We have developed an approach to facilitating “Community Conversations” that promotes citizen participation in civil society. The approach provides a safe space for community members to meet other civil society actors and local authorities to identify and seek solutions to their critical development issues. By participating, communities develop the skills and confidence to overcome hierarchies that have traditionally limited their involvement in democratic processes and dictated who has the right to speak. In this way, shared ownership of development initiatives by a broader sector of society is made possible.
A second approach, the “Learning Forum”, builds on many of the same principles as the community conversation to bring together individuals to engage in collaborative problem solving around workplace issues. While each forum always has an overarching focus, the agenda is not overly prescribed. Instead, a series of interactive and creative processes provide space for participants to surface issues that are important to them. The intention is to move participants beyond an expectation of learning led by trainers. In 2010, for example, VBNK facilitated four learning forums for male and female police officers to come together and talk about gender equity in the workplace and how they could contribute positively to issues facing women in the community, such as gender-based violence. Follow-up coaching allowed the officers to engage in real-time solution making. Through the forums, the police officers learned to develop their “response-abilities” to support appropriate gender-focused interventions within their work.