Searching for Common Ground in Lebanon: CLA Practices for Peacebuilding

Mar 29, 2016 by Katherine Haugh Comments (0)

Participatory, reflective practices are essential in Search for Common Ground (SFCG)’s work in peace-building. These practices help SFCG teams adapt to rapidly changing contexts and achieve sustainable impacts toward peace. This is especially true in Lebanon, where SFCG projects are addressing ongoing conflict factors, including working through tensions resulting from the influx of Syrian refugees, security sector reform, and women’s socioeconomic empowerment.

On March 10, 2016, I participated in a CLA brown bag hosted by USAID LEARN during which Ella Duncan, Charles Christian, and Morgane Ortmans presented on SFCG’s CLA work in Lebanon. The group began the presentation by emphasizing the critical need for increased monitoring in programs to allow teams to adapt to changing contexts in real-time. The reflection processes employed by the SFCG staff in Lebanon are aimed at making internal changes on an organizational level, and external changes on a partner/donor relational level. Internally, the reflections not only solidify a culture of learning and adapting across projects in Lebanon but also give staff valuable time to reflect on their project-based work. The presenters explained that SFCG staff were shocked to discover the amount of similarity across projects despite the fact that the projects had different goals and staff were working in entirely different contexts. Externally, the CLA events increased collaboration among SFCG staff, local partners, and donors by giving everyone the opportunity to examine the projects holistically, instead of having everyone work in silos. The presenters stressed the value of working on a team where everyone is on the same page and expectations for the outcomes of the project are aligned among staff.  

The reflective sessions relied on brainstorming tools like the ABC Conflict Triangle and the River of Life. The ABC Conflict Triangle is a framework that is used to analyze the negative attitudes behind violent and negative behavior. The River of Life is a visual narrative method that is used to reflect on a project’s past and predict its future and to build a shared view by compiling a range of  differing perspectives. 

The presenters identified a set of “main drivers” behind the culture of collaborative learning at SFCG:

  1. A desire to shift from an output-based approach to an outcome-based approach in the peacebuilding field
  2. A drive to increase the management’s capacity to adapt to changing contexts
  3. A need to create a space where staff, partners, and donors can foster understanding and a shared vision for better results

Ella, Christian and Morgane also shared some tips for instituting reflective learning: 

  1. Make it routine. Similar to going to the gym in January, reflective learning will not happen unless it’s part of your routine. It’s helpful to intentionally set aside time for CLA to make it part of your organization’s culture and routine.  
  2. Make the most of everyone’s time. Everyone’s time is valuable. Make sure the reflective learning process is organized and useful to everyone who is participating so that they feel it’s worth their while and not “just another meeting” they are obligated to attend. 
  3. Make it rain. In order to demonstrate that reflective learning is a priority and a valuable process, it needs to be well-resourced. Having enough resources is also necessary to make sure that the process itself is well-supported and meaningful for all participants. 
  4. Make it count. In order to get people on board, it’s imperative that presenters demonstrate the utility of reflective learning and how participation in the session will be useful to staff in their day to day work.  As Ella Duncan explained during the session, “the focus should be on utility: show how the reflection can help staff make more informed decisions about their projects.” 

From an evaluation perspective, the presenters also stressed the need for evaluators to move beyond pre- and post-evaluations. Evaluations should be structured with timing and appropriateness in mind. Instead of doing an evaluation strictly at the beginning or end of a project, it’s important to consider when an evaluation might have the most utility for program staff and when it might be most appropriate given the ebbs and flows of activity within each team. 

Last but not least, the presenters emphasized the need for “follow through” after reflective learning sessions. As they explained, there is nothing more frustrating than coming together as a team and agreeing that there are certain problems that need to be fixed and then no one taking the initiative to fix those problems or make changes. Even if you are making incremental moves, the presenters suggested keeping your team apprised of your actions with updates on your progress so that they know that their participation in the session has contributed to real action. Good follow through builds credibility for the process of reflective learning itself. Learn more about the session and SFCG’s CLA work in Lebanon here