1. Well in advance
- Approach participants thoughtfully. Make
sure that all of the ways in which you or anyone else bring people
into the learning environment are respectful, considerate, and nondiscriminatory.
- Prepare yourself. Look over the material
to be covered. Make an agenda (but be willing to change it).
- Find out about the participants, if possible.
This knowledge can sensitize you to issues of concerns and potential
- Secure an accessible meeting space where
everyone can feel welcome and comfortable. Consider transportation,
safety, disabled accessibility, child care needs, and security.
- Gather materials you need for the session
(e.g., handouts, chart paper, markers, name tags, sign-up sheets or
cards to gather addresses). See Part V, "Planning Presentations
for Human Rights Education," p. 99, for further preparation ideas.
2. Before the Meeting
- Arrive early so that you have time to collect your thoughts,
prepare the meeting space, and greet the earliest arrivals.
- Arrange the meeting space so that everyone can sit together
and see and hear each other in as much comfort as possible.
3. At the First Meeting
- Get people to introduce themselves and try to make them feel
welcome. If needed, use an "icebreaker," an activity to
help participants learn more about each other and become more comfortable
expressing themselves in the group. Ideas for icebreakers are suggested
in Part IV, "Activity 11: Icebreakers and Introductions,"
- State the time frame for this session and your intention
to respect participants' time by beginning and ending promptly. You
may ask someone to serve as the time keeper, especially for small
group activities (e.g., reminding the group at intervals about how
much time remains).
- Explain the scope of the course, workshop, or lesson and
ask participants to state their expectations. If possible record these
on chart paper. Then examine the list and evaluate honestly whether
the session is likely to meet the listed expectations (e.g., "Although
we are not going to deal specifically with girls' education, I think
many of the sessions will concern girls as well as women. Your experience
as a teacher will be valuable to us all" or "We will not
deal in detail here with the complaint mechanisms of international
law. I can, however, help you to find resources on the subject").
- Ask participants what they do not want from the course,
and list these as well. This provides a good basis for setting group
- Establish groundrules for the group. Ask the group to discuss
the behaviors they feel will help to establish an environment of trust
and make their interactions respectful, confidential, and purposeful.
List these suggestions as they are mentioned and ask the group if
they can agree to observe them as their rules for interaction. Keep
this list and post it at future sessions.
- Agree on how participants will communicate with each other.
The facilitator need not be the main focus of communication. Consider
giving everyone an address list.
4. At Every Meeting
- Reduce hierarchical approaches. Every aspect of the program
(e.g., how and where meetings are held, how seating is arranged, how
participants are introduced) should reflect non-hierarchical, inclusive,
and democratic principles. For example, the facilitator should sit
among participants to avoid creating an artificial "front of
- Be concerned about inclusiveness. Be careful that both the
content and learning process show respect for human dignity and difference.
All aspects of the program should consider a diversity of perspectives
(e.g., racial, class, regional, sexual orientation, cultural/ national
traditions) and consider the special needs of participants (e.g.,
physical disabilities, child care). For example, unless the participant
group is known to be uniformly well educated, leaders should offer
attractive alternatives to all reading and writing activities. Written
material could be read aloud. Appealing alternatives to written expression
could be tape recording, oral presentations, or collage making. Similarly,
while all written materials should accessible, they should in no way
patronize the participants' intelligence. If the participants are
fairly homogenous, remind them often to consider the experiences of
others who are different from themselves.
- Provide an open-minded forum. Allow opportunities for participants
to disagree with each other and to arrive at and maintain positions
different from your own. Avoid "the right answer" and "the
only solution." On the other hand, discourage argumentation that
aims at establishing winners and losers.
- Avoid simple answers to complex questions. Learning about
human rights raises difficult questions about human behavior and cultural
norms and often involves complicated answers about why people have
been denied their rights. Be cautious about oversimplifications, especially
reducing the responsibility for violations to one or two causes. Encourage
participants to analyze the various factors that contribute to their
experience. Workable strategies for improving conditions can only
evolve from thorough examination of the problem.
- Strive for precision of language and discourage stereotypes.
Any study of human rights touches upon nuances of human behavior.
Resist the temptation to over generalize and thus to distort facts
or limit ideas about effecting change (e.g., "That's just the
way people from _____ are"). How ethnic groups or social clusters
are labeled and portrayed has a direct impact on how they are perceived
(e.g., "Women won't speak up"). When necessary remind participants
that although members of a group may share common experiences and
beliefs, generalizations about them need modifying or qualifying terms
(e.g., "sometimes," "usually," "in many cases").
- Avoid comparisons of pain. Just as human rights are indivisible,
each being essential to the whole, so violations should not be evaluated
on a scale of suffering. An insult to a anyone's human dignity or
limitations placed on anyone's full potential are as much human rights
violations as a physical assault. No one should assume that the suffering
of one person is greater than that experienced by someone in other
- Model good facilitation and then share responsibility. One
result of good facilitation is the development of facilitation skills
in participants. After a few sessions, when you have had time to set
an example of how to facilitate, ask if anyone would like to co-lead
the next session. Continue encouraging other participants to share
- Use many modes of communication. Some people learn best by
hearing, other by seeing, others by doing. Try to include many modes
of learning in each session. For example, when in discussion participants
name several different factors that contribute to a problem, list
each on a blackboard or chart paper as it is mentioned. This kind
of note taking not only provides a visual acknowledgment of what was
said, but also serves as a reminder and review for discussion.
- Don't hesitate to say "I don't know." Remember
that the facilitator is also a learner. When you can't answer a question,
ask if anyone else can or invite someone to find the answer for the
next session. Especially if the question involves an opinion (e.g.,
"What is the best way to respond to public verbal aggression?"),
resist the urge to answer yourself, for your reply may suggest an
authority you do not intend. Instead, ask others in the group how
they would answer the question and open the possibility of differing
opinions. The group's need to know may lead to inviting an outside
resource to address the group.
- Conclude every session with some kind of collective summary.
Try to end each session with a summarizing question or open-ended
statement to which everyone responds in turn without comment from
others. For example, you might ask "What remarks that you have
heard here today will you especially remember as meaningful?"
or "Try to think of a word or phrase that sums up your feelings
at the end of today's session." You might also just ask people
to share one thing that they are still wondering about, finishing
the sentence "I still wonder... ." Then go around the circle
of participants so that everyone who wishes has a chance to respond.
Once such closure is established as a ritual, participants anticipate
it, and it marks a clear ending to the session. In this way the facilitator
does not need to have the last word!
- Keep a record. Facilitators learn from experience. Record
briefly what happened at each session, including adaptations and changes
that occurred, new ideas, particular successes and difficulties. These
will help you and others in planning future workshops.
5. At the Final Session
Closure usually calls forth both feelings and expectations. Try to
address both of these by anticipating them. Bring up the approaching
end of the workshop or course at an earlier session and ask participants
to think about a suitable activity to conclude, ideally led by them.
For example, an open-ended statement that points to action might be
- "As a result of this workshop, I would like to do ... in my
- "As a result of this workshop, I will change ... in my life."
For other ideas see Part IV, "Activity 7: Closings," p.
Emphasize at the last session that learning does not end with this
workshop and there are many possibilities for future learning and action
in both the public and private spheres. You may also wish to have participants
evaluate the workshop, either formally in writing or informally in discussion,
or both. If you use a written form, provide a safe way for participants
to offer constructive criticism and maintain their anonymity. See Part
V, "Sample Evaluation Forms," p. 115. If you use a discussion
method, ask each participant to share one thing she liked and one she
would change. Whatever evaluation method you use, leave enough time
for it to be completed thoroughly on the spot. Don't give participants
a form and hope that they will complete and return it: all may intend
to do so, but very few will actually follow through.
Some participants may ask "Is this the end of this group?"
and want to continue to meeting. Encourage those who are interested
to take the initiative to organize further human rights learning or
advocacy, ideally under their own leadership. You might offer to provide
some guidance on good facilitation, (although the best instruction will
have been your own example).
Many groups organize a reunion meeting some months after the final
session. Where they are possible, such reunions provide not only an
opportunity to renew friendships formed in the group, but also to evaluate
the experience they have shared and reflect on how participation has
affected their present lives.