Footpaths – Community Carbon Reduction: lessons learnt

Emily, from Transition Leicester, and I finally got round to debriefing the Footpaths Community Carbon Reduction training for trainers that we co-facilitated in September. We’re preparing for the first of 2 drop-in evening sessions to give ongoing support to facilitators and wanted to ensure we’d learnt the lessons of the training for trainers.

Whilst the training was an overall success, and Footpaths groups are meeting successfully at the moment, there are always things that can be learnt and built upon. 4 sessions dominated our thinking, and I’ll talk about those here – group agreements/groundrules, weather reporting, what is a group, and rank and privilege.

Group agreements – a topic that’s cropped up a few times on this blog. We set out to create a group agreement for use throughout the training. We started with flipcharts with the words “safety” and “respect” written on them and asked the group to think about what they needed to make the training a safe and respectful space for them. The catch? Ensure that their need was expressed in terms of specific behaviour – what they or others could actually do to make their needs manifest.

The session took far longer than we’d allowed it. We planned it to be concrete – an agreement for this group, for this workshop. Talking to the group afterwards, they were working in a far more hypothetical space, naming all possible issues for all possible groups. And some people really struggled to turn concepts such as “openness” into behaviour. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that some people found the pressure to do so a little stressful.

The learning? Reiterate, reiterate, reiterate – why say once what you can say 3 times? We talked in terms of asking the group to name just one issue each, and supporting them to turn that into behaviour – get the agreement made and then have the theoretical conversation about agreements….

Weather reporting – to me this was a welcome addition to the agenda, but one that never fulfilled its potential. Why? Mostly because people reported on their own state of mind and not that of the group as a whole. This is a natural tendency in a training for trainers. There’s always that potential for confusion between “myself as participant” and “myself as trainee trainer”.

The learning? Again, reiterate the task. Maybe add a symbol that identifies the wearer/bearer as “facilitator” – the proverbial facilitator’s hat – and ask people to wear or bear when reporting?Perhaps we could also break down the weather reporting task in 2 ways. Firstly in each activity task someone with a solely weather reporting role to avoid any confusion. Secondly we could also break down the weather reporting role and give specific briefs to people to simplify the role until they gor the hang of it…. report on time-related issues…report on the level of agreement in the group…report on the energy level of the group and so on. Finally we talked about a scripting a roleplay the demonstrates a group with no reporting followed by a group with good reporting. Let people see the task we’re giving them before they practice.

What is a group? – Emily’s material was creative, intuitive and I learnt a lot from watching it. It wasn’t stuff I’d naturally find myself using, but having seen it at work, I will inevitably find space for it somewhere in the future. The problem we encountered was her metaphor of ‘group as an animal’. For some, describing a group in these terms opened up new perspectives and fresh learning. Others struggled with the imagery and failed to engage because of it. In the dialogue that followed it became clear that offering a palette of images might well have solved the problem. Alternatives suggested were ‘group as a machine’.

Rank and privilege – this was an important session that suffered from lack of time. Emily delivered some really good material but we didn’t get as much time as we’d planned for and the group struggled to see the relevance. The learning? The material isn’t easy, and needs the application and practice elements before participants will begin to appreciate its richness and usefulness.