What I learned from running three participatory scenario analysis workshops in the drylands of northern Kenya

25 May 2017 - 14:30

By Mark Tebboth, University of East Anglia

Older women group in Kina facilitated by Oliver Wasonga

In Kenya in late April and early May, the University of East Anglia, the University of Nairobi and Oxfam delivered three Participatory Scenario Analysis (PSA) workshops to rural communities in the drylands of northern Kenya.

In this case, we were interested in the issue of pasture scarcity and exploring what impact four different management approaches could have on the lives of the participants and their communities. So, what did I learn…?

What is Participatory Scenario Analysis?

PSA is a novel and deliberative process that has three overarching goals that address a research need, a research into use ambition and a desire to empower participants. Fundamentally, the process is about working with marginalised people that have traditionally not been able or given an opportunity to think through and voice their opinions on issues or challenges that affect their daily lives and livelihoods.

During the PSA, and over a two-stage process, stakeholders are guided through an exploration of the positive and negative trade-offs associated with different scenarios or visions of the future. Stakeholders are engaged in separate workshops so as to better explore and deliberate group-specific challenges.

The right method for the right people

Within any place and in any community, there will be those that are wealthier, have higher levels of education, are more comfortable offering their views and opinions in public fora, and are more used to being heard and listened to. The PSA process is not designed for those people. Instead, the PSA targets communities that have not been well-represented in decision-making and policy processes, or those communities that are present but largely ignored. And, within those communities, the PSA works with individuals that aren't the ‘usual suspects’, that aren’t the people good at talking in large groups, that aren’t people who have experienced workshops before, and that aren't village elders, chiefs and people with power and influence. Through the PSA process, we wanted to reach those that haven’t had a voice, that are overlooked, whose opinions, whilst valid, are not heard.

Mark Tebboth from the University of East Anglia goes through a set of four visual scenarios

Out of our three PSA workshops, the most successful was the one in which we were able to get more of the ‘right’ sort of people. In this workshop in Kachiuru, the activities we had designed, redesigned, piloted and endlessly refined worked as intended, the timings were about right and the level of engagement was better than expected. On Day 1 of our workshop here, the activities focused on introducing the concepts and issues in a simple, stepwise fashion. The activities proved to be accessible and provided enough time for the participants to feel comfortable with them. On Day 2, we brought the concepts and issues we had discussed on Day 1 to enable the participants to analyse a significant problem they face in their lives and livelihoods. The participants clearly valued the opportunity to voice their opinions and think in a way that they had possibly not done previously. The local facilitators reported that, for this workshop, they had to work harder to get people to offer opinions and that when those opinions were offered they were (sometimes) not as cogently delivered when compared to the other workshops. These are the people we want to and should be working with.

Conversely, in the other workshops, some of the activities on Day 1 took much less time than anticipated as the general level of education, familiarity with some of the concepts, experience of attending workshops helped the participants to ‘get’ the essence of the activity more quickly.

Older women group in Kina facilitated by Oliver Wasonga

Lesson 1: Pitching the workshop at the right level helps the right people to engage

The right method for the wrong people?

For all the workshops, we were reliant on community mobilisers or local ‘fixers’ to identify participants and get them to the workshop on time. We visited each location prior to the workshop to scope out the venue and to talk with our local contact to explain the number and type of people we wanted. We were after four groups of five or six people, differentiated along the lines of gender and age. In practice that meant a group of older women and a group of older men (approximately 50 years or older) and a group of younger women and a group of younger men (less than 35 but older than 20 years). In addition to these criteria, we also wanted those who were not the people of influence, not the most educated and literate and not the most wealthy. In Kachiuru, this worked well (as outlined above) but in the other two locations it was less successful. In one location, at the beginning of the first day, we had a chief and two sheikhs! So, when we come to analyse the material, we obviously need to be conscious of who is saying what and recognise the power relations that were at play.

Despite this, disaggregating along the lines of age and gender meant that for all workshops we were able to talk to younger women and older women as well as younger men, people that on the whole are less visible than the village elders. Getting the right people to attend, especially when we don’t want the usual suspects proved surprisingly difficult.

Staline Kibet and Mau Bakari (University of Nairobi) facilitating a group discussion

Lesson 2: Try to cultivate a local mobiliser who really understands what and why you are trying to achieve, this will help when mobilising participants for the workshop.

Planning for and prioritising the key activities

The workshops were run over two days. Day 1 was designed to introduce to the participants the key ideas and concepts that we would be working with on Day 2. Day 2 was the most important day in terms of working with the participants to analyse the scenarios, express preferences for specific scenarios, and explore some of the barriers and enablers that would help or hinder the realisation of a preferred scenario.

We developed the PSA method over about six months; it underwent a number of iterations, received comments from a range of people, was piloted, revised and re-revised. This process enabled us to refine the method so that Day 1 was not too onerous and tiring. Day 2 began with the most important exercise and the freshness of the participants really showed in terms of the level of engagement, depth of conversation and their stamina to talk about different scenarios over a two-hour period (although broken up with a tea break).

The benefit of trying to not do too much to ensure the key activities had the best chance of success was brought home when we unexpectedly had to provide a three-hour window for Friday prayer, or push back the lunch break because the freshly slaughtered goat would not be cooked in time. This meant that we had to completely rearrange the day’s activities to make sure they were balanced well given the differences in participant energy in the morning versus the late afternoon – a reshuffle that would not have been possible if the schedule was too busy.

Women’s group getting ready for the equidistant energiser on Day 2

Lesson 3: Judicious scheduling, leaving good time for discussion and breaking up important activities maintains energy levels and input.

Timing is everything (Sic)

For any workshop, I like to make sure all of my preparation is done in advance and I get to the venue nice and early to set up. Despite this desire, and assurances from many people who ‘knew the route’ categorically stating that our journey from a town called Isiolo to a smaller town called Kinna would take no more than an hour and a half, we were late. Not just a little bit late but spectacularly late. The initial plan was to leave at 6:00 in the morning to arrive at Kinna at 7:30. This got pushed back to 6:30 which quickly turned into a little after 7:00 by the time everyone was ready and the vehicles had been fuelled. Factor in a break to buy batteries for the voice recorders (don’t ask), a group mentality (think herding cats) and pick-ups which seemed to travel up hills at a pace no faster than a gentle jog you can imagine that we were already pushed for time. Finish with a road so pot-holed that, at times, the cars were driving on the tracks at the side of the road and the pedestrians were occupying the middle of the road, and you can get the picture. We arrived after 10:00 to a room in which most of the participants were already waiting for us to get going – it felt very chaotic and rushed.

Lesson 4: Unless you wish to challenge cultural preconceptions, always allow much more time than estimated to get to a training venue, it takes longer than you think.

Small groups, big groups, it doesn't matter

One of the first activities of the workshop is a series of short discussions in which the participants respond to different questions and form new groups for each question. The activity is designed to be high-energy, to get the participants talking, help them to relax and to mix people up so they get out of their social groupings. In all three workshops the participants ‘refused’ to cooperate. By that I mean small groups became large groups, groups did not change, feedback did not happen, or when it did happen it was in a very detailed way that lasted a long time. Although I was initially disappointed that the activity did not pan out as intended in terms of process, the engagement with the questions and the energy that this created served just as well.

A picture showing about 60% of Kulamawe, some school buildings are visible in the foreground on the left

Lesson 5: The rapid-fire small group work sometimes does not work, but good questions do the job just as well.

Brief does not always mean brief

All the workshops were conducted in kiBorana. To facilitate this process, we worked with eight local research assistants fluent in kiBorana, kiSwahili and English. Many of the main activities in the workshop were conducted in socially-differentiated groups of older men, younger men, older women and younger women. At the end of these activities, we held plenary sessions so each of the groups could report back. The reporting was undertaken by one of the facilitation team to avoid any issues that can occur particularly with younger women standing up and addressing a larger group that contains older men.

In the first workshop, the feedback from the facilitators was long. During these sections, you could almost see the energy draining out of the participants. In the second workshop, we really emphasized to the local research assistants the importance of keeping the feedback brief and punchy, this helped to shorten the feedback to some extent. By the third workshop we were asking for just one or two notable points of discussion and this seemed about right – the reporting was short, focused and the participants remained engaged.

Lesson 6: Structure the feedback so it succinct and to the point to keep energy levels up.

Culturally neutral participatory games and activities

Over the course of the pilot and the three workshops we used a variety of different participatory activities to help people mix with each other, to find out information about the participants, to energise people and to undertake simple evaluations. Whilst some of the exercises worked well others did not fit with the culture of the place and the participants. For example, an evaluation exercise called ‘Answer with your feet’ resulted in all of the participants giving the workshop and its various elements a unanimous ‘thumbs up’: a result that, whilst superficially reassuring, indicates that perhaps they were providing answers that we, as the organisers, wanted to hear. In another example, the ‘Equidistant exercise’ (in which people are encouraged to move around by trying to keep one other participant between them and someone else), resulted in a very static exercise with some token pushing and shoving in the male group and, for the women, everyone walking round in a circle. This was not the intended outcome!

Conversely, other activities such as the ‘1-2-3’ energiser in which pairs of participants count-up to three in different ways proved very entertaining and really helped to get people’s energy levels up in preparation for the afternoon session. Similarly, the ‘Thinking on your feet’ introductory activity in which people respond to simple yes or no questions by moving worked very well. It helped to mix people up, it got them moving and it also provided valuable insights for us as we were able to ascertain who had participated in a workshop or visited Nairobi, for example. Lastly, the local research assistants were very enthusiastic for a song and in all three workshops we used this to help kick start the second day. For me, it was very enjoyable and, whilst I ended up singing about ‘gummy bears’, which I am fairly sure was not the proper lyrics, everyone participated and it really helped to breakdown some of the barriers between the participants and the facilitators.

Lesson 7: Activities won’t necessarily travel across cultures, draw on local advice and input. Focus on those that do work, be prepared to ditch those that don’t.

Where do we go from here?

Our more immediate plans are for another two workshops: one with civil society organisations and the other with local government, followed by a period of analysis. Our analysis will focus on the perceived advantages and disadvantages of each of the scenarios and how these vary between the different groups that participated in the workshops: socially-differentiated groups at a community level, and civil society organisations and local government at the county level. Following the analysis, a final round of two workshops will be held in late 2017 and early 2018 in which we bring representatives from the different workshops together to explore ways in which the findings from this work can be used to positively influence policy and practice locally and nationally for the betterment of lives and livelihoods in dryland areas of Kenya.