By Tanya Beer
This is part 2 of a blog about an experiment with strategic learning by a Gender at Work team of facilitators working on gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa. To see part 1, click here.
The team’s long-term strategic learning approach focuses on observing and collecting data that signals whether these propositions are, in fact, holding true. Are they seeing signals that stakeholders feel an increased level of ownership and inspiration due to the participatory nature of the collaborative design? Does the presence of a broader and more diverse group of participants seem to create a context where people see beneath program-level treatment of GBV to the underlying cultural norms that drive it? Do the breadth and size of the convening seem to be generating momentum for a different way of working together across silos in the Vaal? And for all of these questions–what seems to be driving the results that we see, positive or negative?
The team used the emergent learning (EL) process immediately after their first large group convening to examine what happened and generate fresh insights about what drives results. Then they refined their hypotheses about what success requires and identified concrete, upcoming opportunities to test the new hypotheses.
I’d like to give you an insight into the way it works. Very briefly, the contents of the team’s first EL table included:
Ground truths: Data, observations and stories from the past from which we can learn
Insights: What we’ve learned from what has already happened
- Participants reported a high level of trust and a sense of safety because of the physical decor of the room, the open design of the process, a focus on individual experience, pre-existing trusting relationships among a core group of participants and the facilitators, and a lack of formality that helped break down traditional hierarchies.
- Despite extensive formal invitations, we didn’t get the kind of diversity in participants that we wanted. We particularly lacked people occupying formal positions of authority in government agencies.
- Participants observed that they believed their work was addressing norms. After using the G@W framework to examine change, they realized this was not so. A non-judgmental conversation helped people think about how they might deepen their work to address norms.
- Some new ideas for addressing norms emerged spontaneously, but beyond a creative radio program aimed at discussing gender-based violence (GBV) with men, we have limited evidence of continued action.
- Some participants are now linking their GBV work to one another, but many who attended do not have the decision-making authority to redesign programs or to make decisions about new partnerships.
- Having a core group who had worked with us before and already trusted our methodology was crucial to creating an atmosphere that brought the others on board and created a non-competitive environment and agenda.
- The feel of the space was an important driver of our initial positive results—the welcoming and homey environment invited individual sharing and candor which is rare in work-related meetings in South Africa.
- A sense of co-ownership was driven by the co-creation of the approach by the group. It remains unclear whether this early feeling will translate into ongoing action and what kind of support would help people carry it forward.
- Formal invitations—even when issued to invitees by people they already know—were insufficient motivation for busy people in positions of power to participate in full-day, multi-stakeholder meetings on GBV, particularly if it’s not a priority issue for their professional work.
- Expectations about what types of new or different strategies, connections, or actions to address GBV will be catalyzed by multi-stakeholder GAL processes are limited in part by who attends the meetings, what kind of institutional resources they can bring to bear, and what authority they have to make decisions on behalf of their organizations.
Hypotheses: Given what we’ve learned, what we think will make us successful next time
Opportunities: Upcoming opportunities to test our thinking in action
- If we can get people reflecting together on what each of us individually can do every single day, then we begin to tap into what’s normative in society, and participants will begin to have a sense that they can change it.
- If we ask participants to reflect on the practice of open-space meeting design and Gender Action Learning, explicitly identify what has been different about this way of interacting, and identify where they could apply it in their own work, then they will be more likely to carry it forward and spread the approach.
- If participants from the core group bring additional people from their own organizations to participate in the next collaborative, then they won’t feel like lone rangers within their own organization and it will be easier for them to keep it alive if they don’t have to do it alone.
- If we approach “official” participants (e.g., government officials, leaders of influential organizations) by asking one or two people to talk to them, listen hard to what would make participation valuable for them, and make sure we can pitch it as a win-win, then we can get more officials to attend.
- If after the next world cafe we can conduct an emergent learning table on the whole process with the core planning group, then we can learn more about what’s driving this increased sense of ownership and energy and apply it going forward.
- We will test our hypotheses about how to attract more diverse attendees, including government officials, to the next world café session by redesigning our outreach strategy.
- The next world café will be designed to re-create the conditions of safety and trust that seemed to crucial to the first session, and will include reflection on the explicit ways the process is different from “business as usual” to test whether this helps participants apply the approach in their own settings.
- The debrief after the next world cafe will focus on exploring lessons that need to be carried forward, understanding what really caused the increased sense of ownership and energy, and exploring what it will take to support participants to continue action going forward.
After the team had the opportunity to test the hypotheses above, they engaged in a second EL table, with observations and data about what happened serving as the “ground truths” for another round of insights and refinements to strategy. As the initiative progresses, the team will also collect data and insights on the bigger outcomes embedded in its theory to feed into an on-going EL process to generate hypotheses that Gender at Work and other participants can apply to multi-stakeholder Gender Action Learning processes in other settings.
By applying this cycle in different settings and for different efforts, we’re hoping to sharpen our ability to pose the right strategic questions, train our evaluative lens on the most actionable data, generate meaningful insights and create and test new hypotheses about how to accelerate change. We’d love the opportunity to test this approach out with our partners and friends who are learning from their work as well.
Tanya Beer is an Associate with Gender at Work. This post was previously published in Fem2pt0.