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Bringing diverse stakeholder groups together to find solutions in Armenia

Natalya Harutyunyan & Zhanna Harutyunyan
UNDP Armenia

Project Coordinator, Project Expert

Picture of Critical Tasks List being used
Using Critical Tasks List to outline the resources and capabilities that will be needed to implement solutions

We lead the Women in Local Democracy  project, a three year EU-funded project implemented in partnership with the RA Ministry of Territorial Administration.

The goal of the project is the advancement of gender equality, the strengthening of local democracy and the enhancement of social cohesion within the Republic of Armenia. We approach it through:

 

Problem

We brought together over 50 project beneficiaries – diverse stakeholder representatives – for the first time: women in local government; regional authorities; village mayors; NGOs and journalists. We expected a big challenge with facilitating a multi-stakeholder group to work in collaboration on issues of local governance. We designed a workshop with three sessions to enable frank discussion and experience sharing.

  1. Problem identification – what are the key issues they face in today’s local governance?
  2. Generation of ideas – what are the possible solutions, how can we benefit from innovative approaches?
  3. Capacity gaps – what knowledge, skills and resources we need to bring those solutions to life locally?

 

Why we used the tool

We applied the Problem Definition, Fast Idea Generator and Critical Tasks List in sequence to support each of the workshop sessions.

  • Problem Definition: we used this tool to give stakeholders a helpful framework to express and prioritise the problems that they experience.
  • Fast Idea Generator: we used this as a way to think differently about possible solutions to prototype.
  • Critical Tasks List: was used to structure an action plan or a model


How we used the tool

The workshop was scheduled over 1.5 days (11.5 pure workshop hours in total).

We were careful to identify key stakeholders, as well as UNDP and its partners’ staff as facilitators. We knew that it would be effective to have people that know the issues more deeply and can be skillful in their response.

 

1. Problem Definition

We ran this session for 1 hour, 15 minutes. We had divided the audience into 5 groups and on rotation asked them to identify existing problems in 5 thematic areas of the local democracy:

  • Challenges in electoral processes at the local level for wo/men candidates
  • Interaction between Village/City Mayor and Avagani (community council)
  • Collaboration between local government and central/regional authorities
  • Interaction and work of local government with constituency
  • Partnership of local government with civil society, inter-community organisations and media

 

To avoid duplication and find as many issues as possible, each group was asked to only add new issues when they were passed the list from the previous group. At the end of the exercise, we asked the group to vote one priority issue in each field. This surfaced 5 issues, and we asked people to join a conversation about the one they felt most motivated by. Those most topical five were:

  • Lack of ideological debate during local elections
  • Limitations in Avagani (community council): formation, capacity, proper understanding of role and functions
  • Lack of constructive cooperation between local government, civil society and mass media: lack of formats, existing stereotypes
  • Low engagement of residents in decision-making processes, apathy among people, insufficient efforts by local government
  • Insufficient communication between Avagani with regional and central government over the community issues

 

We used the problem definition tool to go deeper into each issue. In the first column (What is the key issue) we asked the group to describe the issue clearly in 2-3 sentences.

In ‘Who is it a problem for?’ we asked them to focus on primary and secondary target groups that could be affected by a solution.

Columns three and four (social/cultural factors, and evidence) were extremely useful for the group to work through.

With the final column we had some trouble explaining what was required to reframe issues. Instead we focused on looking at issue from a wider angle.

 

2. Fast Idea Generator

We began this session with some overview of social innovation principles and effective approaches to thinking differently about old practice.

We asked the group to write down current solutions that they are aware of – good or bad, effective or less effective – on issues they worked in the previous session. We then encouraged them to step back and to think about some solutions they have witnessed (not necessarily related to the topic they work on) and were inspired by.

Using the Fast Idea Generator template, we ran a brainstorming session to edit, cut and mix the different solutions that were in front of the group. Using the different tactics – we found subtraction and exaggeration difficult – some groups were able to make up to 7 different solutions. A practice shared by a village Mayor – turning the village school into local government and enable the schoolchildren to make decisions in the village for one day – actually was a typical example of inversion, and helped the group in that part of the exercise.

Each group was then asked to develop one possible solution or model from the list and prepare a presentation for the bigger workshop group. We asked them for: the problem; solution; target group; how it would work (visualised); and risks.

 

Picture of Fast Idea Generator being used
Brainstorming with Fast Idea Generator to edit, cut and mix possible solutions

3. Critical Tasks List

We asked the groups to list the resources (human & technical) and capabilities (knowledge & skills) (see attached) that they thought would be needed to implement each proposed solution. As a capacity assessment each group was able to make a clear plan, a set of actions, and a generic budget.

We adapted the tool slightly and used four columns instead of five: Activity – Assigned to – Budget – Timeframe.

 

Results of using the tool

The three tools we used came in handy for the overall logic of our workshop, helped to collect opinions of the participants in a well-structured way, and ensure smooth transition from one section of the workshop to another.

The Problem Definition tool helped to analyse issues much smarter and more deeply. It helped diverse stakeholders find consensus on shared experiences.

Fast Idea Generator was a brilliant tool to shift thinking and find possible solutions to improve old practices.

Critical Tasks List has given clear direction and responsibilities to people.

Representatives of different sectors equally and actively engaged in all the sessions, some parts resulting in heated discussions and clashes of position. However, the groups reached consensus over proposed solutions.

The overall process has helped us to generate some possible solutions/models and with additional scoping work we will identify which of the solutions can feasibly be prototyped. Later this year, we are thinking to open a competition in local districts to implement those particular models.

Beyond that we intend to take up specific issues and run workshops in similar formats in 10 regions of Armenia.

 

Outcomes from the workshop

The group working on “Low engagement of residents in decision-making processes, apathy among people, insufficient efforts by local government” was mostly composed of village mayors. A lively discussion took place and a model emerged on involving community residents in the decision-making process over a reform. The group used a combination of the ‘Integration’, ‘Differentiation’ and ‘Addition’ techniques of the Fast Idea Generator. The model that emerged covers the main communication and argumentation gaps that exist today in many communities.

 

Involving community residents in decision-making process model
Involving community residents in decision-making process model

 

The group working on “limitations in Avagani: formation, capacity, proper understanding of roles and functions” used the Fast Idea Generator, choosing the ‘Grafting’ approach. The group came up with the idea of organising regular Avagani meetings in different public places in the community – parks, schools, cultural places, etc. – causing a “fishbowl” effect, e.g. community residents observing the meeting and discussions. The purpose is to increase the responsibility level of Avagani members towards the decisions made and contribute to transparent and accountable decision-making over community issues. The model will help Avagani members to become better known to the community, develop argumentation and public speaking skills and much more.

The group working on the “lack of ideological debate during local elections” benefited from the ‘Addition’ and ‘Extension’ approaches. They formulated modalities of candidate – voter interaction such as debates around elements of candidates’ programmes on community issues with media coverage. They also came up with the idea of advertising best practices, monitoring the implementation of the pre-election commitment, promoting ‘collaboration’ rather than ‘competition’ in the pre-election campaigns and applying approaches stimulating women to run for local government.

Our project team is planning to reach out to regions of Armenia with some capacity building activities to respond to some of the capacity gaps identified during the workshop. We also plan to coach some of the communities in piloting 2 or 3 of the models, proposed by the working groups. Once we have indication that the models work well and communities are interested to use them on a regular basis, we will consider the replicate the models in more communities.

 

Tips

In the problem definition tool, we would suggest that people provide a tangible example for the re-framing column.

For similar workshops, we would suggest groups of 5-6 people. We were working with groups of 10-12 and it was difficult to capture everyone’s input in the allocated time.

Taken such multi-stakeholder groups rarely meet in similar format we would suggest allocating 20 hours (2 full days) to give the group a better chance to dig deeper into issues and identify more likely solutions.

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