Last week I spent three days participating in a workshop organised by the Global Land Tools Network (part of UN-Habitat) with participants from Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Tunisia. Two quotes stand out for me “Islam is innocent” – an impassioned plea for us to distinguish between the core principles of Islamic faith (which emphasise respect to all people and the need for land to be used responsibly and productively) with current traditional and national practice in particular contexts which may discriminate against women in significant aspects of their lives.
We heard about the amazing developments in Tunisia giving women new legal rights. “We preserve the past, we own the present, we reshape the future” was the message we took away with some exciting ideas on the future work of the partners within the network.
During three days of listening to experience, brainstorming ideas and prioritising future potential activities the participants experienced three sessions of action learning. We used the time to enable presenters to explore an idea of future direction in depth and for other participants to help them critique it, explore it, develop it using open questions. Participants were amazed at how far their thinking could develop compared to the standard workshop exchanges which often focus on difference between your points of view or discussion that is about winning someone over to your idea rather than truly listening to theirs.
The challenges for me as a facilitator were having a changing set membership so that different people could experience it; having very active fishbowl “observers” who tried whispering and note passing because they were so keen to participate and operating with the language moving continuously between English and Arabic (and occasionally French) so remembering when to switch on headphones and incorporating passing the mike around into the practice.
What they said:
“It opened the windows in my mind. It helped me organize my thinking. It was very good that you asked me questions without telling me your answer. I could think for myself and hear your views later”
“I discovered a new methodology. It is so simple. I can use it in my work. I was squeezed but it was nice”
“There are human values we share and certain principles we all agree. Although we come from different backgrounds we share them. Action learning is like a confession seat – we have really spoken to each other. Despite the many conferences and workshops I have been to, we have achieved this in 48 hours”.
“As the presenter, I enjoyed the burst of concentrated ideas stimulated by questions”
“Action learning is a promising practice. In my community they not only give you advice they always criticise.”