Learning to design and lead workshops with activists

April 6, 2016 | By: James Whelan

spiral model - action research

A few weeks ago, I was invited by the convenor of the 350.org group in Sydney to lead a short workshop with their team. Their campaign to encourage universities and other institutions to divest from fossil fuels is building momentum. They’re actively recruiting and training new leaders, and wanted to build their skills and confidence to design and lead workshops.

We had a great evening with lots of reflection and sharing ideas and resources. The Change Agency’s website has dozens of resources on activist education, pedagogy and popular education. We shared five resources:

  • Process ideas to learn about the group you’re working with - their experience, skills, and learning edges
  • Reflections on different approaches to ‘building the container’ with a group – establishing and modelling norms, and creating trust
  • Strategies to learn about your cofacilitator and work well together to maximise learning
  • A participatory exercise to think through the various steps in scoping, designing, leading and evaluating workshops and
  • The spiral model that guides many popular educators in their work.

In just a few hours, we covered a lot of ground, with open and generous sharing.

Thanks, Isaac, for the opportunity to work with your team. Best wishes with your important work.


Participants’ feedback:

“Please pass on my BIG THANKS to James! The activities we participated in were fun and very illustrative of his ideas on activist training. Hope to put some of it into use in the near future!”
“A key learning for me is how as educators we can facilitate the transformation of everyday people into actors capable of shaping the world? I think I sometimes get caught up focusing on the details, so thanks for the reminder about the bigger picture.”
“Thanks so much James, I appreciated your skilful facilitation of our critical perspectives and teasing out some of our tacit ideas. Something that has really stuck with me (and Tim, too, I found out the other day) was thinking about the context in which people realise that they are an agent of change. Powerful stuff.”
“Thank you for your time and for a great session. It really opened my eyes up to a different perspective of organising – that I really appreciate.”

About the Author

James Whelan

James Whelan

James is founding co-director of the Change Agency and co-director of the Community Organising Fellowship.

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