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Guidance for the Trainer

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Trainers' Notes

Mobilising a Community does not begin "ad hoc" or without preparation

Preparing the Path before Mobilising

After the mobiliser is prepared to mobilise, s/he must then make preparations in the community before beginning the mobilisation. Mobilising must not begin without planning and preparation, and ensuring that the necessary requirements are met.

If you are organising the training of mobilisers, using this material, you can see this module as designed to instruct potential mobilisers in what their initial work is. Again, we encourage "doing" as the best way of learning skills, and you can set up this training so as to maximise some "doing" activities as the trainees learn to mobilise.

This is a good time for you to remind them that it is important for them to create and maintain a "paper trail." How your trainees work in a community is very much affected by how much they know about the situation and the nature of the community. Further, remind them that they will not work in that one community for ever, and that they need to start preparing material that will guide their successor. If they do not, and eventually leave, then the next mobiliser must start from the beginning again, and will not be able to build on previous mobiliser's observations and experiences. Remind your trainees to start and continue writing in their journals.

This is the phase where the mobiliser needs to prepare the community so that it can take effective action. Look in the "Training Methods" module. Note the document on "Role Playing." How you set up a role playing session is up to you; there are many ways to do it. You can assign different trainees to be members of the community, local chief, counsellor or mayor, a local official who gives licences or certificates for field workers (if such a position or requirement exists), a "boss" or supervisor of the mobiliser, and other positions that represent the local situation. By creating some role playing sessions, trainees can get to understand the various players in the process, and understand it better as a result.

The Mobilisation Cycle:

When your trainees start out, their work is in the context of a "Mobilisation Cycle." They should have at least a sketchy impression of the cycle. You can add material from the "Mobilisation Cycle" training module if they want or need more details at this time.

In your training, do not simply present the cycle, or rely only on a handout. Instead, ask for elements of the cycle from the trainees, and draw it on the board. It can first be represented as a list, from top to bottom, of the stages in: assessing needs, choosing a community project, designing the project, implementing it, and evaluating it. While you do not give them the elements outright, you can ask questions that will draw the elements out of the trainees. Draw an arrow from the bottom item to the top, so as to indicate repetition of the cycle.

A challenging session would be to identify several trainees to act out the "role" of each stage in the cycle. They could wear large cardboard labels identifying each as a stage. What will they say in turn as the cycle is presented? If the trainees are able to do so, try asking them to do it again, or ask a new set of players, this time to do it without talking. It can be great fun, and can produce many laughs and even embarrassing attempts, but it will help to impress the cycle, especially its principles if not the details specific to each location, on the trainees.

There is a power point presentation of the mobilisation cycle, which uses the line drawings of Julianna Kuruhiira available on this site. It is more elaborate and detailed than the web pages in that module. If you have the facilities to present it up on a screen, it would be a good break in regular sessions in a training workshop. You might otherwise make it available on a computer, and show it to trainees about three or four at a time. See "Mobilisation Cycle."

Remind your trainees that their work is based on the cycle, that a community does not get developed by only one project, but the cycle must be repeated, and varied each time according to changing conditions.

Getting the Clearances

As their trainer, you explain to your trainees that they need two kinds of permissions or clearances to get started in each district. One kind is the formal, legal or official permission, and the other is the informal or unofficial.

The formal permissions are usually straight forward and simple. Remember that "simple" does not always mean "easy." The formalities usually differ from country to country, and there also might be regional provincial or district variation. Since they are usually based on governmental rules and regulations, they are often written down somewhere.

The informal permissions are less easy to define, and do not have clear and definable boundaries. In essence, these mean getting the goodwill of authorities and leaders of the area, so that they might become allies rather than hindrances. Their co-operation can be valuable; their opposition can be disastrous.

It is easy to identify when the formal permissions are obtained; they are flagged by receipt of a letter or certificate. There is no clear-cut identification of when informal permissions are obtained.  Explain that your mobilisers will need to be in a process of obtaining them for the duration of the mobilisation process in each area.

One good exercise in a training session is to have the trainees prepare a definitions of the two kinds of clearances for their district or region.

This another good session for setting up some role playing. Assign the trainees into two groups, each with anywhere from two to five persons. One person in one group will be the mobiliser. One person in the other group will be the relevant official who has the power to award a certificate allowing the mobiliser to work in the area. The rest of the players will be the advisers to those two. Separate the two groups of players, and tell the advisers to coach their advisees what to say.

Importantly, the group advising the "official" should generate as many of the suspicions, assumptions and fears they may think of that may be relevant. Conversely, the group advising the "mobiliser" should generate all the benefits to the community and to the leader that will accrue to the communities in the area being mobilised to become more self reliant.

Tell the groups to meet in separate locations, or at least separate corners of the room, and make their preparations for ten or fifteen minutes. Then bring them together, along with any other trainees (who will be the "audience" of the play), and ask them to act out a scenario of the mobiliser knocking on the door of the official and asking for permission to mobilise a community in the area.

When the group of trainees is larger, this can be done several times. After one or two sessions, you may wish to throw a "joker" into the deck of cards. Form a third group who will advise a local busybody, or newspaper reporter, who will just happen to be in the office of the official, snooping around, and who will throw unexpected but contentious questions into the discussion.

After the role playing sessions, a follow-up session is very useful. You might wish to summarise on the board the kinds of questions the official might ask, questions that might be laying dormant in the community, and arguments that the mobiliser might use. Ask all the trainees to help you create lists on the board. Play this game, and its follow-up, even where there are no formal permissions awarded; their arguments are useful in the trainees understanding their roles.

Raising Awareness

The process of raising awareness among the population at large is remarkably similar to the process of obtaining unofficial permissions from local authorities. Tell your trainees that they must always be getting (and keeping) allies and supporters from among the general population.

In your training session, you might use the same type of role playing, with various types of different "jokers" and a similar follow-up session.

Remind the trainees that their job, while raising awareness, is to avoid raising unrealistic expectations. Furthermore, community participation does not mean that the mobiliser must passively accept whatever the noisiest members of the community want as their primary objective. The mobiliser must constructively challenge elementary and little thought out suggestions from the community. You may prime your community role playing group, for example, telling them to ask for a clinic with doctor, but the mobiliser role player can be coached to ask if it is for lowering disease.  If so, then a clean water supply and clean and correctly used latrines might be a better solution to the problem of disease. (See the module on "Water").

Unity Organising

You need to ensure that your trainees do not assume that communities are naturally unified. The word, "community" is misleading in that it has "unity" within it. Popular beliefs often include thinking of communities as peaceful places where everyone knows, likes and co-operates with one another. See Unity Organising.

This is well known by sociologists. In later modules more sociology is included in the training, and conflict will become more apparent. For practical purposes, especially at this introductory training phase, it is sufficient for you to inform the trainees that there are many hidden and not so hidden conflicts and "tugs-of-war" in every community. This disunity weakens communities. An important part of the mobiliser's work, therefore, is to convince community members to put aside their differences so as to cooperate for some community empowerment activities.

Trainees need to learn that unity organising is not a single stage in their work, that they can not unify a community (once and for all time) then go on to do other things.

It is an ongoing struggle, and continues throughout their work in the community.

Disunity can be based on many things. These include (but are not limited to):

  • competition between various lineages or clans;
  • differences in relation to property (as Karl Marx wrote – workers versus owners); and
  • differences in:
    • language,
    • religious beliefs and practices,
    • family organisation,
    • visible ethnicity (so called "race"),
    • gender,
    • age,
    • physical or mental disabilities or deformities, and
    • almost any variation in social characteristics (ie physical characteristics which have social meanings attached to them).

Sometimes a mobiliser must either accept local practices and work around them, or forcefully insist that some factions be included in community meetings even if they have historically been overlooked. Here are two examples from my own experience.

Working in conservative Islamic communities, for example, there were many restrictions on the movements of women. We needed to tread very carefully. With the blessings and co-operation of the malaams, we were able to provide training in social work to women by using only women trainers and working only in their homes. (See CBSW).

In northern Ghana, in contrast, which has a mild Islamic element in some places, we called village meetings to determine village priorities. If only men showed up, we would politely explain that we meant everybody, suspended the meeting without revealing our purpose, and set it again the following day. Women (and disabled and minorities) attended on the second day.

Also see the module on Gender.

Getting the message across can be done in various ways. If you are acquainted with some of the major divisions where you are doing the training, you can set up various role playing sessions where the trainees take up various contending positions, and a mobiliser (with their advisers consisting of other trainees) must devise strategies to cope with them.

You can also call in specialists who can provide some training in this area.

In my work in Africa, to develop gender strategies, for example, I found often there were ministries of gender (or equivalent) with many well trained personnel who would be eager to perform their magic in such training sessions.

Public Dialogue

One of the most important skills needed by a mobiliser is the ability to speak in public, with strangers attending.

While that talent is often seen as one that comes naturally to some people, it is a set of skills that can be learned. The biggest barrier or hindrance is fear, anxiety or worry. Once any one can get over those emotions, then those skills can be learned and improved.

Good public speaking skills include not only the ability to speak loudly, slowly and in a clear simple language, but also the ability to listen to what people say, anticipate what they might say even when they stay silent, and the ability to develop a rapport with the audience. A mobiliser must not only respect community members, but be seen to respect them, and demonstrate that in public speaking.

Do not frighten trainees by listing all of these at the beginning of a first session on public speaking. At first, they sound too demanding. Your trainees will be less apprehensive of all these after they discover that they can easily learn them and practice them – starting with your training session.

This is where "learning by doing" is most effective.

If you have a five day training workshop, you may set up five or six different short sessions on speaking. One of the best is to practice thinking while on one's feet. As with the organisation, "Toastmasters," you organise a game whereby a person is told to come to the front of the group, and is given a word they do not know beforehand, and are told to speak about it for two minutes. Topics should include those that are not related to mobilising or the workshop, such as "bananas," "mothers-in-law," or "garbage can lids."

If you have arranged training workshops for a set of mobilisers, say every month (or every two months), which we recommend, then this is a session which can also be included every month.

A variation of this session can be where you send the speaker out of the room for two minutes to think about the topic you have given to her or to him. Meanwhile, without revealing it to the trainee playing the speaker, you inform the rest of the trainees that they must change the topic without specifically mentioning the precise topic they want. The speaker may be given a topic such as "changing a carburettor," while the group may be given another topic such as "shelling oysters." The speaker is given four minutes to talk about the topic, but also to identify the topic desired by the audience and relate one to the other, or to shift to the topic wanted by the audience.

It is in these sessions where you must be very sensitive to criticism. For shy persons who have personal apprehension against speaking, criticism may discourage them and hinder them from developing the necessary skills. This may be a good time to introduce the ground rules of brainstorming (see Brainstorm), or of the key words term "Sandwich," which is useful in management. You can borrow a procedure from AA1 meetings. The audience is instructed to applause every time a speaker speaks, no matter what is said.

If you have the technological support, this is a session in which a camcorder (video tape recorder) can be most useful. For each speaker, you video record their talk. Then you give them the tape, and a private room, or earphones and a small screen, so that they may view the tape in private. Then you give them the personal option of deleting the material on the tape, or showing it to their friends. They may wish to take it home with them, if they have the equipment to view it at home. Rather than using critiques and advice from yourself or other trainees, you provide a view of the speaker's presentation to that speaker only, which can be used, and destroyed, in private.

Challenging the Community:

Throughout this training, one message is consistent. The central method of empowerment sociology is that an organism gets stronger by struggle, effort, or practice. The principle lies behind our recommendation that you can train mobilisers more effectively by providing them situations where then can "do" or practice their work rather than merely listening to lectures. It lies behind our caution about using the charity approach; giving to poor people does not make them stronger and more independent, but trains them to expect and depend upon more handouts.

One such role playing scenario that your trainees can play out is the example in the handout, "Challenging the Community." Prepare two groups, one consisting of the "mobiliser" and her or his advisers, and the other group as the community. You can use the handout, and instruct the community to ask for a clinic, and the mobiliser to challenge that objective and lead them to choosing a clean water supply point as a more effective strategy for lowering disease.

Ask the trainees to suggest other such role plays, where community members would ask for something, and the mobiliser would lead them to think through their request and make realistic choices.

Organising for Strength

Another central principle in the empowerment methodology (after "struggle to get strength") is that organising produces strength, and better organising produces greater strength.

The historical lineage in sociology of this principle derives from the writings of Max Weber, who wrote about the characteristics of bureaucracies that gave them power. While this is not the place for you to teach sociology (that will come later in the training of these mobilisers), it is valuable for you, as their trainer, to recognise the sociology in the training.

Trade union organisers have known for centuries that if you take an unorganised group of people (working in one company), unify them to aim for a common cause, and help them to organise into a single social organisation, they gain power. Business owners and managers have disliked unions precisely because they have immense power. They can use that power to protect themselves from unfairly low salaries and wages, and from dangerous working conditions.

This principle applies to any group, and here is used as part of the empowerment of communities.

How do you demonstrate this principle to your trainees?

Potential community mobilisers need to know about the importance or organising.

Up to now, trainers' guidelines have recommended using role play sessions to put trainees into positions of various players in the process of community mobilising. This improves their skills as well as provides some insight into the situations and attitudes of people they will meet and work with in community empowering. This session may be one where other training methods may be more appropriate.

Explain the principle, and show how it could apply to two football teams of equal levels of skills. Ask the trainees to identify other situations where an organised group can be more effective than an unorganised group with otherwise similar characteristics. List these on the board. Start with team games such as football, but go on to other groups, such as military groups fighting a war and producers making a similar product. Can the trainees come up with new and different examples?

If you have a large group of trainees, divide them into small groups to prepare an argument in favour of organising, and how that organisation would appear. One group could be assigned to choose a military example, another a commercial example, another a religious activity (if appropriate), and so on. Ask each group to decide how the organisation would look in order to be more effective. Ask a speaker from each group to report back to the plenary. An important lesson is that organising itself is a strengthening process, and is not peculiar only to communities.

Conclusion; Training Mobilisers:

The methods you use to encourage trainees to learn how to mobilise should be varied and interesting. They should not be only lectures and presentations but should be various methods that involve the trainees as active participants in their own learning. Variety helps keep the learning process fresh, and improves understanding and retention.

Do not rely on orthodox methods, or even on these guidelines. Your training will be more fresh, more challenging, and more exciting if you create new methods yourself.

Furthermore, you should try to bring in outside trainers for at least a few sessions in every training workshop. Keep the sessions french by varying presenters between sessions. Likewise, vary the medium of presentation during any one session: use slides, overheads, movies, videos, puppet shows, flannel board presentations, role playing. Local dance and acting groups, choirs, and cultural groups. Do not use the same medium for too long in one session, and vary them from session to session.

Even role playing can be varied; try using puppets where the trainees manipulate puppets instead of acting with their own bodies. Likewise they can make images for a flannel board presentation, as an alternative to role playing.

Variety is a great pedagogical spice.

note 1. : AA = Alcoholics Anonymous


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.11.09

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