Tag Archives: Reflective practice

What would a family friendly community meeting look like (besides noisy)?

family-support-group

Recently, I attended a public meeting held at the local community hall to share the latest findings from a city budget engagement process. While it would have been easier to go on my own, my husband was out of town and the only way I could attend (and show my support for our new council) was if I brought my children (a 2 year old and a 5 month old baby).

My biggest concern for this meeting was how to get everyone out of the house on time and what snacks to bring that wouldn’t create a mess (the time of the meeting crossed our dinner hour). Having worked in many countries around the world where children are integrated into all aspects of community life, I feel comfortable bringing my kids with me to most meetings. In fact, I just returned from three weeks working in Nepal with my son who was four months at the time. It had not crossed my mind whether we would be welcome (or not) at this meeting in our community hall.

For the most part people were quite helpful and nice. The facilitator had brought his young son, which helped set the tone of inclusiveness. That said there were no other children in the room. The turnout was likely the best ever for a budget meeting though it was demographically homogenous.

unnamed

Thankfully no one had to ‘sit silently’ through lengthy presentations. Most of the meeting was spent walking around talking to your neighbours about what was important to everyone for budget priorities. The facilitator was top-notch and everyone was on task.

After about an hour and half, the meeting closed with a sharing circle of fifty people. It was a nice touch however this is exactly when my baby started to get vocal. I wasn’t sure what to do as I had brought my double-wide stroller into the hall and the circle passed directly in front of the exit door. In addition I would have had to figure out how to open the double doors of the venue to get out (I had to seek help when I arrived earlier). Given it wasn’t a very formal meeting and we were in a community hall, I decided to wait. Besides, I wanted to hear what people had to say!

It didn’t take long before someone gave me a scowl and pointed to the door. I used the opportunity to quickly exit however I left feeling rather sad. I had put in a lot of effort to drag myself and these two young kids downtown to a budget meeting and was now being booted out?! At the same time, I didn’t want to ‘ruin’ the meeting for anyone due to my crying baby.

Once I finished feeling sorry for myself, I reflected on two things:

  1. Why is it important to have children (or diversity in general) at community meetings?
  2. What can community organizers do to make meetings more inclusive of families?

These are my thoughts.

  1. Having young people at meetings is important for many reasons:
  • When you walk into the room and see children, it changes the vibe for the better.
    • We speak differently to each other (often kinder)
    • We are more patient
    • The mood is lighter (a child’s smile can brighten even the most boring budget meeting)
  • It is a reminder of community diversity.
    • Different segments of community will have different priorities. For example, an arena or a skatepark might be a budget burden for some people however for children it may be their anchor to the community
  • Children often say things that adults feel uncomfortable saying (usually these things need to be said).
  • Seeing a child in the room is a helpful reminder that the impacts of decisions made today will be felt by young people in the future
  • Instilling a sense of civic engagement in our children is key to a healthy community for the long-term.
  1. Some ways we could make meetings more inclusive of families are:
  • Include family-friendly in the advertising.
    • This lets parents know its okay to bring children
    • This helps everyone attending (including those without kids) understand that it will be a noisy meeting (kids make noise)
    • Facilitators can plan for noise and use microphones to help ensure everyone is heard (for example during a circle discussion)
  • During the meeting introduction, remind people that we are planning for everyone in the community. All voices are respected including those of little people.
  • Use visuals and have opportunities for drawing (as opposed to only speaking and writing)
  • Choose meeting times that don’t interfere with meals and naps (i.e. finish by 5 or 5:30pm latest).
  • Provide healthy snacks for little people that are potentially missing dinner.
  • Provide child care so that parents can participate more effectively and children can easily be removed if the discussion is more serious.
  • If you ask a single parent with two kids to leave, at least help them to open the double doors so the stroller can get through quickly and quietly 🙂

Teaching our children to be civically engaged is important to sustaining healthy communities. I hope future community meeting participants embrace the noise!

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Tips for Researchers Drafting a Policy Engagement Strategy

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

Illustration by ‘Tim Hamons’ downloaded from the FB group: Graphic Facilitation

As part of the South Asia Urban Knowledge Hub all national centres are required to draft a policy engagement strategy. This is the metaphorical bridge in the illustration above.

Researchers in the project I work with, do a policy engagement strategy for each work plan objective that focuses on making a change in the urban development sector. The purpose is to help researchers, who often are engaging in policy dialogue and change for the first time, think through their ideas more thoroughly. As well, it is a great way to stimulate discussions in the team, bring information forward and detail a plan of action for ensuring engagement of stakeholders throughout the change process (from ideation to implementation ideally). Finally, it’s essential so that the researchers can BRIDGE (see image above) the knowledge generated through their research and the change they want to see in policy and practice.

I drafted a template for this in May 2014 and we held a training. I based it on many works found on the Internet and discussions with practitioners. More information about that process is here. I received several draft strategies this week which has led to me to consider how to re-iterate some of my key points. I updated the strategy and sent some tips to the researchers as a reminder of the main ideas of the engagement strategy.

An updated version of the template is here: K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated

As a refresher, the 6 main steps include:

  • Step 1: Define the issue
  • Step 2: Articulate the goal
  • Step 3: Understand your context
  • Step 4: Identify decision makers, key actors and relationships
  • Step 5: Describe your engagement process
  • Step 6: Monitoring and learning

The tips I provided were the following:

1. Step 1-4 are background information.
  • Going through these steps helps you ensure you have thought about your issue clearly.
    • What is it is? Is it relevant? Who else is working on it? What policies exist? Who supports or doesn’t support your issue? What are the windows of opportunity to create change? What is your objective with respect to engagement? (this may be different than your work plan objective (more specific) however it may be the same as the work plan too), USE THE GUIDING QUESTIONS IN THE TEMPLATE.
  • Be as specific as possible with your identification of stakeholders to influence/engage. People are important (as well as the major groupings). This supports knowledge management – i.e. your entire team should be able to identify the different people they need to talk to (individuals matter a lot in making change). Figure out who has influence and who is keen on your ideas (or not). This helps you design your strategy for engagement. You will need different tactics to bring different people on board.
  • In addition, this document is meant to be shared with others on your team and other stakeholders of interest. Thus it should be detailed enough that people understand the issue, recognize the context/background and opportunities for change and your road map to making change.
2. Step 5. – this should describe HOW you are going to engage and how you are getting knowledge to your different stakeholders.
  • All the aspects of involving stakeholders should be in this section from the outset of your ideas/research to final product (its more than dissemination at the end!). Forming working groups, involving peer reviewers from your network – these are all ways to engage and bring people on board to your ideas.
  • You should think about big picture tasks but also communication tactics – for example, do you need to create data visualizations, work with the media, NGOs or others to make materials more accessible for others.
  • You should include time to work on key messages!
  • This section is the heart of your strategy.
  • Make sure you document your assumptions of why you think your strategy will work. This is how we learn (in case things don’t go as planned). If you recall the recent talk by John Young from ODI ( he spoke to our researchers on monitoring and learning), this section is your Theory of Change.
  • You should have a timeline here as this is a mini work plan specific to your engagement. It will overlap with your work plan. You are not starting from scratch but rather building on what you started and getting into more detail.
3. Step 6. – This is exactly what we worked on during our session on Monitoring and Learning in Kathmandu (with John Young as per above).
  • Use the work sheet from the meeting in March and detail out a few indicators (see step 6 in K-Hub-Template-PolicyEngagementStrategy_April2015updated).
  • Start with ideas from your work plan however adapt as needed. We talked about expect to see, like to see, and love to see indicators.
  • Monitoring is important as how will you know how much you have achieved and why? How will you communicate this later?
  • For long term sustainability of the K-Hub, donors want and need this information.
I really believe these engagement strategies are interesting as they tell the story of how each researcher plans to make change based on evidence. After reading a few, I realize that in effect they are a case study of each project. If we manage to write great stories (whether we succeed or not) and explain our intent, why it worked, why it didn’t work and our suggestions for the future, these could be an interesting piece of work for others in the world also working on trying to make change. Thus, the K-Hub could publish these as a joint Knowledge Product at the end of the first phase. The K-Hub could also use it for marketing purposes for sustainability of the K-Hub for the longer term.
My final message was that despite being new and perhaps daunting, researchers should take time to make these engagement strategies GREAT and continue to update them. This is valuable for the change making process as well as the wider K-Hub journey.
What do you think?

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Volunteer project complete – what did I learn?

When I saw an ad from a researcher wanting to help visualize mental health training for female sex workers in Kathmandu, I thought maybe my graphic facilitation skills could be of use. Besides, it sounded like an interesting project and very different from my usual environment and development focused work. The project is now complete.

As a facilitator, its typical to debrief with three questions:  what? so what? now what?

What?

Over a period of three months, we had one pilot and three sessions where the women who took the training debriefed their learning and I drew the key points on a wall. Meanwhile, an artist was refining my ideas on a wacom tablet in order to produce a digital image in real time. After the discussion died down, the women went through my drawing explaining what they saw and I added or commented on anything that was new or different from their interpretation.  Sometimes they saw things I never imagined however typically we both had the main ideas in sync. The refined digital image was saved on a USB and taken to a print shop nearby while the women were given a free lunch of Nepali Daal Bhat. The print out was delivered and all women took a copy with them to use in their own discussions with women in their ‘professional networks’.

Here is an example of the last training session output.  The left side is the refined version by the artist and the right side was the sketch I drew on the wall in front of the ladies as they provided their learning impressions.  The debrief sessions were always about 30 minutes max so this was a very quick interpretation of their training.

Graphic representation of lessons learned.  Left side by Adi Bereshit-Elias and Right side by Michelle Laurie

Graphic representation of lessons learned. Left side by Adi Bereshit-Elias and Right side by Michelle Laurie

So what?

I’m still waiting for the researcher to do her analysis on how the visuals contributed (or not) to facilitating mental health discussions by the trainees with their colleagues.  However, she did send a note recently saying, “In the post-training reactions a couple of the women said that their favorite part of the training was the “learning through drawing” part! With your help, we were able to provide a largely illiterate population with a practical and meaningful tool that helped them complete their teaching tasks with a lot more confidence than they otherwise would have had.”

For all us of involved it was a big learning experience.  I have learned a few things including:

  • It is possible to draw without words and explain ideas (though I find this very intimidating!)
  • Keying in on the main message and using a central image are helpful tactics
  • Putting the icons/drawing onto a landscape or setting helps the ideas to not ‘sit in space’
  • Perfection isn’t needed though an artist can do amazing things to spruce up a sketch (i.e. make it look professional)
  • People remember the discussion having watched the drawing take place before their eyes and take part in the meaning making
  • Visuals are a bridge across language but can also be tricky (i.e. watch out for cultural metaphors and faux pas!)

Now What?

I hope to take part in the celebration with the participants this April and learn more about how their on the ground sessions went with their colleagues.  Personally, I have learned a lot about having confidence to make a mark on the page in front of a group of people talking about serious issues AND have the ability to step back and be okay with what they like and dislike with the drawing created.

While I really appreciated the artists’ support, I also plan to work on my visual vocabulary as it does get easier to draw on the fly with practice, and use of specific icons.

I am happy to have participated in a new and exciting application of visual methods and will continue to push my edges.

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Personal reflections on 2013

As the New Year gets rolling, I took a few minutes to reflect on the last 12 months.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while and despite it already being 2014, it’s better late than never.  Blogging for reflective practice is how I began blogging so here goes…

Langtang Valley, Nepal

A lot of changes took place in 2013, which have been transformational for me personally and professionally. I’m writing from Nepal where I am far from many friends and family yet close to lots of new friends and colleagues.

Looking back, these are my top five highlights:

  1. Becoming a Mom. The biggest and best change has been becoming a mom to “Ira”.  I learned a lot in the past year about living in the moment, enjoying the small gifts a baby offers and the love of family.  I think I also understand my own mother more.
  2. Embracing Community. Discovering the kindness of people and community (mostly due to Ira) both at home and around the world has opened my heart and mind.  Thank you.
  3. Rediscovering Yoga. I brought yoga back into my life.  The benefits of practicing yoga physically, mentally and emotionally have been a great addition to the daily routine. More than simply postures its an approach to life.
  4. Teamwork. I enjoy working in a team.  Being a mom pushed me to find people to collaborate with to accomplish my work commitments.  More than usual, this year I collaborated with several smart, generous and talented women and I look forward to sharing more projects with them and others in the years to come.
  5. Growing professionally. With an urge to increase my international sustainable development work and follow my passions, I became an associate with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), moved to Nepal for a few months and have picked up very interesting international contracts.  I also gave two graphic facilitation workshops in September, which fed me with energy and enthusiasm for using visuals in our work and doing more workshops in the future. I have learned a lot in the last seven years of consulting and its gratifying to continue to grow in my career. I feel fortunate to be able to work with my passions with so many inspiring people.

Thank you to all the friends, family, and colleagues who have been a part of my journey through 2013.  While I may not communicate often (and apologies for not sending holiday cards), I am thinking of you and grateful for our connections.  I am looking forward to the year ahead and hope our paths cross soon virtually or in person.  A blog post about living in Nepal will be coming shortly!

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Applying Graphic Facilitation in New Contexts

A few weeks ago I answered an advert asking for a volunteer to visualize a training session on building self-esteem and improving mental health for women who are sexually exploited in Nepal. I wondered if graphic facilitation may be useful in this context and explained a bit about what I could offer.  An artist also volunteered.  The plan provided to us is we will have three training sessions on different topics related to improving mental health and well-being with leaders from different sex-trade networks.  After each session, the facilitator will debrief with the women on key lessons they learned and the women will then share these with their networks.  An 8.5×11 visual aid will then be drawn, photocopied and provided to each women to take home. All women will be given a meal at the end to encourage their attendance, staying for the full session and waiting for their photocopy to remind them of what they learned.

Today we met for the first time to do a test run of a session with staff from the NGO which works with the women. The researcher and a translator ran the session simulating what we would be going through with the women in the future.  Overall, it was a huge learning experience for me as a graphic facilitator in terms of cross-cultural communications, setting, expectations, and adapting to new environments and circumstances.  A few photos are posted as I probably won’t be able to take photos of the real group. Here are a few of the things that stood out for me today:

  1. As someone who mainly works in environment and development, working on a social issue, particularly around the exploitation of women and girls, is a giant leap.  It is a difficult and sad subject to wrap my mind around.  The NGO is also a shelter for women so arriving there and seeing women and children hanging out, and knowing their situation, made everything very real.  It was a welcoming environment and I was glad to take the leap.

    A welcoming group in Kathmandu, Nepal.

    A welcoming group in Kathmandu, Nepal.

  2. The room we were working in was much smaller than most rooms I give workshops in.  It had pillows on the floor for sitting and most walls had windows with bars or shelving.  It was not yet clear if we would be drawing on small paper in our lap or on the wall.  My preference was the wall as I think there is value in people seeing their contributions being drawn in the moment for them.  Still, the ‘real estate’ was tight and we ended up using the back of a door and an adjacent wall.

    Facilitator provided an overview of the training to staff during our 'test-run'.

    Facilitator provided an overview of the training to staff during our ‘test-run’.

  3. Working side by side at the wall (on fairly small paper).

    Working side by side at the wall (on fairly small paper).

  4. Given most of the women are illiterate and furthermore I don’t speak Nepali, we were asked to draw without words.  It was kind of like doing a repetitive icon jam and it was challenging to tie it together without a title or way to connect things.  I uses arrows in some cases but I don’t think they had the same meaning as in my own culture (more on this in the next point). While its good practice to not use words, I think my artifacts tend to make more sense with a few words.
  5. It’s quite amazing to learn how people interpret the images.  This can be both positive and negative.  One of the key points was around meditation and spoke to how we clean our clothes, dishes and bodies every day and we also need to clean our minds.  I drew a sun drying clothes on a line.  I didn’t think much about it however one woman interpreted it as the sun shining equally on all clothes.  It was a beautiful thought.  Another point talked about how women are often regarded as less than men and we need to change that.  I drew a women hunched over, looking down and a man standing tall over her.  I put a big red x over it.  This turned out to be a cultural faux pas.  A woman shared that in this culture men bless their women at their feet and thus I was putting an x over a cultural norm.  Wow!  I didn’t mean to do that.  Thankfully this was a test run.

    Interpreting the images after the discussion.

    Interpreting the images after the discussion.

  6. Much of the training went back and forth with a negative idea and turning it around to be positive (i.e. women are not treated equal but let’s change that).  My drawings tended to show the negative and the positive, usually connected by an arrow or indicated by a check mark.  However, the take home messages would be much simpler with a few key positive messages.  My colleague, the artist, chose to draw only the positive images and it created less confusion for the staff who later gave their interpretations of the drawings.  For the future, it was agreed that less is more and positive is better than negative when the topic is about increasing self-esteem!
  7. What’s next?  We still aren’t sure how to run the actual session as there is a strong desire to keep it simple, brief, yet also acknowledge the voices of the women.  The general plan is to:
  • Provide the overview talk (speaker).
  • Debrief with the women on their main learning (facilitator).
  • Draw the main learnings while the women are speaking (me and the artist).  To keep it simple only draw the positive images.
  • Have the women agree on their three top learnings to share with their networks.
  • Agree on which images represent those learnings the most.
  • Redraw the key images on a small sheet of paper for photocopying (while they eat).

The artist and I still need to figure out how to work together, especially if we are going to be producing a small sheet of paper.  She is very talented and I really think this image she created sums up the main messages of today’s training in one synthesis image.

Adi (the artist's) image of cleaning inside and out.  I think this sums up the training quite well!

Adi (the artist’s) image of cleaning inside and out. I think this sums up the training quite well!

We will get together before the next training and see if we can come up with a better strategy than today where we basically stood side by side and drew what made sense to us but had no real relation to each other. We have three trainings in total so we can revise after the first one based on how it goes and the feedback from the women.

All in all, it has been a very new and interesting application of graphic facilitation for me.  I will keep you posted on how the real session goes. If you have ideas or input, please share as we still have time to adapt the process.

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2013 in review care of WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  I’ll prepare my own summary shortly!  In the meantime, its pretty cool how they compile the stats.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Monitoring, Evaluation, Holidays and Poetry

I recently received a holiday greeting from a colleague working in monitoring and evaluation (Kylie Hutchinson of Community Solutions). The poem she wrote is brilliant and I want to share it with you!

It Came From Using a Systems Lens
It came from using a systems lens,
Such insights so glorious – behold!
This program in its entirety,
Is really a part of a whole.
So often when we evaluate,
We think only outputs, outcomes,
And fail to see the complexity,
The system from which it comes.

Consider the interactions,
Within and between system parts,
They help or hinder the outcomes,
Ignoring them isn’t smart.
Look at the interrelationships,
Of policies, patterns, and norms,
These interact with the program,
And impact how it performs.

Three interconnected elements,
Can help show you where to begin,
They’re Boundaries and Relationships,
And Perspectives within.
A deeper look at these elements,
Will open up more leverage points,
If you are looking for system change,
These actions won’t disappoint.

But how to choose what to include?
What’s evaluated or not?
Your framing is quite critical,
Requiring some thought.
Be conscious of what is left out,
Think of the three factors above,
And how they impact your outcomes,
The influences thereof.

Why do we bother with systems?
When logic models are so nice?
Well life is not really linear,
They clearly can’t suffice.
We’re living in a complex world,
Simple answers rarely exist,
It’s only through complexity,
That we can learn what we missed.

And this is a great opportunity to wish friends, family and colleagues a very happy holiday and New Year.  I have many blog posts turning in my mind and will work on getting them posted in the near future.  Namaste from Kathmandu!

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