Home Page
 Getting Organized


'العربية / al-ʿarabīyah
Bahasa Indonesia
中文 / Zhōngwén
Ελληνικά / Elliniká
हिन्दी / hindī
日本語 / Nihongo
한국어 / Hangugeo
بهاس ملايو / Bahasa Melayu
Српски / Srpski
ไทย / Thai
Tiếng Việt


Other formats:

Power Point

Other Pages:


Site Map

Key Words


Utility Documents

Useful Links







Guidance for their Trainers

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Trainer's Guidelines

How do we turn ordinary people into community organisers?

If organising communities is most essential in strengthening them, how do we provide organising skills to those individuals who want to learn how to do it? The training documents in this module will guide potential mobilisers in learning the necessary principles and skills. If you are providing their training, you want to know how to use the handouts in this module.

We advise you, as always, to look at the module on Training Methods, which provide general guidelines. This document will focus on providing skills in organising. Those skills are like a combination of trade union organising skills, and senior management training skills.

We also suggest that you look at the module on Functional Literacy. There we advise that trainers should not blindly copy orthodox methods, but start with basic principles and create new and fresh methods from them.

Action Training

In this short handout, we advise the trainees that community members will learn how to plan by doing some planning. It echoes the very principles which we advocate that you use in training mobilisers. Remind the trainees that in an orthodox educational institution, they have a set curriculum, and the students are assessed by how well they answer exam questions (or do assignments). They are assessed, and judged successful, in how well they can demonstrate what they have learned.

In Action Training, in contrast, those we train, and how well they learn the needed skills, should be assessed by their actions after their training, not by exams, essays or tests which only demonstrate their ability to pass tests. This is unorthodox training. What we advocate is to impress on the trainees that they should not put their community members into a school to pass tests, but let them learn by doing. Assess them by what they do rather than what they learn. Let their training here be the planning and designing of plans to achieve a specific set of community goals. Let them organise themselves (with guidance from their trainer acting as their community mobiliser) so as to achieve those goals (expressed in the form of a "project"). Assess their training in terms of how successful they can organise to achieve their plans.

So, as a group, let the trainees pretend they are together a community.

Organise them to decide upon, plan the desired overall changes in the community, and design a community project. Use their plan as a focus for discussion, drawing out of the trainees the difference between (1) organising for making decisions and (2) organising for action. Also draw out of them the various principles they and you invoked in their organising and planning. In the training workshop, the assessment is based upon how well they do the planning.

In your overall work, their assessment is based upon how well they encourage community members to choose and plan a community project.

Forming the Executive

This can be a fun session, yet very eye opening. It works best with a group of at least twenty people. You may want to save it for after the sessions of community planning and project design, or combine it with them. The whole training session for this module can be organised around one combination session, which may continue for a whole day, through lunch breaks and rest breaks.

The basic notion is that you set up the whole group into a play, with no one acting as its audience. (VIP visitors to the workshop must be co-opted into the game, and not stand aloof and observe; their observing itself will disturb the creativity and free flow of innovations and variations). The task is for the group to act as a community, to select an executive to make plans for the community as a whole, and to design the first community project, in a way that all members of the community participate actively in the process. Planning the scenario is as much a part of the training process as acting out the roles. As with most role plays or simulation games, it is important at the end to have a plenary session afterwards to review and discuss what happened. In it ask what lessons can be learned from it that will apply when mobilising and organising in the field.

It is a useful element to identify one person as each role player and one or two "advisers" to that person. The "advisers" will call time out to give advice to the role player, and use any extra time to coach the role player in acting out the role in an interesting, entertaining, or even amusing manner. You set up an original scenario with which the group can work. In it, you identify an existing leadership, which may be a traditional chief and counsellors, or a mayor, or set of counsellors, whatever may be found in the area where the mobilisers will work. This can be one role player and two advisers, or two or three role players, with one or two advisers, depending upon the size of the trainee group.

Then, in the community, you identify various kinds of community members. Make sure that you include categories of people that may easily be left out of the process in the community. This could be women, disabled, minority ethnic group members, minority religious group members in very conservative areas. They may be seniors and criminals or ex convicts.

One principle – one which you should explain to the group as you do it, or as they do it with your guidance, is try as much as possible to put people in positions that they do not have in real life. Put a man as the "woman" role player. Put a healthy active person as the "disabled" role player. Put a shy, reticent person as the local ambitious politician who will try to usurp the organising process for his own political benefit. Which brings us to another element of the scenario.

Create roles of persons who will throw "monkey wrenches" into the machinery.(1) Identify community members who may want to manipulate the organising process to favour their own agendas. One person can be the headmaster of the local school, for example, who will try to convince the community that what they want most is a new school.

Note: The phrase "Throwing a monkey wrench into the works" is a slang phrase from among mechanics and technicians which indicates doing something which messes up the works, which stops the smooth functioning of the process, or which upsets good order.

A monkey wrench in itself is a very useful tool for loosening or tightening bolts, but it can be a big hindrance and cause disaster if thrown into a running machine where it is not needed or wanted.

Make sure the person playing the role of the mobiliser has at least two advisers, or identify two mobilisers who must work together to organise the community. This is someone who will be called upon to counteract all the monkey wrenches you put into the machinery. It requires some strength and experience.

One optional addition is to identify a corrupt existing leader, counsellor or elder (as a role in the game), who might try to set things up so that there is less transparency, behind which screen he or she can make personal gain from the organising process. Another optional role is the apathetic and/or lazy community member, except that here the person articulates her or his position rather than disappear as which usually happens out in the community.

Discuss the role of treasurer with the group. Identify two roles who potentially can be the treasurer of the executive. One is a teacher with accounting experience, but who is from another part of the country and has no ties to the community, and no means for the community to exert social controls to ensure honesty. (This person wants to get a hold on the money, and to run away with it if s/he does). The other is an illiterate old woman, who can count but not read, and who has a good reputation for being honest, trustworthy and reliable by all the community members. She wants the best for the community and can be depended upon to do what is needed so the community benefits.

The task of this group, with coaching and guidance to all the mix of different roles in the process, is to determine how to choose an executive, and who shall be on that executive. Remind the group that elections, including election by secret ballot is seen as divisive in many societies, and the search for consensus through discussion is usually more acceptable. Seeking consensus also has a pedagogical role, in that the various players can formulate their positions, all can evaluate them.

The multi dimensional dialogue which results, in itself, helps the trainees to understand the process that they will be stimulating in the field. The discussion should be aimed at choosing an executive to manage the empowerment process that the community chooses.

The same session can then be expanded, after some breaks, to include developing a community action plan, and designing the first community project in that plan.

Assessing Conditions

This session (Participatory Assessment) can be used to break the continuity between the session of determining the executive and making a community action plan. In community work, the assessment process should precede the planning.

In terms of developing skills, some training and explanation of PRA or PAR methods, as developed in Sussex or at Columbia University, would be most valuable here. If you can find a PRA/PAR specialist to come in as an outside contributor to your workshop, this would be the best approach.

Meanwhile, this is a good opportunity for the workshop trainees to make a field trip. You need first (a few weeks before the training) contact local leaders and/or community workers. The community can be rural or urban. During the training workshop, you take the whole group to make a tour of the neighbourhood. The tour should not be merely a sight seeing trip, however. Prepare the trainees beforehand by asking them to think of themselves as residents and members of the community that they will visit. They should temporarily discard their roles set up for the previous and later sessions, and simply think of themselves as themselves living in the community.

Explain to them that, during the tour, they should take notes and make sketches, and that after the tour they will come together to create a composite map, and an assessment of the positive and negative things that they observed. Positive elements would include potentials and resources that could be used in community projects. Negative ones are the usual list of broken facilities and non functioning communal services.

It is optional here to include an experienced community worker from the subject community in the session following the tour. If so, it is better to use the experienced community worker as a resource person during the time the group makes the written assessment. Do not ask her or him to make a presentation at this time.

The group is given the assignment to prepare a written assessment, including a sketch map, of the neighbourhood visited. Depending on the number of your trainees, you may want to divide them into small groups of four or five, each given a different aspect of the assessment to prepare. Warn them, however, that the small groups are not discussion groups, but are work groups, and that they must produce the element of the community assessment. Ensure that they have pens and paper, and markers and a board to work on if needed.

Bringing the work groups together, they must combine their contributions to make a composite appraisal. Only after that is done can you bring the whole group together to discuss the combined appraisal. A post appraisal discussion group session is optional and should depend upon there being available time. The making of the written appraisal in itself is the most valuable part of the process for the trainees. If the training has too many debriefings, it becomes too repetitious. Bringing in the outside PRA/PAR specialist can be done before or after the tour.

Community Action Plan and Project Design

Among residents in many (especially rural) communities, and among mobilisers without training and experience, there is often a confusion between action plan and community project. That is because in many community development activities historically, the development officers did all the planning, and the community members were only called out to provide the free labour. For similar reasons, there is often opposition to community work especially in former colonies, because so called community development turned out to be a form of forced, even slave, labour.

You need to ensure that your trainees get the message to the community members that if they want a clinic, or school or water point, or if they want to effectively control house owners to rent at fair rents, then it is the community members who must be organised and do the planning, not the community worker. Since it is not easy to get community residents to take responsibility and to get the planning job done, there is a big temptation to the mobiliser to simply take over and do it.


When you start this session, you can continue on from the large role play session you started with selecting the executive. Some of the roles you can change. We hope that the community chose the old illiterate women over the educated non member, so those trainees can be given new roles. The individuals with vested interests and desires to manipulate the process for their own agenda will continue their activities, so keep them, and also perhaps add a few more with other desires.

One new role can be someone who, for whatever reason, is opposed to the whole process of community empowerment, and who insists that they should wait until the government (or an aid agency) does everything for them. In real life, the ones who oppose such community participation are those who benefit from the way things were done in the past. They may be local leaders or officials who gain votes or career promotions by providing services to the people instead of strengthening the people to do things for themselves.

This time you seat the executive committee at a table at the front of the room, and the rest of the trainees are told they are members of the community who are not part of the executive. They can observe the meeting of the executive, and they know that, unless a member of the executive tells them what is going on, they do not know what decisions are taken by the executive. The executive must decide if and when they will tell the general public what they have decided. From time to time, a member of the general community goes to the table at the front and asks to be heard by the executive, and argues in favour of one decision or another. These include people who have the advancement of the community as a whole at heart, and to others who have their own personal agendas.

In the first stage of the process, the executive must make a community plan. Arbitrarily set this as a five year plan for them. The plan should be based on the four questions in the handouts. You can put a big poster on the wall, listing the four key questions. It need not be done professionally. The plan may include one or more community project. It might include non material projects such as a literacy programme.

You might want to add another role (with advisers) of regional or provincial planners. They will insist that the community conform to the plans of their larger area, while the executive argues that the larger area must be sensitive to the desires of the communities, if they want to behave in a democratic manner. The dynamics of such a dialogue can be the basis of a role play game of an hour, and you may want to interrupt the role play here to discuss the implications of this in plenary.

After you finish the session on making a community action plan, take a break. The action itself is the training and it is not really necessary to have a debriefing yet. This is a good time to show a movie or a video, then break for lunch or until tomorrow. The session on designing a community project is similar to that of making a plan. You may want to rotate persons in the various roles to give everyone a different experience, and increase awareness among the trainees about the various players in real life. If you want to use more handouts than are found in this module, there is a whole module dedicated to project design. See: Project Design.

Organising for Action

This final document in the module is aimed at telling the trainees that an organisation must have a clearly identified purpose, and that purpose must dictate its structure or manner of how it is organised. In several places on this web site, it is emphasised that the degree of organisation of a group is a factor that contributes to its strength. It is one of the sixteen factors of capacity. See Measuring Empowerment.

If the trainees are young and in good physical shape, which they should be, then you can use a team sport game to illustrate this. Discuss it with the trainees in detail. Set up a short inning of football or handball. Choose two sides of equal numbers, and of equal (so far as you know) level of skills and strength. One group is organised into different team positions, including coach, goalie, defences and right, centre and left forwards. The other group is strictly informed that they may not be organised, that every team member must play all positions, and that the non player (coach) may not give them any guidance. Play the game. The game should be very imbalanced.

Then end the game after a short time and discuss the organisation of each team with the group as a whole. Many community members will assume that the only organising they must do is to organise an executive. They often overlook the notion that they must also organise something to ensure the project is undertaken and completed. The implementing organisation can be a sub committee of the executive. It can include some of the same members, and some others.

The purpose of the executive is to make decisions, such as what direction the community is going, and how it will get to where it wants. The purpose of the implementing committee is to get the project done. The two organisations have two different purposes, therefore two different sets of roles. This means that the community members must make themselves aware of what different activities will constitute the successful completion of the projects.

When creating positions or roles on the implementing committee, they do not set up an organisation designed for decision making, but the roles much each be for completing the project. It is organising for action. There are many details to be accomplished before a project is completed, they must identify them and determine who is to do each.

The project design, then, should include a description of various roles and the outcomes that are the responsibility of each role. The implementing committee should meet more frequently than the executive committee during project implementation (eg construction), and each member with a designated responsibility should report on the degree to which their responsibilities are carried out.

You may wish to continue with the role play session for making a community action plan, and designing the project, with a further session, setting up a committee organised for action, completing the project, in contrast to the executive committee, designed for making or channelling community decisions. There are various ways you can integrate the sessions, and it is up to you (perhaps you in consultation with the trainees) to decide how it should be done.


With these five modules, and this one (organising) in particular, you should be able to take people who are not organisers, and turn them into organisers.

It should also be a self selection process, allowing for individuals who see what is needed and are not willing or able to do the required, to have an opportunity to gracefully and quietly drop out.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.09.29

 Home page

 Getting organized