Expat Aid Worker practitioners love feeling like they are supporting locally-led development processes. They love being one with the people and steering them towards self-sufficiency. They love building capacity in local and national institutions and mainstreaming core development principles like gender, human rights, sustainability, participation, and local ownership during life-saving meetings in communities, hotels, and retreat centers around the world.
They envision themselves as catalysts, animating people to travel down the long road to development; as facilitators, helping things along by their mere presence, asking the right questions at the right time and then allowing things to naturally flow towards what local people want to discuss.
After repeated attempts at facilitation, however, even the most noble Expat Aid Workers realize that if they want to succeed at their job, rather than facilitatation, they need to learn the gentle art of facipulation: a delicate blend of facilitation (catalyzing, easing and supporting conversations and actions around themes and issues important to the community and/or program participants) and manipulation (steering conversations towards their INGO’s established themes and goals, and ensuring that actions and decisions made by local people support their INGO’s interests and happen within the time frame stipulated by their donors).
We’ve listed a few of our favorite workshop facipulation techniques here:
The workshop set-up. When selecting facipulants for the workshop, choose those that you know from previous experience a) agree with you, b) understand what your agency wants to achieve and c) have a stake in a future project that they don’t want to lose out on by being difficult. It’s helpful if facipulants appear to represent a diverse group, but that their diversity does not include diversity of opinion. It’s also a good idea to decide on the core learning objectives or meeting outputs ahead of time, and print them nicely in color on A-4 or a 3-fold brochure. The more official things look, the less likely people will be to think they can change them.
Paying a per diem. This small token of appreciation (along with providing a very healthy-sized breakfast, lunch, two full snacks, a lot of soda, a cap, a t-shirt, a pen, a notebook, a nice workshop themed bag and other bits of swag) for facipulants helps them to help you steer the meeting where you want it to go. They must, of course, want to be asked back to the next meeting.
Group work. Assign people to groups ahead of time, and plant someone who knows exactly what you want to achieve in each group. Meet with your plants ahead of time, make them feel special, and explain that they are the ones you’ve chosen to help you help the groups move forward. Engineer the group work exercises carefully so that you get the answers that you are looking for, and never give sufficient time to complete discussions.
Selective hearing. In plenary and group feedback time, use the “there’s just so much participation going on I can’t capture it all!” trick to ignore or skip over what you don’t want to deal with or what doesn’t fit with where you need the workshop to go. After a few ignores, most people will give up and start grumbling, but that makes them look bad, not you. When this happens, give a pep talk about how important everyone’s participation is, admonish the group for not participating, ask if they are tired, and have the day’s volunteer animator lead an embarrassing (singing/dancing) ice breaker to motivate them.
Translation. Notify your translator ahead of time what your objectives are for the workshop (this works for facipulating evaluations or community visits with head office and donor delegations too), and he or she will easily transform even the most challenging local language response into just what you are looking for without you even realizing it.
The “parking lot”. This helps ensure that your workshop stays on your track, rather than veering off topic to discussions of things you or your agency are not interested in or prepared for. When thorny issues that require long-term, structural changes in the way your organization works or how it interacts with the local community, partner or government come up, simply say “Yes agreed. That’s a very important point. But that’s not what we are here to discuss today. Should we put that in the parking lot?” Then either a) get more funding for another workshop to discuss it later (great tactic if you are a consultant who wishes to extend a contract), b) task a small group of people (excluding yourself) to deal with it on their own time (they won’t), or c) put it in the “action plan” in your report (you can be confident no one will ever follow-up on it). Once you move issues to the “parking lot” you can get back to what you’re really there to do: move forward on your agency’s objectives.
Facipulation. A core competency in any successful Expat Aid Worker.
**Note: This photo is illustrative only – we do not know if those involved are facipulating/facipulated….