small dance. Any player who does the wrong action or fails to do the action by the time you’ve counted to ten, is then in the middle.

Remaining in a circle, on person stands in the middle. The rest all agree a sound and keep vocalising it. The person in the middle moves around and within the circle. As they get nearer to someone the sound increases; and decreases as they move away from someone. Someone else moves to the middle when a different sound evolves. (Note – this means you have to tell the circle to evolve the sound).

Then change the circle rules to be about movements and evolve them.

Attraction/distraction – Get everyone wandering around the room. Say that this time they’re like magnets. As they get within a foot of someone they are magnetically repelled. Let it play out, then swap to – once they get within a foot of someone they are attracted and stuck to them. See what happens. Then get people wandering again and ask them to be equidistant, see what happens and how long it takes for the group to settle. Then say, “Choose two people with your eyes, without letting them know. One is A and one is B. Now get as close to A and as far away from B as possible. You have ten seconds.” It’s fun.

Other games – we played some variations of these too, but you can find more in –

Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal

Improv by Keith Johnstone

And on the Organizing for Power website

And a host of other resources accessible via goggling.

Hearing voices: activists engaging communities

Yesterday I was facilitating at the regular meeting of the Building Activist Networks Forum. The theme of the session was supporting activists in engaging with their communities. To be precise, I was co-facilitating – with Naveed from Oxfam UK.

Right from the start we identified that all we could do in the time that we had was to open up the conversation. And we suspected it was a conversation that few activists, and few organisations that support activists find the time to have. We felt the conversation usually started with “what do we do to support our activists in engaging their communities?”, and didn’t often cover “why do we want to engage the community?” or “who are the community anyway?”. It was this latter question we focused on.

We asked the participants to step into the shoes of the community that their activists were trying to reach and identify some of the types of people they wanted to engage but struggled to so so? Why isn’t it working? What are the needs and aspirations of these members of the community, and what are the obstacles to successful engagement from their perspective. Through some thinking, some drawing, and some fantastic roleplaying (hats off to our volunteers) we brought some of these characters into the room and got to talk to them about these issues. I think it worked – I took it as a good sign when, during a break, a participant accused us of having “provoked an existential crisis”.

We had been asked to enable these capacity builders to identify the skills their activists needed for successful engagement, and the skills they needed, in turn, to support the activists. In reality we took a step back and identified the states of mind, a necessary foundation to the skills, and one that was well-received.

The activity itself was one that’s easy enough to replicate more or less wholesale with activists to help them have the same conversations and reflections and begin to develop the states of mind we were working with.

Naveed then facilitated a lovely capacity builder ‘lonely hearts’ in which participants got to ask for support and find who in the room could help them… “capacity builder WLTM experienced public speaker to inspire network of activists….” and so on. I’m not sure love blossomed across the crowded room, but some serious and passionate networking was done.

The Forum is open to anyone who works to support networks of activists regardless of the issue, size of network, paid staff or volunteer. Get in touch if you want to be kept in touch.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Groups die. Networks die. Movements die. It’s meant to happen. It’s part of a natural cycle and we should embrace it rather than rage against it. Why? Because like most cycles it has its own rebirth built in to the process, so it’s not really death after all, just change. That’s not to say that change cannot feel as difficult, even as traumatic, as a death.

Why these rather sombre thoughts? I started this post soon after Climate Camp’s decision not to hold the annual mass gathering in 2011 and it’s sat in our drafts folder for months. I had a couple of conversations over Friday and Saturday that turned my mind back to the topic of the life cycle of campaigns and campaigning movements.

There are many people out there who spend a lot of their time and effort trying to prevent groups from dying. Some of them are formal “capacity builders” employed or volunteering for an NGO. Others are just group members trying to keep their campaign going. They support groups to recruit and retain members, to try new processes that make the group more open and give it more chance of a long life. It’s a large part of our work here at Rhizome, too. That’s because groups are fragile even if they don’t always appear to be, and they can fall prey to a whole host of diseases that cause untimely death: lack of clear and shared leadership, poor process that excludes potential members, lack of resources, burnout of core people, and much more. But given the right conditions they can thrive, grow and set their own seed.

Sometimes our capacity builders (formal and informal) are left waiting for a group to die. To say that they will the group to do so would be unkind, but every network has groups that are not moving with the times, are stagnating, and are an obstacle to new energy emerging in that town, city or region. What do you do?

It’s a bit like the mature tree that blocks light to the forest floor preventing saplings getting enough light to thrive. Sometimes good forest management requires us to fell the old and diseased trees to let new ones grow in their place. The old tree has done its work. Year after year of leaf-fall has created a rich humus on the forest floor. Its roots have broken up the hard soil. New groups can grow in its place feeding off the composting wood. Nothing about the old-timer is wasted. Without the old tree the soil wouldn’t have been enriched to the point at which a new tree could establish quickly and healthily. But do we wait or do we wield the axe?

Before wielding an axe, I’d encourage capacity builders to check their assumptions and ensure that perception and reality are the same. I’ve seen too many organisations making assumptions about the vigour of a group based on factors such as the age of the participants. I’ve seen too many solvable group dynamics issues presented as wider social “problems” – ‘young activists don’t want to work alongside older activists’, ‘people give up activism after university and only come back to it later in life when their kids are older’. When you dig down it’s often more a case of the way we hold meetings fails to attract and retain people. Especially as within the same network or movement there are usually plenty of groups that contradict the assumptions. What’s needed is sometimes just minor tree-surgery and not wholesale tree felling. However sometimes groups aren’t able to be receptive to the changes that would solve their problems….

There’s a similar pattern to the growth of activist movements and NGOs. Movements start small, young, vigorous, supple, eager for growth. Just breaking through the soil with a first action, first media story, first substantial donation can seem almost unbelievable. But those that survive the early stages often start to lignify, to become established like a tree or woody shrub. And from here on in there is tension. For some this is the aim – to have more heft, more gravitas, more pull in the world. Bigger is better if you want to stand head and shoulders above the top of the forest canopy. Others find this establishment an affront to their vision for youthful vigorous action. The dizzy heights of the canopy are too far from the forest floor where the real action happens.

And this struggle is not always pleasant. There can be bad feeling on both sides. I think the bigger picture is that the two are intimately entwined. Some plants need to develop to a certain stage before they can produce viable seed. Some plants send out runners which soon establish themselves and the connecting rhizome or stolon rots away leaving them independent, though genetically linked. Others grow from the crown out – each year another layer of young growth is added to the outside of the plant whilst the centre of the crown slowly loses its vigour.

Of course there are other plant life cycles that are relevant here such as those of many annual plants that live short and often colourful lives ending with the self-sowing of thousands of seed. Each has its own delivery mechanism for the seed – pods that burst and scatter the seed, seed designed to be picked up in the wind and so on. No-one can dictate where the seed lands. And maybe that’s important. Though often of course we try to control the cycle – extend the naturally short but spectacular life, control precisely where the seed is sown and so on. Perhaps we shouldn’t?

So what, if anything, can we learn?

  • That one of the roles of a movement is to spark new movements.
  • That the tension is natural, even desirable – it’s part of the life cycle.
  • That sometimes we need to let light down to the forest floor or ignite a forest fire to create the conditions for new seeds to germinate.
  • That however much we admire the majestic forest canopy nothing lasts for ever, nor should it.
  • That there’s a debt of gratitude owed to a dead or dying group or movement – it’s enriched the soil for new growth.
  • That we shouldn’t rely on Dylan Thomas for movement-building advice.
  • That it’s OK to burst onto the scene spectacularly and fade away equally as quickly as long as we have a mechanism for sowing some seeds in that time, preferably far and wide. Longevity isn’t everything.
  • That maybe we try to control the growth and spread of movements too much instead of focusing on preparing the soil so that wherever a seed lands its chances of germination are improved.
  • That you can stretch a metaphor just a little too far.

Planning the year ahead…but no blue tea thinking

blue tea - somewhere between black and green

Carl and I met this week for a general catch up and planning session. He very kindly made the journey to Leicester and after an early lunch we adjourned to a local cafe and explored a wide range of topics.

Naturally we had to cover the mundane stuff like finance, developing this website, publicising our existence and so on. But we talked about the year ahead as well. So here’s a taste of what we discussed and decided:

research and writing…

We already share our learning through this blog. But we realise that we’ve written loads of stuff over the years about building, supporting and empowering grassroots campaign networks, community organisations and so on. So we decided that the time has come to pull it all together into one place. We’ll be looking for funding to write a book that we hope will be of use to anyone involved in the life of a local campaign group or community organisation, NGO capacity-building staff, national networks and so on. If we get the funding we’ll blog it chapter by chapter so you can interact with it, and help shape it. Then it’ll be stuck together and made available to download, for free we hope.

We’re also considering a piece of what we like to call barefoot research, to look at participation on a community level – the aspirations and the obstacles. Barefoot because we’re practitioners not academics, because we want to approach it from the bottom up and work with communities. Whatever we come up with will shed some light on why people do or don’t get active in their community. This seems like essential knowledge to have in a world in which rebuilding community  and localising our economy may be our biggest hope in the struggle against climate change.

new media

Our conversation took in the social media. Clearly we already blog and the good news is that Carl has offered to write more regular posts, so look out for those. But it’s easy to believe that without a Facebook page you’re nothing. Nothing personal to those of you on Facebook, but we feel that right now we can live without it. Same goes for Twitter. We’ve played around with the odd tweet, mainly directing people to our blog or another blogger’s post that’s grabbed us, but in general we decided it was a technology we could live without for now.

It’s a bit like the blue tea on offer in the cafe. We’re very comfortable with black tea, green tea, even white tea… but there comes a point when the latest tea doesn’t really add much to the sum total of humanity’s tea-experience. Facebook and Twitter are a bit blue tea for us right now.

training, facilitation and coaching….

Lots in the pipeline, which you’ll read about as we reflect and report back. Specifically we talked about addressing the issue of the lack of funds in NGO training budgets to send staff on the training they want and need (at least at the end of the organisations that we deal with, network support and capacity building staff). We’ve tried to co-ordinate a couple of courses this year with our friends in the NGO Forum, but budgets have been tight and we haven’t been able to make it cost-effective. Given that we rely on work with the NGO community to fund us to work, for free, with other groups, that’s a problem. So we’re going to explore some funding options to work with NGOs as partners and design and deliver bespoke courses for their staff.

We’re also thinking about more coaching, as we’re often approached by people who want skills and want tailored support, but are the only person in their group or organisation that requires the support. Training isn’t appropriate, so coaching is the way forward…

co-facilitation…

We haven’t co-facilitated anywhere near as much as we’d have liked to. Shame – opportunities for learning from each other would be welcome. In general it’s been a pragmatic choice – the paid work we’ve been offered rarely pays enough to warrant two of us. And we’re a tad busy to co-facilitate the pro bono stuff. So we’ll keep looking for opportunities including outside of Rhizome. We’re both Turning The Tide volunteer resource people so we may well co-facilitate some of the work we do for them.

And for the curious – Carl’s was breakfast tea, mine mao feng green tea.

Transition Trainers’ Dreaming Circle for “Groups

Here’s some news in from Transition Networks folks….

  • Are you a trainer, workshop leader, consultant or coach who teaches people how to get groups to work well?
  • Are you interested in joining a collaborative group sharing good practice and developing cutting edge workshops?
  • Would you like to be part of a group of practitioners offering this kind of training to Transition groups?

If you have a Yes! to all of these, please join Naresh and Sophy of Transition Training at our first Dreaming Circle for people with expertise in teaching how to create and sustain effective groups at Braziers Park, on Dec 1-3rd, 2010.

View or download the full details as a pdf: DreamingCircleForGroups

Conflict resolution for capacity builders

Rhizome is a regular contributor to the meetings of the NGO Forum, an informal meeting of capacity building and network staff from campaigning organisation that have, or aspire to, a local group network.

As a result of our involvement with the NGO Forum, we’re planning a conflict resolution course designed specifically for the needs of staff and volunteers who have a role in supporting local groups or other networks of activists. If you think that might be of interest to you or your organisation or network read on and get in touch. Don’t worry if you’re not currently involved with the Forum, it’s not pre-requisite.

Back in July Carl ran an introductory session at a Forum meeting. Since then there’s been a conversation going on in the Forum about  a longer training. The NGO Forum is an informal meeting of capacity building and network staff from campaigning organisation that have, or aspire to a local group network.

We’ve come up with a proposal for a format that balances the need to explore conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation skills at a deep enough level to have a real impact on your work, with budget and time restraints. We’re asking for feedback to ensure we meet the genuine needs of capacity builders. All comments are very welcome:

2 day residential course at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire

Day 1:

  • arrive 10.30 for an 11am start
  • main session: 11am to 5pm
  • evening session 7 to 9pm
  • overnight stay

Day 2:

  • 9 am start
  • 4pm close and depart

Where? Braziers Park is a community of people, and residential college founded in 1950 as an educational trust, and is a continuing experiment in the advantages and problems of living in a group. It’s approximately 1 hour from London to the nearest station, Goring & Streatley, which is between Reading and Oxford. The station is a taxi or cycle ride away from the venue.

When? We’ve provisionally booked a mid-February event – Tuesday 15th and Wednesday 16th February 2011

How much? Our provisional costing of such an event, including the costs of all meals and overnight accommodation is £255 +VAT per person. Costs can be reduced slightly if people are willing to share rooms. It’s also possible to stay the night before (including breakfast) for those travelling a greater distance, for an additional fee. These figures assume a minimum of 8 participants. If the course is well-subscribed we’ll look at subsidising smaller organisations, offering free places to network volunteers or refunding a proportion of the cost.

Interested or any questions? contact us or leave a comment below, preferably by 8th October. If we get enough expressions of interest, we’ll confirm the course.

Local groups: successes and challenges

The NGO Forum met on Thursday at WDM’s offices in London. The session focused on learning from each other about supporting local group networks. The topic was obviously a hot one as about a dozen new organisations responded to the publicity and joined the session. Many of them are at the early stages of founding networks, or wanting to grow existing small networks.

I was there, co-facilitating the session with Katharine from WDM.

After introductions and a bit of a warm up, we heard presentations on models of local organising from staff and volunteers involved in the networks of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Climate Camp. These 3 models had been chosen to span the spectrum from top-down organising with limited autonomy, through to the decentralised model of ‘disorganisations’ such as Climate Camp.

The questions that followed highlighted the issues for this group of capacity builders:

  • how to reach out and grow the size of a network
  • if and how NGOs utilise networks as fundraisers
  • how to deal with the ageing demographic of local campaign groups
  • the benefits of groups rather than active individuals
  • when NGOs throw volunteers in at the deep end (to deliver training to their peers, for example) how many sink, and how many swim?

The rest of the session was given over to the group, borrowing from Open Space, to set the agenda and have the conversations that were important to them.

Interestingly there wasn’t a huge demand for space on the agenda… there seemed to be some reluctance to embrace the open space which was reflected in the evaluations. Quite possibly this is because open space is still relatively new in campaigning NGO circles – it could well have been the first time many of those present had encountered it. And, because it was a relatively short session they didn’t have long to acclimatise.

As an aside, from those NGOs that have experienced open space I’ve seen a rapid rise in interest and find myself asked to use open space regularly nowadays…

Katharine took away the evaluations, so I’ll feedback on those in more detail when she sends them round.

This was a precursor to a full day skillshare on November 30th. If your organisation would benefit from being there, contact us or subscribe to the Forum email list Capacity_Building_NGO_Forum-subscribe(AT)yahoogroups.com – replacing (AT) with the @ symbol.

This is a topic we’ll come back to – we’ve experienced many different models of network and many different approaches to capacity building and support. Common themes emerge which are worth blogging about, so as always, watch this space…