You've set up your group and members are engaging. How will you maintain people's interest and keep them involved?
Regular communication is key, so agree the most suitable communication tools at an early stage! This could be phone or email, messaging apps or other apps that facilitate team working and collaboration, such as Slack. You may need to resolve barriers to digital access and provide people with smartphones or tablets and help with internet access and data. Also, training to build digital skills.
Routine feedback from participants on how sessions have gone from their point of view will help with planning of future sessions. Try to think of creative ways for people to give feedback that will not be time consuming and that will encourage honest reflection. This could be a brief online survey, or an activity at the end of a session - in break out groups or pairs for example.
It is useful to share a recap of sessions (as ‘minutes’ or in some other form), and to up-date people on progress of the work between meetings, especially any impact that has been achieved. Reflections on what has gone well and what could be improved are equally important. Let people know about further actions they can take to help progress the work - this will help them to feel more engaged. Similarly, if you consult with people on future agenda items and topics for discussion, this will give them a sense of ownership in the group and of the work.
You may want to carry out a ‘skills analysis’ with the group, to find out people’s strengths and competencies as well as skills gaps. Recognising and appreciating people’s existing strengths and the value of their contribution is a very important part of this process. It helps people to feel they belong in the group, and will help you as a facilitator to know when to call on people to take on a role or contribute to a particular activity. Identifying skills gaps, and Experts’ own priorities for skills development, will allow you to develop an appropriate training and capacity building plan that is based on what people want and need.
This approach will help motivate people to get more involved and provide benefits to the group, as Experts’ skills, competencies and confidence increase. For example, you could arrange training in facilitation skills for the group and follow that by encouraging people to step forward and share the facilitation role on a regular basis. This is important since people usually learn best by trying things out for themselves. Other roles within sessions can also be shared between participants, such as notetaker, timekeeper and presenter. If you find out who has knowledge or expertise on a particular issue, such as health, they can be asked to lead a discussion on that topic or speak about it in public.
In our experience, if you take this approach participants will increasingly feel a sense of ownership of the group and will get more actively involved in planning and running sessions and in making decisions. The group will start then start to work in a participatory way.
Facilitating an EbE group involves more than organising and running meetings. Looking after people’s well-being and responding to their needs, where possible, leads to a healthy group culture and more productive sessions. Take the time to get to know people; understand who they are and what they are going through. This makes it more likely that they will talk to you about personal matters and things that are affecting them outside meetings. You can listen, and give information about where they can find support, if needed. In this way people are less likely to feel the need to talk about their personal issues during sessions.
If the group is relatively small it may be possible to keep in touch with everyone regularly by phone or messaging apps, and for them to raise concerns with you as needed. Checking in with people who unexpectedly don’t attend a session is a good idea. Similarly, following up with anyone who has been emotionally affected by a discussion during a session will make it more likely that they keep attending the group.
The social and peer support that the group can provide needs to be recognised and given value, and should be thought about when planning sessions and other activities. What people remember and take away from the experience of the EbE group will be as much about the peer support and friendship as the projects and campaigns they have worked on.
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