Stimulating Increased Organizational Strength
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Guidelines for helping an organization develop its organizational strength
This document describes a method of organizational capacity development for the facilitator.
Using many of the methods and techniques of the community mobilizer (for empowering low-income communities), this methodology is a guide for a facilitator assigned to stimulate increased capacity of a specific organization.
Its most important element is participation (in decision making), and it stresses the role of the facilitator as a guide and stimulant (not controller or implementor) of the capacity development process.
Capacity building, capacity development, empowerment and strengthening ─ all describe an increase in the ability of a social organization to achieve the goals that are set by that organization.
A valuable beginning is (1) to see capacity as composed of sixteen fundamental elements (see: Elements of Empowerment), (2) to see that the organization (not you the facilitator) alone can develop its own capacity, (3) to see that the most effective approach you can take is to promote participation by all the members of the organization, and (4) that your role is to guide and stimulate, not to control.
The organization that we are describing here can be a CBO (community-based organization), NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), private enterprise (eg a business), or a governmental or UN department, agency or ministry. The techniques are derived from a methodology of empowering low income communities which include management training.
To begin your work, you need first to meet with the leaders or executive of the organization. Explain that you need their active support and approval of your methods. You may wish to give them a one page handout of the list of the sixteen elements of strength. Most importantly, you explain that the development of capacity requires the participation of all members of the organization (staff and/or volunteers), including those at the highest and lowest social level.
If the leaders or executive do not agree with your participatory approach (ensure that they understand that you intend all members to participate in decision making about whatever changes will be undertaken by the organization), then it would be wise to withdraw your services, explaining that without full decision making by all members, you cannot ensure that the capacity of the organization can be increased by your methods.
Their agreement is required to ensure the legitimization of your methods, and should be formalized and communicated to all concerned.
Determine the Needs:
Call a meeting of all the members of the organization. Explain your purpose, and that their full participation will be required if the process is to be useful.
Any changes will have to be suggested and agreed upon by them, and that your role is to facilitate and guide them in this process. Tell them that first you and they have to identify what changes are needed, that you can offer some guidelines, but that they must decide as a group what the changes are to be. It may be useful for you to introduce the method of the brainstorm here (see, Brainstorm). This initial needs and situational analysis, with the group, may take one or two days. The larger the group, the longer it will take.
Let them know that your and their intention is to improve the strength of the organization, and that it will take work on everyone's part. It will not be done in one meeting, but the first meeting will be needed just to determine what actions will be taken, and subsequent meetings will be needed to follow up on actions taken, and to modify and refine the process as needed.
Here it will be useful for you to be thoroughly familiar with all sixteen of the key elements of empowerment, and make suggestions and explanations of some of them which might be missed. You may wish to give out one of the handouts listing and briefly describing each of the elements of empowerment. (See the Elements Handout).
As in a brainstorm session, you use a board (eg newsprint taped to the wall), and call for suggestions as to what capacity development will require, or its composition. You explain that no criticism of each others' suggestions are not permitted during the session, but that everyone is invited to make further suggestions.
When the suggestions are exhausted, you and the participants group together any duplications and similar suggestions, and refine the list. It will resemble the list of elements in the handout. (If there are any further elements of strength that are other than on the list, you are requested to contact us at this site and describe what they are; your contribution will be recognized on this site and will be added to the sixteen).
Select the Priorities:
Next, you decide, as a group, on the priorities. Which of the elements of strength should be tackled first? You may choose any number, from one up to all of them, but you also need to list them in terms of which are needed first.
Explain that the criteria for choosing priorities are not fixed; they may be how easy they are to be rectified, or how urgently they are needed. You may here decide to put aside some of them until later, and even determine what time in the future they should be attacked. These should be group decisions, the process facilitated by yourself.
It is important to make a record of the meeting, noting the list of elements needed for strengthening, and the priorities of the group in terms of which elements are to be chosen for immediate work, which for later, and which might even be neglected.
For each of the elements the group chooses to work on, a strategy of how the element is to be modified needs to be generated. More than one strategy may be suggested for some elements.
The group then needs to choose which strategies will be undertaken for each element, and if two or more are appropriate for any of them. Here is a list of the sixteen elements.
Instruct them that their suggestion should always start with "We should ..." never "They should ..." As a group, they have no control over what other people may do, only on what they, as a group, decides to do.
You may wish to hand out a single sheet of paper, listing eight of the following elements on each side, with a space after each for them to write notes. Make sure the suggestions are written on the board, and copied into the meeting record by a volunteer or your assistant.
Add the following sentence to each of them: "If this is one of the priorities of the group, ask how they (not you) would go about increasing the element and strengthening the organization." Remind them that their suggestions need to be practical and "do-able" (ie not merely wishful thinking).
Your participants may believe at first that some of the elements are beyond their control. For example, the political and administrative context around their organization depends upon decisions of others than themselves.
Explain that they can come up with strategies that include advocacy, ie actions they can take to influence that context around them. Since they have limited resources at hand, they have to decide whether such actions will achieve their desired results in time or not, and therefore must re-decide if they should be listed among their priority actions to take.
An overall strategy must then be drawn up, consisting of all the separate strategies for each of the priority elements, and notes of what other elements will be added later on.
Assess Current and Past Capacity:
This would be a good time, after the participants become familiar with the elements of capacity and more conscious of observing how they might apply to their own organization, to make a measurement of the strength of their organization. Explain to them that you will use the sixteen elements in a manner that will allow them, as a group to assess their relative strength.
See the document and module on measuring capacity. Use the method with the group at this time. (See Measuring Strength). Note (and explain to the participants) that while each of their assessments may be subjective, the numbers they assign will be collected for the group as a whole.
Record the values for each of the elements. Discuss the totals and averages with the group. Explain that as the empowerment exercise goes on, they will return to this assessment method to make further measurements, so they can witness any progress.
This timing is not written in stone. You may choose to do the assessment before you choose priorities among the elements.
Set the Strategy in Motion:
Remind your participants that this assessment and identification of needed actions is not just an academic exercise. It is time to assign tasks, specific actions, to specific individuals. Put them on the board, and make a record that you can take with you.
It is not enough to say "Something must be done." Here the group, guided by yourself, must identify who will do what, specifically, by what date, involving what other people, where, in what context, and with what expected results.
Tell the group when you will return and identify what members will report on what actions were taken between the meetings. Ensure that everyone understands that actions must be taken by those persons identified to take actions, and that they will be expected to report on the results of their action at the next meeting.
The date of your next meeting should be set. It depends upon your own field schedule and the executive management of the organization. Two to five weeks between meetings would be optimum.
At this point, the method opens up. The number of subsequent meetings depends upon many factors, your own resources, the terms of reference for your work, the time and times available with the organization, and other external factors.
It is up to you to keep good records of all the meetings. Use an assistant (or, reluctantly, a volunteer) to take the original notes of meeting decisions (while you are facilitating), and then later make your edited notes as a record of your operations, emphasising the suggestions and decisions of the participants, not as a traditional meeting (with "minutes," "matters arising," and so on). Read over and analyse your notes in order to determine what actions you will take at further meetings, and when to introduce further elements.
As with other animation and management training methods on this site, you emphasize that the participants engage in genuine decision making. That does not mean you must always take their initial suggestions as they formulate them. Challenge them. Remember the methods of Socrates. Help them to clarify and refine their decisions by asking them to justify their choices and to predict the results of their actions. (This challenging is essential, but should not be conducted during brainstorming sessions).
A good time to challenge many assumptions is when reviewing a strategy produced by an earlier meeting, after you have had some time to analyse it, ensuring that their choices will in fact strengthen the organization (see "Dependency" and "Hidden Resources").
At some time, perhaps a few months or a year later, it will be time to stop your intervention, make a participatory assessment with the group to see what results have been achieved, decide if further interventions are rally necessary, reach closure on your input, and report to your own agency and the executive of your client organization.
Capacity development of an organization, like that of a community, is not a finite event or procedure. It is an ongoing, and-open ended process.
Your intervention should not only introduce some activities that will result in an increase of the capacity of the organization, it should also stimulate a process that will allow the members of that organization, with the involvement and blessing of the management of that organization, to continue the empowerment process after you have left.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle