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Writeshops

The need to share experiences

Development workers all over the world are faced with unique challenges on a daily basis. To help the poor rid themselves of the menace of poverty requires an adjustment of approaches to suit a particular environment. Some approaches work and others fail. But sometimes one never gets ample information on what has worked in what circumstances to enable the development of more cost-effective programs. Additionally, field studies take place in diverse locations. Findings do not usually get known as widely as possible. Field workers need to be kept aware of new approaches, methodologies and technologies. They need information from their peers. In many cases, publications have been written by experts or academics who may not themselves be active field based practitioners, mainly because the field workers are usually either too busy or too shy to document their experiences.

On the other hand, several development agencies struggle with the dilemma of taking a stance on their own – especially around thematic areas or issues that can best be analysed collectively rather than as an individual or an organisation. In this era of dwindling development assistance resources, donor nations and agencies need documentary evidence of impact of development assistance. This may not be generated from financial reports, but rather from serious reflection on impact. Also, lots of resources are spent on ‘re-inventing the wheel’ through field studies and pilot projects that may not work. Learning from experiences elsewhere may be helpful. Furthermore, new field workers graduating from colleges need materials to ‘induct’ them into the field. Those working in the field are in constant need of vital information on best practices that can help them become more efficient.

 

ILRT’ niche

Institute of Livelihood Research and Training (ILRT) takes seriously the documenting of experiences / best practices in all realms of rural development and particularly around Livelihood promotion. A participatory workshop process (also known as writeshops) pioneered by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (Philippines) and tested for over 20 years in over a hundred workshops has led to the production of that many titles. ILRT itself has engaged itself in several writeshops and has produced more than 200 case studies among other things.

 

The participatory workshop process

To prepare for the workshop, a steering committee lists potential topics and invites resource persons to develop first drafts on each topic based on guidelines provided. This process is the key to the quality of the final product. Participants bring the drafts and various reference materials to the workshop.

The resulting publications are simple, user friendly and of very high quality (see example in Annex 1).

During the workshop, each participant presents his or her draft paper using an LCD projection. Copies of each draft are also given to all participants, who critique and suggest revisions. What is unique is that the papers are read verbatim – the idea being that the reader will not have the writer to explain what he meant. It is therefore very important not to get into lengthy explanations (like usually done over a powerpoint presentation) but rather read the script ‘word by word’.

The writeshop also brings in a set of ‘English editors’ who are ideally non-technical people – the idea being that the writing should follow a layman’s style rather than that of a subject matter specialist, which in turn allows people at all levels (from grassroots worker to a policy maker) to understand the concepts well.

After each presentation, an editor, who is assigned to a particular author, helps revise and edit the draft. This is based on the constructive criticism that is received immediately after the presentation.

Likewise, based on the discussion and agreements during the deliberations, an artist prepares illustrations to accompany the text. In some cases the publication can decide to have artwork as well as pictures, either or both.

Again, a set of experienced desktop publishers work on the draft and artwork to produce a second draft – this being laid out exactly as the publication layout is envisaged to be. Each participant then presents the revised draft to the group again using LCD projection but this time in the format it is going to be published. The audience once again critiques and makes further suggestions.

The draft is thus revised further to generate the third draft. Towards the end of the workshop, the third draft is made available for all participants again for final comments and revisions. A skilled editor then puts all final drafts together into a publication. The workshop usually last anywhere between a few days to two weeks, and has a neat mix of professionals on the topic, community workers and other related practitioners.

 

Advantages of the workshop approach

  • First hand experiences are written about by the field workers themselves. This makes the document authentic, but simple as opposed to some academic publications that field workers may find difficult to understand and use.
  • There is both peer and audience pre-testing through the process.
  • It gives an opportunity for the field workers, who would otherwise have no time and means or even the skills, to write on pertinent issues and present case studies from their field work.
  • In some cases where the publication is envisaged to be more conceptual than factual (i.e., case studies), this process is about the best as it allows for practitioners to come together and ‘think together’.
  • It also allows the point of views of a variety of practitioners ranging from NGOs, academe, governments, researchers, field practitioners, policy makers, etc. – all sitting in one workshop and collectively agreeing on principles, concepts and approaches.
  • The above allows for non-biased publications that are very well accepted by various sectors.
  • The process also encourages to bring in major players in the thematic area in question to come up with a joint publication thereby increasing the ownership and eventually the readership of the publication.
  • It takes a short time to produce such valuable publications.
  • The diversity of skills, experiences and organizational backgrounds make for a broad mix of important ideas

 

Schematic representation of the process

Pre workshop_1

 

 

During_workshop_2

 

 

Post Workshop_3

 

 

Note:

After each day’s presentation, 6.30 pm onwards, the presenters, editors, artists, desktop staff and technical team work towards a second draft of the above presentations until dinner time, and if needed, beyond it (yes, we will need to work beyond dinner!!!)

The presenters will read out the presentations verbatim and no explanations are expected (until the time of Q & A / critiquing)

So, while we allocate 45 minutes each for first drafts, we will need only 30 minutes each for 2nd draft presentations. So here goes the formula:

Total number of days required for the writeshop = days for 1st draft + days for 2nd draft

OR

Total # of case studies Total # of case studies

————————- + ——————————-

9-10 first drafts / day 14-16 second drafts / day

 

For example, if we plan to have, say, 30 cases/articles, given that we will work 8 hours each day (930am — 130 pm and 230 — 630 pm), we will be able to have about ten papers presented (@ 45 minutes each for first drafts). This means that all first drafts will be done in 3 days. For the second drafts, @ 8 hours each day, we should be able to finish all papers (@ 30 minutes each) in two days. This totals to five days. However, we can also plan to have the fourth day (between first and second drafts) to have a collective think tank exercise and come up with additional articles for the publication. This is best done after going through all the first drafts (stand-alone papers) to come up with an overview on what all the papers collectively mean.

If we want to reduce the number of writeshop days, let us get the first draft in a stage where reading verbatim takes only 15 minutes and critiquing another 15. That way we can have second draft time-per-case come down to 10 minutes reading plus 10 minutes critiquing.

For a publication with about 30 plus articles, it is best to have three to four ‘English editors’, two desktop staff and one good artist.

Special Note: If you have read this description well, I am sure you have questions. Please ask away!