Tools for the Job
by Jo Clark
THE Salvation Army has many development workers who work in communities throughout the developing world to make a positive difference. This is not always an easy task and new methods are constantly being sought which will ensure that the solutions offered by The Salvation Army are what the community really needs. As one Salvation Army community worker in Sri Lanka put it: 'We need to “get in” more with the community … get all the information from them, the problems and difficulties they face, because sometimes they keep the information to themselves.'
Getting to know communities – their history, organisation, resources, skills and challenges – requires a lot of time and a range of practical approaches. In this article, Jo Clark – Tsunami Response Coordinator at International Headquarters – shares some of the 'tools for the job' which were learned and practised by participants at community development workers training sessions held in Sri Lanka.
We all know how to listen – or do we? Classroom role-playing helped the development workers to identify listening techniques (summarising, affirming, restating) and body language which help a good group facilitator let community members know their contributions are needed and valued.
'Learning how to approach the community … helps us to listen to them'
'From her expressions she showed that she was listening'
Throughout the training, participants practised using different types of questions, particularly open and probing (or 'digging') questions, to encourage community members to talk freely about their community. The key was to make sure they didn't try to second-guess what community members would say or ask questions which would push people to give an answer they thought people wanted to hear.
'Closed questions give a short, direct answer; open questions give a wider and more detailed answer'
'We know it is an open question because she had to explain more'
'We learned that if we ask questions we can often go deeper'
Community mapping was a new tool for many of those attending the workshop. Workshop participants used this tool with members of Dias Place community in Colombo to learn more about the community, its resources, issues and concerns. Community members took part in drawing a map of their local area, marking key features, important places, transport links, resources and services. As the map began to take shape the workshop participants 'interviewed the map' and encouraged the community members to talk in more detail about places and features shown on the map, probing more deeply into some of the challenges faced by people in the area.
'The circle [of people taking part] got smaller through the course of the exercise as people focused on the map'
'Through the map we understood the real situation and gathered information about the community background. We identified facilities and things they have in the community'
'Through mapping they were indicating problems and through indicating problems they were able to go deeper and explore'
'Sometimes we go into a community and work from morning till evening and we may not be able to get this type of information'
'In a short period we can get lots of information through mapping'
During the second community fieldwork visit of the week the development workers were encouraged to take a walk through an area accompanied by members of that community. On this walk they used all their senses to consider the things around them and the development workers asked the community members questions about what they saw, heard and smelled as they walked around. Very quickly they were able to understand more about the resources, services, issues and challenges of that community.
'With mapping we only see the picture, but with the walking we experience it for ourselves'
'Most of the people didn't know us but they got involved'
'The involvement of the community was good'
'They guided us very well – they took us to each and every corner'
'Observation of the area is useful. We have visited places many times but we didn't give deep concentration'
- Brainstorming and Ranking
The information learned from the community mapping and walking exercises was followed up during a focus group session using the tools of brainstorming and ranking. Community members were asked to brainstorm issues or concerns of their community which they had identified during the previous activities. The group meeting then got very lively as community members tried to agree on how many beans to place next to the issues identified, to show how important they felt them to be.
'People argued for their own personal interests ... we learned from their conversation'
Everyone agreed they had learned a lot from the training but that the hard work was just about to begin as they returned to their own communities. They were all keen to share ways in which they will use the new tools, which they had learned and practised, in their own work.
'With the aid of the tools I will organise the women's ministry of the church and help it grow'
'[The tools will help to] prioritise the needs of the people, encouraging them how to find solutions on their own'
'[I will] try to do an exercise using the tools with the participants who come for programmes at the conference hall'
'[I will] prepare plans to expand services by sharing the knowledge [of the tools] with the officers of the district'
'I am in charge of a section district, so now I can work with my officers. I will focus on the community around the church ... we can identify needs in a picture form and ask people to pray for them'
'We will organise a community walk with the team and community members'
The training continues as these Salvation Army development workers in Sri Lanka share the techniques they have learned. In the meantime, further courses are being held in new areas and everyone is working together to try to make more of a difference in the communities in which they
live and work.
Photographs show the community development workers training sessions in Sri Lanka. All quotes are from the workers who participated in the training.