Sometimes when designing or implementing development projects I get the feeling of how easy (and dangerous) it is to forget that we are not alone in this. It is easy to forget how other practitioners might be facing similar challenges and how communities around the world might be having similar needs and interests, despite the particularities of their cultural context.
With this in mind, our team has seen how workshops about development practice serve as a space for sharing experiences, as well as exchanging ideas about tools and frameworks that might help to improve practice. An example of this is the workshop organised by the TIA Foundation and offered by Community Works at the start of this year (2018) in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
When the workshop was first advertised, staff, members, founders and directors from local non-governmental and civil society organisations expressed their interest in participating. Due to the high demand, a second session was offered in order for all the 40 people to be able to participate. The level of interest, summed to the participation and the results of the evaluation forms, helped us to understand the value of these events.
Importance for development practice
The Cochabamba workshop was structured around five key questions that CW often hears from non-governmental staff and volunteers from the development sector. Thus, having an idea of topics that could be relevant for development practitioners. The information from the evaluation forms filled by participants after the sessions in Cochabamba, made us think about how these topics are important for people working in this sector.
Participants were representatives of different civil society organistaions, working in areas such as education and health, with different groups of people including the elderly and people with disaiblities. Despite their areas of focus, it was evident how they had similar challenges, needs and questions. For example: How can I best design a project? Or, what methods for community engagement should I use?
When filling the evaluation, participants mentioned a shared view about the importance of the components of the workshop for the work they do. Some of them agreed about the importance of evaluation, impact analysis and participatory evaluation. Others referred to the importance of the Sustainable Livelihoods framework, specifically to the asset pentagon as useful a tool when working with communities.
Value for other actors
The case of Cochabamba showed us how this type of workshops might have a ‘snowball effect’, since it is valuable for participants as well as for other actors and organisations related to them. 100% of the participants responded yes to the question about the workshop being valuable for other people they know. The largest group said it would be valuable for other people from their own organisations, others mentioned people working in the social area, universities and communities with which their organisations work. This also made us think about the potential for building/strengthening a network in Cochabamba.
Moreover, participants also referred different opportunities for applying the content of the workshop, including internal processes happening in their organisations, project design, reflecting about their work, specific projects (Eg. working with youth, housing processes). Someone also mentioned how this content might motivate change in development practice.
Wanting to continue and learn more…
Throughout the evaluations, participants also expressed interest in wanting to learn more about some of the topics as well as continuing the interaction with Community Works. Some participants proposed continuing having workshops, access to more information and one mentioned the possibility of having consultancy from CW.
For example, Some of the topics people would like to continue learning about include Monitoring and Evaluation; Replication and scaling up strategies and Project Design. Also, specific tools such as the Asset Pentagon since it allows groups and communities to visualize the capitals they count with when developing projects.
Commonalities within development practice…
While working with civil society organisations and communities I have questioned myself about the pertinence of using similar frameworks, approaches, tools and methodologies with socio-cultural groups that seem so different between them. There is always the option of ‘cultural adaptation’, but I have wondered if this is enough. However, while I was preparing the materials for the workshop, as well as while analysing the evaluation forms and writing the report, it was evident how despite differences and particularities of contexts, there are some shared challenges, needs, and priorities, that evidence the importance and value of sharing, even if we are from opposite sides of the world.
Accordingly, the workshop served as a space for identifying commonalities amongst development practitioners, including shared challenges, priorities and needs.
Thinking Development Practice and approaching reality as ‘a whole’
Perhaps because of funding, effectiveness and practicalities, we might end up focusing only on a specific area, topic or targeted population of the social sector. This might lead to a fragmented view of reality and sometimes we also miss the value of strengthening networks and tools that could improve our practice by sharing experiences and tools for this common trail.
In this case workshops appear as a space that help us bring all of this together, share similar challenges and discuss common denominators, rather than looking at specific situations in an isolated matter and hence approach social reality and development practice a whole. The expression of wanting to continue the work with Community Works also showed us the relevance of strengthening our relations and networks with Latin America, building bridges between countries around the world.
You can read about the content and evaluation of the workshop in the following report: