Demystifying facilitation of multi-actor learning processes

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    <strong><p></p><p> </p></strong><p>This thesis aims to demystify the facilitation of participatory processes in order to improve the performance of the facilitation professional. As our society is increasingly recognised as pluralistic, characterised by multiple actors with different interests, values and perceptions, participation has become a popular means of bringing about social and technical change. Across the globe, whether in agricultural development, poverty alleviation, natural resource management, health promotion or policy formulation, participation is often presented as the golden key to unlock the door to a more sustainable and democratic world. The task of ensuring that the golden key is used and the door is unlocked is, in general, placed in the hands of <em>facilitators</em> i.e. men or women responsible for the management of participatory processes. The work of facilitators is considered crucial for bringing about desirable change. However, their role and influence is difficult to grasp and judge. In fact, the notion of facilitation is often 'depersonalised'. People refer to it in terms of incentives to bring about a desired change. This study, however, acknowledges that facilitators are critical success variables and are people who bring along their own interests, perceptions, values, assumptions, and competencies that influence the participatory process and its outcomes. Through a critical analysis of facilitation experiences, this study aims to increase transparency on facilitators' actions, perceptions, values, theoretical and methodological perspectives, and how these can shape the participatory processes and outcomes in a particular context. Such transparency helps to make explicit the responsibilities and competencies of facilitators and to improve their accountability to the actors with whom they work.</p><strong></strong><em><p>Chapter 1</em> presents two personal stories to clarify the concerns and challenges as underlying motives for this research. The first story shows facilitators who are pawns in a power play. It gives insight into the facilitators' choice of whose interests, perspectives, and values count most. The second describes the challenges that facilitators in this study face when working in complex and messy environments in which everything/body is connected to everything/body. The two experiences inform the following <em>research questions</em> that underpin this study:</p><OL><p><LI>What have facilitators of participatory processes that address complex issues deliberately undertaken to achieve the desired change?</LI></p><p><LI>What were the theoretical and methodological perspectives and values of the facilitators in the cases? How have these dispositions influenced the process and outcome, and how effective was the facilitation in terms of desired changes?</LI></p><p><LI>What competencies do facilitators require to be effective in their work?</LI></p><p><LI>What are the principles and ingredients for the meta-facilitation i.e. the facilitation of facilitators of participatory processes addressing complex issues?</LI></p></OL><strong></strong><p>To address these questions, this thesis explores three experiences in facilitation of participatory processes gained by teams of facilitators of which I had been a member. The first experience explores the facilitation of a privatisation process of the SAED/IAM irrigation project in Senegal. The second case study addresses the facilitation of a linked local learning process in Kenya to support decentralisation and privatisation of agricultural services. The last case study deals with the meta-facilitation of DLV's learning process. It explores the performance of meta-facilitators to support other facilitators i.e. DLV advisors. The participatory processes managed by the facilitators and meta-facilitators in the case studies address complex issues. These issues are referred to as 'complex' because they involved multiple factors and actors at multiple interrelated administrative, discipline and social levels. These multitudinous interacting and continuously changing people and things lead to the emergence of unpredictable outcomes and as such create a high level of uncertainty.</p><em><p>Chapter 2</em> discusses the emergence of the participatory paradigm and the critique on professionals operating within this paradigm. The beliefs and assumptions of the participatory paradigm largely influence the facilitators in the case studies. Moreover, in the case studies the facilitators try to overcome the main critique on participatory practice. For each of the fields in which the facilitators under study work i.e. 'rural poverty reduction', 'agricultural development', and 'environmental management, the emergence of the paradigm is discussed, including the dominant beliefs, assumptions, and competencies that characterise the operating professionals.</p><em><p>Chapter 3</em> clarifies the chosen research paradigm and methodologies. It highlights that this thesis is a reflective thesis for which the empirical basis is the experience in facilitation gained by teams of consultants of which I have been a member. The research process is conducted as though it were a learning process; insights are gained along the way. The research is undertaken from a constructivist perspective assuming that reality is socially constructed. In addition, chapter 3 discusses the chosen 'grounded theory approach' and 'action research'. These methodologies support the aims to: 1) conduct the research as a learning process for which the empirical basis was the experiences gained in consultancy missions; 2) develop a theory and methodological insights on facilitation; and 3) improve facilitation practice. Both methodologies fit the researcher's constructivist epistemology. The grounded theory approach to data analysis means that the conclusions of each chapter feed into the next one, with the exception of chapter 3.</p><p>Chapter 3 also introduces Bawden's model of <em>praxis</em> as a framework for analysing the performance of the facilitators in the case studies. Praxis is considered the property of individuals that emerges from the interaction of theories they hold, the actions that they practice, the values they assume and the contexts that they interpret of the world surrounding them. The use of the coherence and correspondence <em></em> criteria <em></em> are explained to explore the (in)consistencies and effectiveness of the facilitation praxis in the case studies.</p><em><p>Chapters 4, 5</em> and <em>intermezzo I</em> explore the <em>experiences</em><em>in Senegal</em> where a team of facilitators supported the privatisation of the SAED/IAM irrigation project. Chapter 4 discusses the theoretical and methodological foundations of this case study. It describes how and why the facilitators used 'soft systems thinking', Agricultural Knowledge and Information systems perspective (AKIS), its operational tool the 'Rapid Appraisal of Agricultural Knowledge systems' (RAAKS), Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) to support the privatisation process of the irrigation project. Chapter 5 further studies the Senegal case study. Bawden' s model of praxis is used to systemically explore the facilitation actions in relation to the facilitators' values, the theories and methodologies applied, and the way the facilitators perceived the context. In addition, each action is discussed in terms of (in)consistencies in praxis and its effectiveness. <em></em> Intermezzo 1 synthesises the following insights derived from the Senegal case:<font size="2"></p><UL></font><p><LI>The use of Bawden's notion of praxis to explore facilitation can improve its transparency and performance.</LI></p><p><LI>Inconsistency in the facilitation praxis can trigger change.</LI></p><p><LI>The design of the start of a participatory process is an important facilitation action in which a first set of actors decides who should be involved in the process and for what purpose. Or, in system terminology, these actors bring the system (of intervention) into being by defining its constituting actors, purposes, and boundaries.</LI></p><p><LI>AKIS and RAAKS are useful theoretical and methodological perspectives in defining the system. However, they fail to adequately address the issue of inclusiveness, representation, and power.</LI></p><p><LI>The facilitators' focus on mainly grassroots level actors and factors and their failure to sufficiently involve relevant policy actors of higher decision-making levels hinder the sustainability of the process.</LI></p><p><LI>The design of a path of inquiry is a second facilitation action. Facilitators need to avoid designing a path that is too narrow in analytical scope.</LI></p><p><LI>A third important facilitation action deals with the design of a process favourable for fully engaging and committing relevant actors and building trust among them.</LI></p><p><LI>The facilitation of critical reflection failed.</LI></p></UL><p>These insights are translated into a preliminary set of criteria that can be used to assess the praxis of the facilitators.</p><em><p>Chapters 6,7</em> and <em>intermezzo II</em> address the second case study i.e. the facilitation of a linked local learning process in Kenya to support ecologically sound agriculture and the decentralisation of agricultural services. Chapter 6 provides the theoretical and methodological foundations of the case. It describes the 'linked local learning' perspective and its theoretical and methodological underpinnings i.e. 'experiential learning', '(critical) learning systems', 'collaborative learning', 'negotiation', and 'mediation'. Chapter 7 further explores the Kenya case study by studying the facilitation actions in relation to the facilitators' values, the theories and methodologies applied, and the way the facilitators perceived the context. Each facilitation action is analysed in terms of (in)consistencies and effectiveness. Intermezzo II synthesises the following lessons:</p><UL><p><LI>The Kenya case confirmed earlier insights that the use of Bawden's model of praxis to explore facilitation can improve its transparency and performance.</LI></p><p><LI>The Kenya case confirmed the lesson drawn from the Senegal case that the facilitation of 'bringing the system into being' is an important action to start with. However, the Kenya case adds new insights with respect to getting started such as:</LI></p></UL><UL><p><LI>In case of complex issues such as decentralisation of agricultural services, starting with multiple actors operating at different decision-making levels and support them in jointly defining multiple interrelated systems is effective.</LI></p><p><LI>Assembling committed motivated and dedicated individuals or <em>champions</em> is an effective way to start.</LI></p><p><LI>Applying a combination of systems thinking, learning and negotiation theories is useful to enable participants to bring multiple systems into existence.</LI></p></UL><UL><p><LI>An important facilitation action is the design of a trajectory that favours learning among multiple actors operating at one decision-making level and/or across multiple levels. Such a trajectory interweaves a process and analytical dimensions.</LI></p><p><LI>The analytical dimension of the design should integrate multiple perspectives enabling actors to learn about policies, institutions, agro-ecosystems and their management, and their inter-relationships.</LI></p><p><LI>Face-to-face communication, developing multi-actor ownership, visioning, strategic mediation, and learning in action are important ingredients that contribute to the emergence of a process favouring learning among actors across different decision-making levels.</LI></p><p><LI>The facilitation of actors' 'learning about learning' and 'learning about facilitation' are important for facilitators to share their power with other actors/to develop multi-actor ownership.</LI></p><p><LI>The facilitation of 'learning about learning' favours critical learning.</LI></p><p><LI>Too much inconsistency in praxis hinders multi-actor learning.</LI></p></UL><p>Again, these lessons are translated into criteria that can be used to assess facilitation praxis.</p><em><p>Chapters 8,9</em> and <em>intermezzo III</em> deal with the meta-facilitation of DLV's learning. They examine the role of the meta-facilitators in assisting other facilitators i.e. DLV advisers in applying a participatory perspective to projects. Chapter 8 describes 'different approaches to project planning', 'stakeholder analysis', 'Kolb's learning styles', and 'organisation learning theory' as the theories and methodologies used by the facilitators. Chapter 9 further explores the DLV case study by analysing the praxis of the meta-facilitators. Intermezzo III synthesises the following insights:</p><UL><p><LI>A systemic exploration of meta-facilitation praxis can improve the performance of meta-facilitators. Meta-facilitators can make use of the notion of 'praxis' to assess their own performance as well to support other facilitators in its use.</LI></p><p><LI>Inconsistency in the praxis of meta-facilitators can trigger, but also impede the learning of the facilitators.</LI></p><p><LI>Habermas' distinction between strategic and communicative rationality provides a useful theoretical framework for meta-facilitators and facilitators. The framework can help them to: 1) understand different interpretations of the concept of participation; 2) get insight into how their own performance influences the action rationale of the participants; and 3) to find out how they can support participants to shift between strategic and communicative behaviour.</LI></p><p><LI>Meta-facilitation needs to address the institutional environment in order to facilitate an effective learning process among facilitators.</LI></p><p><LI>As for facilitators, for meta-facilitators it is also important to design a participatory process that enables the participants to bring multiple interrelated systems into being. For such a design the concept of 'multiple nested subsystems' can be used.</LI></p><p><LI>The concept of 'multiple nested subsystems' is useful to: 1) design an inclusive learning trajectory including relevant policy makers and institutional actors; and 2) design tailor-made learning trajectories for actors within and across various subsystems.</LI></p><p><LI>The design of a systemic learning path to enable other facilitators to learn about designing a systemic learning path is an important meta-facilitation action.</LI></p><p><LI>Face-to-face interaction favours learning among actors across multiple subsystems.</LI></p></UL><UL><p><LI>The meta-facilitation (as well as facilitation) of critical learning requires a certain degree of maturity of both meta-facilitators and facilitators, an intensive engagement in a relatively longer process and meta-facilitators showing a self-critical and reflective attitude themselves.</LI></p></UL><p>These insights are translated into criteria that can be used to assess meta-facilitation praxis</p><p>The conclusions resulting from the three cases are merged and further developed in <em>chapter 10</em> . In line with the research questions, general conclusions are drawn with respect to the facilitation <em>actions</em> , the <em>theories</em> and <em>methodologies</em> to be used, <em>facilitators' values</em> and <em>meta-facilitation</em> .</p><font size="2"><p>The general conclusion with respect to the role of facilitators is that there are two important clusters of <em>actions</em> for effective facilitation.</font>First, there is a set of actions that aims to bring one or multiple nested (critical) subsystems into being. An important insight for the first set of actions is the notion of facilitation of system-wide change. Often facilitators can increase the effectiveness of their intervention if they involve multiple relevant actors who operate at different inter-related administrative, sectoral, and social levels (e.g., policy makers, private and government sector actors, farmers). Chapter 10 concludes that for facilitation to be effective in supporting actors to cope with complex issues there is need to ascertain whether it is necessary to intervene <em>beyond</em> the level at which the issue at stake emerged. Consequently, in a participatory intervention, one of the first facilitation actions to be undertaken is the design of an interactive process to purposefully bring a system, or more often, multiple nested subsystems, into existence. For this action to realise, facilitators can make use of an adapted version of soft systems <em>theories</em> and <em>methodologies</em> combined with learning, negotiation, and mediation theories as well as with Habermas' strategic and communicative rationalities.</p><p>There is a second set of actions that aims to design and implement a systemic learning path in order to enable actors to 'learn about systems' (e.g., human activity, biophysical, political systems) and 'to become critical learning systems'. Critical learning systems are comprised of reflective actors who regularly question their own and each other's perceptions, interests, and values and the way they shape their (joint) learning. To support the emergence of critical learning systems facilitators can use a combination of: 1) adapted systems theories; 2) organisational, experiential and situated learning theories; and 3) negotiation and mediation theories and strategies.</p><p>From a methodological perspective, it is concluded that in order to design a trajectory that favours critical learning it is important that facilitators: 1) enable face-to-face interaction at the boundaries of multiple subsystems; 2) overcome the limitations of Kolb's experiential learning cycle for process design; and 3) foster learning beyond single loop learning.</p><p>The role of facilitator <em>values</em> in the way they perceive the issue at stake, their choice of theories and methodologies, and their actions and as such the participatory processes and outcomes are clearly demonstrated in this thesis. It concludes that facilitators need to be more aware and transparent about their values. Especially in the case of differences in values between the facilitators and other actors, the articulation of this difference is an important challenge for a facilitator to deal with.</p><p>Chapter 10 also discusses two emerging insights on issues that were not explicitly addressed in the research questions. The first deals with ' <em>power'</em> and the second, with <em>'assessing facilitation praxis'</em> . In the three case studies, the facilitators implicitly address power relationships. This study concludes that if facilitators do not pay particular attention to power relations by increasing the decision-making power of disadvantaged actors, they risk that the latter continue to be disadvantaged or, worse still, are manipulated or controlled more skilfully by the more powerful actors. Chapter 10 discusses various facilitation ingredients that contribute to bring about structural change to the system of social relationships through which inequalities are reproduced.</p><em><p>Meta-facilitation</em> is addressed in chapter 10 as well. The concluding chapter describes the competencies that meta-facilitators require for being effective in their support of facilitators to develop the necessary expertise. This thesis shows that meta-facilitation should not only address the learning of facilitators but also that of those actors who form their institutional working context. In this respect, chapter 10 pays particular attention to the role of educational institutes in the development of facilitators of systemic change who are in the Wageningen University context referred to as 'beta-gamma' professionals. Any institution that aims to deliver facilitators of systemic change must address in their education the issue of value-driven professional practice. More specifically, the building of capacity for praxis and critical thinking <em></em> is needed if facilitators are to focus on systemic (agricultural/rural) development in ethical and ecologically sound ways. Moreover, educational institutes and other organisations that support agro-ecosystem and rural development face the challenge of 'becoming critical learning systems' <em></em> themselves in order to evolve towards an institutional and cultural environment that enables the development of 'facilitators of systemic change'.</p><p>This thesis ends with a critical reflection on the research process, and challenges facilitators not to reach for the latest handbook on participatory techniques, but to clean up their own act by critically reflecting on their own assumptions, values, interests and practices in order to avoid reinforcing the very practices that in theory they were meant to change.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Wageningen University
    • Röling, N.G., Promotor
    • Jiggins, J.L.S., Co-promotor
    Award date17 Sep 2002
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058086976
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


    • learning
    • extension
    • participation
    • management
    • actors
    • innovations
    • agriculture
    • decentralization
    • irrigation
    • senegal
    • kenya
    • world
    • privatization
    • agricultural extension
    • persons

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