Workshop report: participatory engagement with community leaders

A few weeks after my last blog entry about the challenges of getting the participation of community members here in Belize, I now have progress to report. Last week we ran a workshop for community leaders from all three villages and it went really well! 11 out of 15 people turned up, including three women – and they actively listened and participated throughout the morning workshop. Now they know about the project, we have their blessing to continue and we have some new perspectives from them to incorporate into our selection of indicators.
As CupExperience and Diego Juffe commented on my last post, it was very important to give people some tangible examples of how monitoring would help them and to show empathy. During this workshop we took a lot of time to listen to the community leaders.

The meeting was clearly an important step in terms of getting their approval and buy-in, and also in terms of clarifying expectations. The participants recommended we repeat the workshop with members of the organisation’s Board, in particular the community representatives on the board.

Image below: The participants interpret and place images of different assets and activities on the wall chart that is separated into the six ‘livelihoods capitals’ as suggested by the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. This framework is a way of thinking about grouping what everyone needs for a good quality of life in the categories of: financial, natural, social/cultural, political/legal, physical (built assets) and human.

Image below: People use colored sticker dots to vote – we asked them to put a different color sticker depending on who has responsibility for each feature of ‘a good life’ (meaning sustainable livelihoods).

Image below: Bartolo points to the graduation cap placed in the Financial Capital section. I expected it to go in the Human Capital section because it relates to education and skills. But apparently this was linked to financial well-being because the perception is that if you graduate from high school you can make more money. I also asked if it might be there because it costs money to go to high school, and they agreed.

Image below: Once everyone had put as many stickers up as they wanted, the head of the Community, Outreach and Livelihoods team was able to facilitate a very informative discussion. My aim through this exercise was to have a discussion that would bring the perceptions of responsibility for community well-being to the surface and then bridge into discussing which elements the NGO can influence, and therefore which elements it will try to monitor. For example, there was a clear abundance of dots representing the communities and the NGO in the natural capital section, so we were able to talk about how we work together to assure and improve natural resources in the area.

Following the usefulness of this workshop, next week we are running one with members of women’s groups that work together to make and sell jewelery and baskets from local non-timber forest products. I’m really excited because we’re going to combine the workshop about monitoring with an introductory training to the basic business skills they need to run their groups. I’m going to use material from a group project earlier this year to introduce advertising (marketing), finding customers, tracking finances and inventory and group management.

5 Replies to “Workshop report: participatory engagement with community leaders”

  1. Great work Julie! Participatory exercises always seem to be the best way forward. I am glad you are making progress. You have inspired me to think of developing a participatory activity to facilitate a process where stakeholders can realize the power and influence they have/can have.

    1. Excellent! Joy, let me know how it goes and if you want to be a guest-blogger here I’d love to let you post your reflections on engaging participants in that way.

  2. Julie, this is really good to see how you’ve been able to engage the local population! Maybe you can turn what you did into a “methodology” (recipe) that you can share with others working in the conservation movement. Great work, and thanks for the photos – they add a lot!

    1. I was really encouraged by this too. However, I don’t think there can be a methodolgy or recipe for engaging with stakeholders. There are certainly some good principles, facilitation tools and other techniques for this kind of work (sometimes these are called Participatory Rural Appraisal), but I am really learning about the importance of listening to the specific culture, needs, interests, attitudes and concerns of this specific group of people here. For example, in this context we had to explain concepts very slowly and multiple times, with the use of many stories and plenty of images. Being that repetitive and thorough would probably bore a European or American audience, but was just what people here wanted.On the other hand, who doesn’t like a good story and a free lunch? Perhaps those can be the steps of a recipe I can recommend: use stories and offer food! Works all around the world…

  3. Hi Julie, It seems like you are having a really interesting time in Belize an doing some great work!!! I just got back from Nairobi where I facilitated a workshop on Business skills for ecotourism development and thought I would let you know as some of the materials we used might be useful for the work that you are doing over there. Anyway, it would be great to compare notes and here all about what you are doing out there… I will definitely keep up with your blog!

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