Monday, 31 January 2011

Stepping-out Prostitution: Supporting young women to reclaim their rights and change their lives

Mudando de Vida/Cambio de Vida: Aprender de Programas que Apoyan a la Salida del Trabajo Sexual Comercial de Mujeres y Menores en América Latina. Programa de las Religiosas Adoratrices -Bolivia, Sodireitos –Brasil/Surinam y Tesis –Nicaragua con financiamiento externo del Gobierno Neerlandesa a través de ICCO& Kerk in Actie.

Since early 2010 three ICCO/KiA partners have access to specially earmarked funding from the Dutch government (made available to implement the motion Van Staay/CU) to address the needs of children exploited in commercial sex trade and support women who - voluntarily - wish to leave prostitution. In the Cambio de Vida project TESIS, in Managua-Nicaragua, Sodireitos in Belem-Brazil and the Sisters Adoratrices in Bolivia draw on their experience and research and are engaged in a systematic process of collaborative learning-by-doing. Early March 2011 staff from the three organizations will come together at an learning event hosted by the Adoratrices. Together they will share their experiences and the lessons they learned over the past year(s).
And they have a quite some experience, very diverse experiences. TESIS supports - mostly young – women that, as they phrase is – are in a situation of prostitution. Where the women work may actually vary from an upscale nightclub via low-end bars to the street of the city of Managua and though their situation has some communalities there are also vast differences between these women. Sodireitos works with (young) women that have been, or are at risk of being trafficked to brothels in Surinam. Sodireitos applies a rights-based approach and – working together with its Surinam counterparts - aims to support women so they can actually claim their (socio-economic, sexual and other) rights, including the rights they have as workers and migrants. The Sisters Adoratrices generally label their target group as “women and children that are prostituted”. A large part of their work is dedicated to attend to minors – as young as 13 years old – that are a brought to their care, often by the police with whom they also work to ensure the treatment by the authorities does not further traumatize these children. In their work in support of prostituted women, the Adoratrices also coordinate with local organizations that defends the rights of commercial sex workers.

The main goal for the regional event in March will be learn and share experiences. High on the agenda will be how to improve our monitoring and learning. Much information is gathered to be able to report and comply with the need for transparency, but how can we make use of this information and learn and actually improve our practice on the ground? For example, while we may know how many women participated in a particular event, do we also know which women did or did not complete their courses and why? And what does that mean for how we work? Besides monitoring practices and learning, another important agenda item will be the issue of trafficking, which – with the borders opening up more every day in Central and South America - is a common concern

Civil society is diverse and approaches to sexual exploitation and commercial sex work vary broadly. Even the actual words used to talk about what whom we work with and what we do, carry political and moral connotations. In this ICCO/Kerk in Actie program the focus is on acknowledging such diversity and drawing on that diversity, promoting effectiveness and learning to capitalize on all the energies and strengths of civil society.

The regional program event is scheduled for 28 February – 3 March in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Participation is by invitation only. If you are interested in more information on the program or the event please let us know by posting a comment.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

ComPart Evaluation - Three key roles to support collaboration and learning

We are still thinking through the implications of the recent ComPart evaluation, first announced on this blog, We know it wasn't the perfect time, given the changes the ICCO Alliance has been going through lately, but if you have been able to contribute to the evaluation in one way or another, we really want to thank you for your time and effort.

One of the suggestions of the evaluation team was to develop and work with three key roles (though not necessarily three distinct people) to support this way of working. If you're somewhat familiar with ComPart, you probably know the ComPart admin team (based in Europe) relies heavily on the continuous efforts of the ComPart ambassadors (personnel of the regional offices) and the ComPart enablers (web 2.0 and collaboration experts in the regions).

The evaluation suggests working with three 'roles':
converer - technology steward - facilitator
The evaluation team suggest a somewhat different constitution of the roles: conveners, facilitators and technology stewards. The conveners are the ones that bring people together and they make sure that there is trust among the group. The facilitators focus on the processes and the activities that come with it. The technology stewards, in their turn, will assist the group on technological issues, but without loosing the community perspective.

We believe that these three key roles can have a big impact on the adoption and implementation of new ways of working where collaboration and learning are vital. When looking back at our own experiences with ComPart, we have seen several examples of how this can work in practice.

One such case was when ComPart went global for the first time. During the Conference on Informal Education and Literacy in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) several sessions were to be held in which the participants would be introduced to ComPart with exercises to get acquainted with this new way of working. The very first day of the conference, however, the people who had organised the workshop came to us with a problem. During the presentations, the three countries had so many interesting questions about the others' programmes that they needed to spend at least an additional two hours to this session, which, in turn, would seriously mess up the schedule. So we were asked if ComPart couldn't solve this urgent problem. And it could...

We quickly created wiki-pages for the questions per country and instead of starting a 'ComPart session', as we had planned, we briefly introduced the event wiki as a way of getting the work at hand (i.e. answering all the questions) done as quickly as possible. So instead of having a seperate ComPart session about wikis, we integrated it in the session Presentations – part 2.

The wiki was used to let the participants of the
different countries asked and answer each others questions
There were several reasons why this worked so well. First of all, we were lucky to have conveners and facilitators like Machteld Ooijens (ICCO) and Tine Veldkamp (IC Consult) present. They knew the group very well, spotted the need for a ComPart intervention and had the authority to suggest and introduce this 'new way of working'. Local enablers Christophe Hien (Burkina Faso) and Oudou Bengaly (Mali) had good knowledge of the ComPart tools but also had a perfect understanding of the local context, the technical difficulties people might encounter during their daily work and they were acquainted with the theme of the conference. The results of this experiment (it was improvised after all) were remarkable. All questions were answered in less than an hour, where it would have taken more than 2 hours to answer them in the 'traditional way'. Everybody had used and contributed to the wiki without it feeling as a burden or something 'extra'. Instead, it was seen as a real time saver and something that helped them get on with the job at hand.

We think this example not only shows the validity of working with conveners, facilitators and technology stewards. It is also linked with other recommendations of the evaluation team, like blending learning with getting work done, create time-delimited experiments or change one thing at a time.

The evaluation has a lot of valuable suggestions for the ICCO way of working. Luckily, we don't have to start from scratch and we can build on previous experiences (successes but also failures) ComPart and ICCO have had. And that's what learning's all about...

Danny Aerts

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Evaluation of ComPart – The real question

As if there wasn’t enough going on in ICCO in the last quarter of 2010, the ComPart evaluation came to a head in December. Marc Coenders and Nancy White, the lead evaluators, held a validation workshop on 9 December 2010 to discuss their findings and the final report was presented to management on 12 December 2010. It was a deep investigation and the findings described in the report are rich, balanced between positive and negative, subtle and far-reaching so it is hard to summarise the main points in a blog post. This is therefore a personal take on the findings, from my own point of view, as both a ComPart admin team member for three years and an independent consultant with experience in KS and the use of digital technology to support the work of development organisations.

A storm tossed cork

In terms of context the report acknowledges that ICCO has been through a period of turbulence unrivalled in recent times, one that will unfortunately continue for at least the early part of 2011, and not simply because of the current financial pressures. The longer term change illustrated opposite is about

continuing to move to a more networked organisation at a time when public money is reducing sharply. In that context staff and partners are much less likely to be able to – or want to – prioritise learning about a ‘change project’ such as ComPart, especially one that is associated with a ‘way of working’ that is different to the status quo. ComPart, by definition, is focused on ICCO’s partners and alliance members, which, the report notes, has meant that the ComPart way of working has become associated with the wider changes taking place across ICCO during this period, which in many cases produces negative connotations. This provides a context for the finding that internationally based people generally had more positive views of ComPart and its role than Utrecht based staff. This is despite the fact that, as the report notes, international offices in their set-up phase were generally unable to engage with ComPart as they would have liked to and so the ambition to use ComPart with partners has not yet been achieved.

The ComPart Lab

The report notes early on that, "ComPart turned out to be a laboratory with a series of experiments rather than a project with defined, measurable goals." In terms of evaluating the results and impact of ComPart, the report acknowledges and speaks positively about the range and scale of the work that has been done; the quality of support provided; the continual experimentation and the consequent well documented lessons learnt; and the resultant growth in awareness across ICCO of how digital tools can support business and learning processes. However, the number of active users is still small. This, suggest the evaluators, is a product of the complexity of the ComPart toolset, the difficulty of choosing between or integrating ComPart with corporate IT and Communications tools and the fact that its usage is not seen as an essential part day to day working but as an extra. The one occasion where ComPart was integrated into a core Business Process – the development of the Business Plan – did raise ComPart’s profile and usage of the wiki but also generated a lot of extra work and some confusion as it was introduced rapidly and with inadequate preparation. That example also highlighted one of the key weaknesses raised in the report, that wikis are often difficult to introduce into organisations because a lot of people do not like their structure – or lack of it – and are not comfortable with the way of working they encourage. The ComPart wiki has become a rich source of information and learning but many people are less aware of the other tools in the ComPart toolkit.
Questions to do with ways of working as well as attitudes to technology and information storage or retrieval are central to the report, mainly because the evaluators note that there isn’t a consensus about these issues within ICCO. For example, to some people a wiki is a place to store information and should become as reliable, searchable and up-to-date as other online resources. Other people see a wiki as a dynamic and flexible tool to support collaborative processes and are not rigorous in how information is organised and stored. Wikis, of course, can be used in both ways but the result is an inconsistent collection of material not always accessible to new staff or others not so engaged in the ComPart experiments. At the same time, to many people ComPart was simply the toolkit and the ‘way of working’ which it promoted – and indeed depended on for its success – was not conceptually well understood, perhaps too open and flexible for the current ICCO way of working. This leads to one of the most fundamental findings which is that the questions which are raised in the review are not essentially to do with ComPart but to do with ICCO itself, how the organisation wants to go forward in terms of learning and Knowledge Management. The evaluators suggest the most important questions are about what ICCO wants to do with its learning and knowledge sharing, about what is the ICCO way of working - rather than the ComPart way of working; about how Departments work with each other and how ICCO is going to adapt to its evolution to a networked organisation. They suggest that ICCO should concentrate on thinking about those issues, and then look at what can be learnt from the ComPart programme to support those new ways of working.
A rose by any other name…
Names are important. Marc has some interesting things to say about learning and naming/theory (see blip below). The recognition that ‘ComPart’ has become associated with problematic issues for ICCO staff suggested to the evaluators that, “the ComPart brand carries enough misunderstanding that it could become a liability. We suggest this is a turning point where ComPart becomes the historical name of a period of experimentation and learning”. We need to talk about the “ICCO-Alliance way of working” rather than the “ComPart way of working”.

From pioneering to deploying
In the new decentralised (and down sized) ICCO social media and other digital tools definitely have a role to play. So the pioneering phase is over. The time has come to really deploy and integrate working with digital tools in the organisation its processes as it regionalises. Therefore it is time to launch a new phase, taking into account the experience gained and all lessons learnt from the “ComPart phase”. As well as the ongoing regional office development programmes there are other new initiatives, such as the learning communities programme, which could benefit from that experience. However, the report also suggests that two other key areas of attention. Firstly, ensure that the next phase is integrated within the whole organisational way of working. Secondly, as part of that, there must be smoother and more cooperative relations between directly involved departments (P&D, ICT, Communications) and thereby with all staff within the Alliance.
Pete Cranston
(If you are interested you can ask for a copy of the full report at