Thorough preparation of the training is crucially important. It mostly revolves around creating the training programme and detailed development of the workshops. However, before that can start, the members of the team should focus on each other and work on team building, especially if they have not worked together previously. Before developing the workshops, you need to have all the necessary information about the participants and the venue.
Preparations are usually done immediately before or up to a month before the training. The optimal preparation time for a ten-day training is three to five days, depending on how much the team has worked together before.
Preliminary Steps in Training Preparation
During preparations, it is necessary to discuss the training team, especially if not all the members know each other from before: how we will work together (agreement on cooperation); the differences between our approaches; our approach towards the upcoming training; any prior frozen conflicts or awkwardness; the expectations we have of each other; our needs in terms of cooperation; what kind of support we each need; how we react to stress; what we consider our strengths and our weaknesses; what we are particularly good at; the topics we are less confident about; anything else in the work that may make us feel insecure or unmoored; which activities we prefer; whether the team count on our mental presence throughout the training or whether there any difficulties that may distract us and affect our concentration; our fears, etc.
Before preparing the workshops, the team should review the training objectives. If the objectives were set by the organiser, it is necessary to make sure that everyone on the team understands them clearly. It is important to assess how realistic they are and warn the organiser about any unrealistic expectations. It is also advisable to ask the organiser to point out their main expectations of the training team.
When creating the programme, it is best to start with what we want to achieve in the training and note down the priority topics and issues.
If the training team did not participate in selecting the training participants and if they have not received information about the group they will be working with beforehand, this is the latest moment by which they should have such information and get to know the specificities of the group as best they can. At a minimum, they should have the following information:
- How big will the group be?
- Which area are the people from?
- What are their professions?
- How many men, how many women?
- What is the age range?
- Does the group of participants include members of minority or marginalised groups?
- Why do they want to participate in the training?
- Who selected them and how?
- Were any of the participants delegated for the training?
- How was the training presented to them beforehand?
- Do (any of) the participants know each other already?
- Is it possible that someone may feel unsafe at the venue of the training?
- Are there are persons with disabilities? Do they need the help of a personal assistant? Does the person have a personal assistant? If not, has the organiser provided one? Will the personal assistant attend the workshops? Do they want to participate?
- What is their previous experience with similar training?
- Are there people who are not native speakers of the working language? What is their proficiency in the working language?
- Are there people from the same organisation but from different positions in the hierarchy?
- Any other specificities?
The preparations are also the last moment when the training team should receive information about the training venue. It is important to know the following: Will all the participants feel equally safe at the venue? Is the workspace suitable for training? Is it quiet enough that we will be able to hear each other? Is the space big enough so that we can set up chairs in a circle? Is there enough daylight? Will it be possible to work outdoors, weather permitting? Is there an additional workroom or space that we could use from time to time for small groups? Are there any difficulties with the venue? If a coffee/tea break is organised, will the coffee/tea be served in the working space or elsewhere? Does the space have technical facilities to show a film or brief presentation? What is the floor like, and can people sit on it? Can flipchart paper be attached to the walls? It is best to have as much information as possible beforehand in order to be able to anticipate potential difficulties and challenges, rather than being confronted with unexpected problems once the training is under way.
When choosing the training venue, apart from making sure that all the participants will be likely to feel safe there and that we have the necessary facilities, we also make sure that it is not in a large city with a lot going on, or a tourist destination at the height of the season, because we want the participants to be able to focus on the work. We also avoid places that are very remote. Experience tells us that apart from the training venue, we will also need access to other facilities such as shops, a pharmacy, somewhere to go for coffee or for a walk, etc. We use very remote places only if they have all the necessary facilities and if the participants know each other from before.
Workshop Structure and Schedule
The usual daily schedule at training organised by the CNA is:
09.30 – 13.00 Morning workshop
13.00 – 16.30 Lunch Break
16.30 – 20.00 Afternoon workshop
This is the optimal schedule for longer courses of training (seven or more days), but for shorter courses the lunch break can be curtailed.
Midway through each workshop there will be a coffee/tea break of 20 to 30 minutes. Each workshop lasts about three and a half hours, including the break.
Morning workshops start with the morning circle. The morning circle is an important element of the training. It gives everyone an opportunity to say how they are and share important information. The training team use the morning circle to get a better sense of where people are at, what the level of energy for work is in the group, whether there are any difficulties or anything else that needs to be addressed. The morning circle is followed by a warm-up game to get everyone awake, laughing, whatever that moment calls for. We then move on to the exercises dealing with the workshop’s topic. Each workshop includes two to five exercises,* sometimes more if they are shorter exercises that do not require long evaluations.
It may go without saying, but we will point out just in case: workshop “exercises” are significantly different from “games”. Sometimes people call everything that is done as part of the workshop “games”, but a clear distinction should be made. “Games” are used for warming up, waking up, creating an atmosphere or boosting concentration, while exercises are followed by an evaluation, they have a more complex structure and their purpose is to gain new knowledge or skills, even when they involve “role play”.
Afternoon workshops usually begin with a game and end with an evaluation of the day. It is important not to skip the evaluation of the day and to leave enough time for it. The purpose is for the participants and training team to review the working day: how they feel at the end of the day, what left the deepest impression, any difficulties that need to be addressed, how satisfied they are with the methods, whether they want to share something with everyone, whether they have a message for the training team, etc. You don’t have to go through all these questions every day, but everyone should have the opportunity to have a say about what they find most important. The evaluation of the day can also be used to discuss some of the following questions: What new thing did you learn today? What was difficult? What was the most interesting? What was useful? What will you continue thinking about?
If the workshop runs over time and it seems to you that people are too exhausted to evaluate the day, you can do the evaluation the following day during morning circle. This should not be standard practice, though.
The lunch break is longer than is common at other training and seminars. However, the lunch break fills a variety of functions and is much more necessary than it may seem at the beginning. When the workshops are well under way and starting to get intensive, this down-time becomes very useful, both for the participants and the training team. And if rest is not sorely needed, the breaks can be used to get to know each other better, spending time in smaller groups, going for walks together, etc. The training team often use this break for additional consultations, especially when they need to change the prepared programme because more important issues and processes have come to light.
Example of the Peacebuilding Training Concept
One of our customary peace education programmes is the Basic Training in Peacebuilding. Since the establishment of the CNA, we have organised over 40 such courses. Each training course was different, primarily because the group of participants was always different, as well as the composition of the training team, but also because the socio-political circumstances have changed over time. The choice and order of topics have differed significantly between the first few training courses and the most recent ones. The things that have remained the same are that the first session (workshop) is always concerned with getting to know each other, the first part of the training focuses on cooperation and teamwork, and the last session of the training is devoted to evaluation.
This programme has eight full working days and one free day right in the middle of the training. Training that lasts this long must have a free day. Even a day with no workshops is still fully used for the benefit of the training, because often the whole group will take a field trip together with the training team, or the day is used for rest and individual conversations with people. The training team will also use it to do a midpoint evaluation, reviewing what has been done and what still needs to be done and to plan the second part of the training.
Once the training team has listed all the topics and major issues to be tackled at the workshops, it is useful to sequence them and define the time needed for each: will a certain topic require one or two sessions (workshops) or just half a session? Workshops are generally prepared in the order in which they will be conducted at the training.
When preparing a workshop, the focus should be on the defined workshop objectives and main issues to be tackled. Then, methods and exercises that can meet the defined objectives and open up the main issues are determined. It is not generally useful to first determine the exercise, no matter how exciting or impressive it may be, and only then go on to define the objectives and main issues of the workshop. This can lead to exercises defining the programme instead of the trainers, and it runs the risk of trainers losing sight of what the workshop was meant to achieve, especially if the exercise does not work out and fails to encourage the participants to deal with the issues.
When selecting methods and exercises, in addition to assessing whether they are suited to the given objectives and issues, it is also important to take into account the following: To what extent are the methods suited to the group, their previous experience, age range and other characteristics? Will the methods encourage the participants to explore different solutions or do they ask for just one “correct” solution? Are the methods diverse? Do the methods involve only verbal communication? Are the methods conducive to equal participation? Is the whole workshop set up as a plenary discussion, or will there be changes to the dynamics? Has enough small group work been planned? Is there a logical sequence to the issues that are opened up? What kind of response do we expect from the group? Do we expect emotional reactions from the participants? If so, have we planned enough time for the necessary processes and evaluation of the exercise? If we expect tension within the group, how will we deal with it? When should we plan a break? If the participants are supposed to work in small groups, how will they be split into the groups? Should we do games and when? Does the choice of methods fit into the given time frame? Should we prepare written materials for the workshop, theoretical summaries, readers, and which ones?
People with less training experience often fall into the trap of designing elaborate exercises, thinking this is expected of them. There is no need to get overly creative with the choice of methods. If the focus is placed on creativity, the content can easily get sidelined, and then it turns out that everyone had a really nice time at the workshop, but no one is quite clear about what they were doing or why. Having fun is not a good enough reason to organise a whole training and invest all that energy and resources, nor is a feeling of satisfaction (high spirits) on the part of the participants necessarily an indicator of how successful the workshop was.
Once the workshop is planned and set up, the training team should do some additional preparation: Who would like to run the workshop? Does anyone have any difficulty with the workshop/any of the exercises/specific issues or any other insecurities?
If it has not been done beforehand, the preparation should also be used to distribute the roles in the team: who will be leading, who will be providing support and how, who will be in charge of the protocol and putting together the documentation, who will be responsible for specific administrative tasks, etc.
The agreed programme must be printed out on paper. Also, don’t forget to make a list of materials needed and agree on who will procure them.
We have a flexible approach where the training team prepares detailed plans of workshops for the first few days of the training and only a framework plan for the remaining days that consists of the objectives and main issues or ideas about what we would like to do. The first two or three days of the training are used to get to know the group better, their interests and affinities, to identify theexisting taboos and not which questions are easier to deal with and which are more difficult. After that, taking into account all these observations, the team prepares the remaining workshops on the spot, trying to keep up with the needs of the specific group as much as possible. For those who do not have a lot of training experience, this approach can be too demanding, because the workshops are mostly prepared in the evening for the next working day. However, after gaining some experience, skills and confidence, this approach is far more productive because the programme is tailored to the particular group of participants and not some notional average group (which doesn’t exist, by the way – each group is unique).