The communities are the ultimate users of WASH services and they are the ones who probably know more about their situation and understand their problems better than anyone else. The role of frontline workers is to provide adequate information to the community and facilitate the process for them to make informed decisions about their actions. You may find that, as an additional frontline worker, part of your role is to facilitate the process that leads to a solution that is acceptable by all.
Facilitation means helping groups of people to understand and agree on their objectives. It involves engaging communities in a process, as you learned in Study Session 6.
Initiating sustainable change to improve WASH services requires full understanding of the existing situation, the barriers to improvement and the available resources. The commitment for change must come from within the communities themselves. Change should not be imposed externally. Frontline workers, while working with communities, should avoid imposing a new regime, otherwise the desired changes will not happen or will not be sustained. Mobilising communities for positive action and sustainable change without imposing solutions on them requires specific skills in the processes of facilitation.
What are facilitation skills?
Facilitation skills are skills used to direct and guide important processes with groups of people. These processes can involve meetings, discussions and planning sessions or training events. Somebody needs to guide these processes to make sure the objectives are met. This person is called the facilitator.
The facilitator plays a key role in the success of a community meeting. He or she ensures that ideas raised by participants are coherent with the main agenda of the meeting and works towards finding an agreeable consensus solution to the problem at hand. A good facilitator also ensures that all present are participating adequately in the process and their voices are heard (Figure 7.8).
Facilitating is different from chairing a meeting. Neither is it teaching, giving orders or prescribing solutions. It means encouraging of the flow of ideas and systematically drawing the discussion to a conclusion that addresses the agenda.
A facilitator has three main roles:
- To guide a group of people to move through a process together. A facilitator does not give opinions, but encourages others in the group to voice theirs.
- To focus on achieving solutions, but also on how people participate in the process.
- To remain open and neutral throughout the process and not to take sides.
Key steps to facilitating a meeting
There is no specific formula for conducting effective facilitation. However, there are a series of steps that should generally be included, though their order may vary depending on the context.
Always introduce yourself and anyone who has accompanied you by giving your name(s) and explaining your role. This helps put participants at ease so that they are not meeting with strangers. Explain the purpose of the meeting and what it seeks to achieve.
Set the agenda
Clearly state the problem that needs to be addressed and explain how it affects those present. Everyone must understand what is at stake. List the discussion points and ask participants if they would like to change or add any.
Sometimes it helps to set ground rules for the group process. This is especially important when conflicting interests are expected. Setting and agreeing on ground rules is not mandatory but can help you to have more control over the process. Try to start meetings on time as much as possible. Waiting for latecomers is not fair on those who arrived promptly and encourages people to be even later next time. If some key participants are late, explain firmly that you had to start the meeting without them because of the need to finish on time.
Remember that you are a facilitator, not a participant. Refrain from giving opinions, taking sides or prescribing solutions. Instead, provide resources, information and strategies to guide participants to give their views and reach a solution.
Some participants may be more vocal than others and some may try to dominate the discussion. Be firm and encourage everyone to share ideas and observations to ensure that voices of all those present are heard. Remember that those members of the community who are poor or disadvantaged in some way may not willingly speak out. It is important to hear their views, because the objective is to facilitate a community-wide commitment.
Rarely, some participants may ridicule or try to undermine opinions from vulnerable groups. Your ground rules may be useful in such circumstances.
Stick to the agenda
Do not deviate from the agenda. Some participants may be focused on points that are not on the agenda and may repeatedly raise them. Keep reminding them of the need to stick to the agenda. If this does not work, ask the group to help you decide on the appropriate process and encourage them to support you.
Always build towards actions
Look out for any ideas from the participants that could lead to appropriate actions. Actions should be practical and achievable with available resources. Remember that this is the aim of the meeting and the reason why you got the groups together in the first place.
The actions must be accomplished by responsible bodies and a definite time should be set in which to complete them. Your objective is to build a plan with clear actions, which specifies the person or group that is going to perform each action and the time by which it should be completed. Make sure individuals or groups are willing to take responsibilities for the identified actions and guide them to agree on the necessary time to complete them.
Reiterate solutions/agreements reached
Ensure that participants understand and agree to the identified actions. State a complete action statement on each issue after agreement is reached and ensure all participants agree to it, before proceeding to the next agenda item.
Propose follow-up meetings
Before concluding the process, summarise agreed actions and ask participants to agree on a follow-up mechanism. This could be another meeting or a series of follow-up meetings at regular intervals for the group to update each other on progress.
Conclude the meeting
Thank everyone for their participation and for the achievements of the process. Take a moment to thank the people who assisted in setting up the meeting and those whose input required preparation beforehand. Close the meeting on time. Members of urban communities normally have a busy life and appreciate a meeting that keeps to schedule.
These are only guidelines and you may need to be flexible to accommodate variations. The Case Study below illustrates a slightly different facilitation approach.
Case Study 7.1 Addressing school sanitation issues
As part of an urban sanitation project to address school sanitation issues, a planning session was initiated in a small town by the implementing NGO.
The participants for the session came from different government offices, including municipality, water desk and health office, and also the parent-teacher association (PTA), local administration and the schools themselves. The facilitator introduced himself and the NGO he worked for. He allowed enough time for participants to introduce themselves and the offices they represented. Then he briefly introduced the urban sanitation project and explained why the planning session was important.
Participants had been sent in groups to visit selected schools prior to the meeting and to record their own assessment of the situation. They used observations and interviews with both students and teachers.
First, the facilitator asked participants to share their findings and list the major issues they had identified during their visit. The most pressing issues identified were lack of access to water, open defecation and solid waste accumulation in the school premises.
The facilitator asked participants to identify the key stakeholders among the participants themselves, who could act on these issues. After some discussion, the group identified the school principals and members of the PTA, school WASH clubs, the local education office, health office and the water desk.
Next, the facilitator asked all participants to link each of the identified issues to no more than one responsible stakeholder as a primary contact to address each issue. For example maintaining latrines was assigned to the PTA; providing access to water was assigned to the water desk in the municipality. Ending open defecation and managing solid waste was assigned to WASH clubs, with the support of the health and education offices.
The facilitator summarised the process so far, and reiterated which issues were assigned to which stakeholders. He then asked the identified stakeholder for each issue to outline clear actions to solve it, their resource requirement, and a reasonable time for completion for each action. He encouraged them to prioritise actions where necessary and present their plans to the larger group.
The planning session was completed with clear action plans to improve the WASH situation in the visited schools and a follow-up mechanism to track progress.
What is different about the approach used in this case study, compared with the approach outlined in Section 7.6.2? In particular, how were the issues or problems identified? Do you think that this different approach worked well?
The facilitator used the inputs from the participants to identify the key issues or problems, instead of drawing up an agenda beforehand. However it worked well in this instance, probably because the participants had been given responsibility for identifying the problems from their own observations.
As a frontline WASH worker, much of your work may involve organising communities and conducting group meetings, planning sessions and discussions. If you manage to develop and apply good facilitation skills, communities will:
- become increasingly comfortable about participating in your meetings
- take responsibility and ownership of the outcomes
- develop sustainable solutions.
In the process, you will build a good reputation among the communities and get their trust, which is crucial for your success in addressing more issues in the future.
Remember that facilitation skills – just like any other skills – are mastered with practice.