First Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Forum Seminar

Date: May 10-12, 2013

Location: Palestine Red Crescent Society Hostel, Ramallah, Palestine

Participants: Masar Institute for Education, Sawa- All the Women Together Today and Tomorrow, Jugendbegegnungsstätte Anne Frank e.V., Duroob Institute for leadership Development & Social Growth

The EU funded project "Educational Innovation Incubator- Empowering Civil Society" was officially kicked off on May 10th 2013 in the 1st Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Forum Seminar.

The seminar was hosted in Ramallah "Sawa- All the Women Together Today and Tomorrow". The seminar participants were directors and key personnel from four CSOs:Sawa from Ramallah; Masar Institute for Education from Nazareth;Duroob Institute for leadership Development & Social Growth from Yerka; andJugendbegegnungsstätte Anne Frank e.V. from Frankfurt, Germany.

Two objectives were set out at the beginning of the seminar, the first was to think about how the four partner organizations can come together in the ‘CSO Forum’ and build a partnership and create a common space for social change.
 The second was to set the goals for the Training of Trainers (ToT), and start concrete planning of the course that is planned to begin in the summer of 2013.
The seminar was facilitated by the project's research team headed by Prof. Victor Friedman.

We began the seminar with a visit to the Sawa offices and call center where we learned about the work of the organization and the complex social, cultural and political setting in which they operate.

In the first work session of the seminar the research team presented an analysis of each partner organization, based on data collected through in-depth interviews in the months preceding the seminar.
Understanding each others’ organizations is important in this process as knowing who each other are and narrowing gaps helps organizations work together to forward a common goal and to understand the risks and dangers of creating this space and project. The central questions discussedwere: what kind of space and partnership partner organizations want to create? Can we create a space that is ‘bigger’ than the sum ofindividual organizations?What is the ‘common denominator’ between partner organizations? Concepts such as 'freedomfrom hierarchy', 'safety of hierarchy', 'universalism and old social norms' as well as the effect of social change work in traditional societies were discussed.

Partner organizations expressed apprehension and uncertainty regarding building partnership and engaging in dialogue due to language barriers excessive and organizational work load.
However, the central challenge identified was differences in understanding concepts due to the differences in working methods and strategies of partner organizations and cultural differences. Partner organizations spent a lot of time discussing how concepts could be understood with such big gaps between organizations.
 The group analysis of the datafound that the jumping off point for the partnership is in the understanding that all partner organizations work toward similar goals of changing society and liberating people from control and hierarchy.The first day ended positively but with apprehension between partner organizations expressing that there was a lot more work to be done.

The second day began with an outline of Action Evaluation- a participative methodology chosen for the planning and future evaluation of the ToT.  The first step of the process took place prior to the seminar, where participants were asked to answer questionnaires containing the following questions:

1.      WHAT is your definition of success for the “Training of Trainers” (ToT) course as part of the  development of the “Educational Innovation Incubator”.  Please try to specify three definitions of success as you see it.

2.      WHY are these definitions of success (i.e. goals) important to you?  Why do you feel passionate  about them?

3.      HOW do you think your goals can be best achieved?  What concrete steps should be taken?

The questionnaires were analyzed and the analysis was then presented to the participants in the seminar. We began with the "Why" question so to allow the participants to understand what makes others passionate about their definitions of success in the ToT.
"Passion points" of participant included: respect and vulnerability, fix the world, compensation, dare doubt, ownership, new perspectives, freedom.
During this workshop individuals shared very personal stories and this also brought participants closer together and was a very important for building trust.

The Action Evaluation process was paused in the middle of the day when participants requested todiscuss how to conduct discussions and especially the tension between the need to translate and the time constraint. Was the constant English-Arabic translation needed? Who is responsible for insuring understanding- the group or the individual? What is the role of facilitation in this issue? What are the power dynamics underlying the choice of language?This discussion was very deep, and although the issue was not resolved, and was an important part of the creation of the joint space.

The next stage of the Action Evaluation was the "What" discussion. In this session the individual definitions of success were brought together to form joint goals for the ToT. This was done first in small groups of each organization, and then all the CSOs together. Each goal was discussed and eventually voted upon although the method was to come as close as possible to a consensus. This workshop ended with a document of 4 joint goals for the ToT :

1.      Building a team of trainers, who deeply believe in educational innovation, and develop their  personal abilities and professional competencies to lead processes of high quality training and social-educational change

2.      Developing an alternative educational approach and language, based on experience and  innovative "theories".

3.      Developing a coherent model of collaborative learning for training/guiding practitioners.

4.      Creating comradery and a support network among participants to increase their ability to  persevere in this difficult work.

At the end of the second day and the beginning of the third,participants split up into two work groups in order to outline an “action plan” for the ToT. Then they presented the two action plans to each other. These "action plans" will serve as the foundation for the detailed planning and design of the ToT by the ToT facilitators and project manager.

The seminar was ended with a final round in which participants were invited to share their thoughts and feelings at the end of the seminar. Some indicated their surprise at the high productivity of the seminar. Others acknowledged the future challenges and potential frustations faced by the partnership. Many however felt excited and invigorated towards the continuation of the process.