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.
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.
Fast forward a few months: staff are also more considerate of how they allocate training time when planning sessions. Furthermore, everyone now has a greater appreciation of how they can contribute to the design of more impactful workshops. The collaborative and participatory approach has been key.
Beyond workshops, they’ve been able to apply the learnings to monthly team meetings with country offices. During the training, Helena observed an approach whereby one person facilitated, and another took on a producer role. As the program manager, Helena usually leads, facilitates, takes notes, and manages the technology during meetings. Since the training, she has coordinated with her supervisor to invest in more people, and an intern has joined meetings to assist—this change alone has already made a difference.
I’d think about getting as many people as possible to do this training at once…Including everyone at the same time elevates the culture, as opposed to individuals doing it separately.
From Jason’s side, he believes including a diverse group of people in the training and sharing the responsibility has helped in “creating the culture.” Acknowledging that everyone brings different skills to the table, he explains that while some people are confident speakers, others will never feel as comfortable. Even so, his view is that with a bit of effort, those who are less comfortable can actually deliver a stronger presentation than their peers if they employ a dynamic approach. Moving forward, Jason suggests the ADRA team should conduct a six-month review and repeat the training in a few years while adding more tools to their toolbox.
Sharing tips for organizations considering this path, Ruben said: “I’d think about getting as many people as possible to do this training at once. As Jason mentioned, it’s the interaction you have with other staff members that creates the biggest impact. This may sound a bit strong, but you hold each other accountable. Including everyone at the same time elevates the culture, as opposed to individuals doing it separately.”