This article has been originally published at Humentum

Earlier this year, Humentum member, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA), enrolled its staff in our eFacilitation Skills: Virtual Train like a Pro workshop, aiming to improve course design and virtual facilitation skills across the organization. Helena Souders, Jason Brooks, and Ruben Covarrubias, learning facilitators from ADRA’s HQ, discuss the investment in strengthening staff skills and knowledge, the main takeaways, and the impact of the online training.

Interview conducted by Humentum’s Chris Proulx and Juliette Doddo-Siddo.

ADRA’s business challenge

ADRA serves in more than 118 countries, providing sustainable community development and disaster relief. Describing the initial interest in e-facilitation training, Ruben said that the lockdowns and restricted travel experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic amplified an existing need for training.

At the time, staff were managing program startups, a regular portfolio of work, and a COVID-19 response simultaneously. As facilitators, they understood the need for participatory and adult-learning approaches. However, they wrestled with how they could achieve this online while considering the varying comfort levels with digital tools across the organization.

Building on the need to bridge the gap between regular face-to-face program implementation work and the online world, Helena explained that the team sought effective ways to work with country-office teams when in-person was no longer an option. “It was a lot of scrambling to find different tools that could engage people in the virtual world in a way in which we felt like we were still accomplishing our objectives,” she says.

"Facilitation skills—with emphasis on the facilitation—are the key part of humanitarian work."

Identifying the need to equip staff with appropriate skills was critical. People tend to get complacent and need a refresher to keep their facilitation skills sharp—and the move to online made this an even more urgent need. Underscoring this point, Jason said: “Essentially, we are in the business of changing behavior, not disseminating information. And that’s whether we’re training staff to do financial procedures in a different way or encouraging diligence, or whether we’re teaching a project participant how to treat their water. Facilitation skills—with emphasis on the facilitation—are the key part of humanitarian work.”

This also applies to behavior change approaches, which could include negotiating with a government official or engaging with people to ensure their participation—all of which he says are vital skills in this sector.

Strengthening skills and knowledge

So, what was the team’s starting point? With limited experience of interactive tools for e-facilitation apart from Zoom polls, Helena emphasized the need to capture people’s attention, encourage greater participation, and share information that resonates.

"Within 60 minutes of interaction, people only usually remember 20 minutes’ worth of information shared."

Discussing the importance of gathering input from everyone, Jason brought up a crucial point around leveling the playing field of verbal communication. “Often, the people with the best ideas might be in a situation where they have a hard time communicating or don’t feel comfortable speaking up on a call—including cultural barriers. Sometimes those with the most knowledge can’t raise their voice in a meeting.” Through the workshop, the team was introduced to the use of sticky notes in a Google presentation, which Jason recognizes as a useful tool when conducting complex program design. If people don’t feel comfortable speaking during the group process, they can type their comments instead.

The team also explored how to be more deliberate with the volume of information they share. Discussing this, Helena said: “I learned something that blew my mind a bit but makes complete sense—within 60 minutes of interaction, people only usually remember 20 minutes’ worth of information shared.” Helena now tries to keep her workshops shorter than before; understanding an intentional approach and the right virtual learning tools are crucial.

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