While participants in skill-building workshops can learn a lot in the confines of a conference room, it’s different to talk about change theoretically than to actually start changing ourselves and the systems we’re working in. To take advantage of the opportunity that workshops and trainings afford for beginning change processes, at Reos we use a specific issue as the basis for each course. In capacity-building sessions where we have a group that already has a focus, we use that topic. In broader public courses, we try to choose an issue that affects and involves everyone. By doing so, we ensure that all participants have a role in the system as well as firsthand knowledge and experience with it. Some topics we’ve chosen are sustainable consumption, healthy eating, healthcare, and immigration.
Occasionally, we’ll have someone say, “But I don’t really care about this issue” or “It’s not my issue.” One of the strengths of the approach is that it can be applied to any situation. So even if a participant isn’t passionate about a particular issue, by learning and applying new tools, he or she builds capacity to create and sustain change.
We also make sure people understand that even though they are participating in a workshop, the issue we are addressing and the process are real. They are not going through the motions but are grappling with a complex, problematic situation. For this reason, participants often get emotionally and creatively involved in a way that leads them to experience the personal or “inner” work that is a key part of building capacity for change.
When participants first experience and then reflect on the process, they have a shared, felt sense of what is being taught. We use a metaphor to help maintain the flow of the workshop. At times, the group is “on the ballroom floor” doing “the dance” of the process and working the issue as any group would. Then, when we need to reflect or comment on the tools, we ask the participants to come out onto the “balcony”, where we can look down at “the dance” and step out of the action to debrief. We find that helping people stay aware of whether they are on the dance floor or on the balcony provides the needed clarity for moving seamlessly from one perspective to the other.
To maximize the effectiveness of this approach, the facilitators must share the reasoning behind using a specific issue and manage the transitions from working the issue to debriefing the process or teaching a tool.