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Patience and humility: what we often overlook when preparing to facilitate a workshop

- Rhoda Goremucheche, Senior M&E Technical Specialist

When I prepare to facilitate a workshop, I worry about a number of things. For example, I worry about the facilitation team’s mastery of content. I also worry about the content, its structure and how participants will receive the content. These little worries of mine show up as questions at the most ungodly of hours. Are we pitching the content at the right level? Are sessions building upon each other? What is our golden thread tying sessions together? What about the balance between theory and practice? Have we paid enough attention to how participants will grasp the process?

I had these questions in November 2021 when I led the CLEAR-AA team that facilitated the Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop for 47 government officials on the Kenya Evaluation Guidelines. By the second day of the first week, most of them were answered. My questions were answered by, for example, how participants were engaging with the content, and how sessions seemed to flow into each other, almost seamlessly.  Yet, I realized that by filling my head with ‘the usual suspects’ of questions, mostly around content, I had not left room for new questions. It meant that I had not steered the team to prepare beyond the usual. Of course new questions showed up.

Our team included Emerging Evaluators (EEs). It was going to be their first time co-facilitating a ToT. I had not left room for two questions. Have we (the experienced facilitators) done our best to ensure the EEs understand we are all learning through the process, like them? In what ways have we shown our patience so they are not afraid to forge their own rhythm even though there is a script? We had a dry run as a team. However, as a team lead, I had not directly assured the EEs and built their confidence. I am not sure we had created enough room for them to challenge the design, content and structure. I tried to redeem myself by giving affirming and balanced feedback when we debriefed but I was aware of the opportunity that had been lost to do so before the training.

Have we made it clear to the participants that we are all learning? Are participants aware there will be ‘awkward’ moments and transitions during and between sessions as we marry content and the process? These questions showed up on the second day. We had worried so much about content and process but not the process through which participants would learn about the content and process.

As facilitators, we redeemed ourselves by reminding participants that it is ok when things are awkward. We adapted the agenda to give participants enough time to grasp the content and the process – to try . We let go of some content and sessions to match the realities on the ground. For the first time, I understood that adapting a workshop agenda is not just about flexibility. It is also a matter of humility. We had to be humble enough to admit how ambitious our agenda was. According to the feedback we received from participants, adapting our agenda helped us to reach our objectives.

There are so many skills I need and rely on as a facilitator in the M&E space but this ToT taught me about the importance of showing patience – not just for the participants, but for the facilitation team where we have the responsibility to strengthen the capacity of EEs. It also taught me about humility and broadening questions that guide my preparation. I was left wondering about other things I should be worrying about and questions that should be accosting me in addition to my ‘usual suspects’.