Since facilitators play an important role in community-led approaches, it is vital to give careful attention to selecting and training people to become skilled facilitators. The usual processes for selecting and training facilitators may not be a good fit for community-led approaches. Put bluntly, it is considerably easier to do “facipulation” or NGO-guided facilitation than it is to help people become deep listeners and to fulfill the role of the facilitator as described above.

Much remains to be learned about how to select and prepare facilitators who effectively enable community-led work. This section offers suggestions that have proven useful in multiple contexts, yet there is considerable room for creativity and developing other modalities for selecting and preparing facilitators.

Selecting a Facilitator

The box below outlines useful criteria for guiding the selection of facilitators. Since they live with and accompany the people, facilitators need to speak the local language, understand the local context, and be able to fit comfortably into the daily rhythms of the community. Gender sensitivity is essential for understanding the different situations and needs of girls and boys, and women and men, and being able to engage effectively with females and males and people of different gender and sexual orientations. To be good listeners, facilitators need to have strong skills of empathy, good skills of asking probing questions, and a respectful, non-judgmental orientation. To do these things, facilitators must be able to background their own opinions and inclinations to give advice and direction, thereby creating an open space in which community people engage in dialogue and take decisions. They also need to have keen ethical sensitivities and the ability to stay close to the people while also maintaining their role. For additional ideas on their qualities, see Tool MGM 4 in the Toolkit.

Important Qualities and Skills of a Facilitator

  • Speaks local languages
  • Understands the local context
  • Respects people with different views, backgrounds, or orientations
  • Sensitive to issues of gender and power
  • Empathizes well with different people, including children
  • Has good self-awareness and reflexivity
  • Enables inclusive discussion
  • Backgrounds own views, beliefs, preferences, etc.
  • Is ethically sensitive
  • Enables meaningful child participation
  • Is flexible and thinks and speaks well in the moment, with little preparation
  • Manages conflict in a constructive manner
  • Helps people to think through different options and make informed decisions, without leading or guiding them
  • Works as a team with mentor and program staff

Notably missing from these qualities and criteria are items such as child protection background and expertise, experience in community-based programming, level of education attained, and prior research experience (if the work is described as “action research”). These omissions are intentional. Field experience with community-led approaches in multiple countries indicates that the latter qualities, although valuable in other contexts, are not essential and may even get in the way of facilitating community-led work. For example, someone with extensive child protection expertise and who has worked for international NGOs may be skilled at top-down approaches but may find it difficult to background their expert knowledge. They may tend to impose the “right” answers in favor of open-ended listening and facilitating the community process. Also, people who have university education may find it difficult to speak in plain ways with rural farmers, most of whom have little formal education.

Further, some needed qualities may have a higher priority in community-led approaches than in top-down approaches. For example, listening, empathy, and asking probing questions may be part of the list of qualities needed in top-down approaches, but they would not be at the top of the list of most essential qualities as they would be in community-led approaches. Whereas top-down approaches favor deep child protection knowledge and expert ability to analyze the situation and prescribe the needed interventions, community-led approaches favor strong skills of enabling collective dialogue and decision-making. In turn, this requires being “quick on your feet,” adjusting your timing to the context, and making flexible adjustments as the community process evolves.

A useful strategy in selecting good facilitators is to not only interview promising candidates but also to engage them in live role-play that require skills such as respectful listening, empathy, and conflict management. This can be done in an engaging manner that is both fun and revealing. Typically, several adults and possibly teenagers are brought into a space to act as different community people in pre-scripted role-plays that the candidate does not know about. There might be two or three role-plays, each lasting 5-10 minutes, with the candidate playing the role of facilitator in each. Following each role-play, there would be a reflective space in which the facilitator reflects on how they did, with others sharing their ideas about how things went and what might have been improved.

Although this strategy is not foolproof, it does give a glimpse of the facilitator’s style, confidence level, versatility, and strength or weakness in regard to particular skills. Concerned about the artificiality associated with role-plays during interviews, one NGO trained the two top candidates for the facilitator’s post and then gave each a short-term contract to work as facilitator. Having observed each perform in the field for several weeks, they then selected as the full-time facilitator the person who had most effectively enabled a community-led process.

Regardless of how the selection occurs, the contract for the facilitator should allow (or even require) that the facilitator live and work in the community on a nearly full-time basis. Without this provision, the facilitator might get called frequently into the NGO office for meetings, trainings, security updates, and a host of other things. These calls away from the community do not allow adequate space for the facilitator to do their work, which is fundamentally in the community. With this in mind, it is valuable to bring the human resources director and NGO staff on board well in advance of searching for and hiring a facilitator.

Preparing the Facilitators

Learning to be an effective facilitator in a community-led approach is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle—direct experience and repeated practice are the best ways of learning. It is valuable to provide good role models who can demonstrate how to listen and learn effectively, how to build respect, how to enable inclusive dialogue, etc. Fundamental to the process is critical reflection on how we are doing. By reflecting on this and by identifying problems and ways of addressing them, we are in a better position to make needed adjustments.

A useful preparation strategy is to engage directly with communities who have previously engaged in community-led action to help prospective facilitators to understand their role and work in a manner that supports community-led decisions and actions.

Experiences from multiple countries suggests the value of having potential facilitators participate in a week-long (five-day) training workshop. Ideally, the workshop should be facilitated by someone who already has strong skills facilitating a community-led process.

The training workshop should aim to develop the new facilitators’ skills and also orient diverse stakeholders who may be able to support community-led work on child protection. Among these stakeholders could be: program managers from the agencies that hire the facilitators; UNICEF officers in the district or province; district officers in the government ministry that handles children’s welfare; district officers in other ministries (e.g., health, education) as relevant; members of nearby City Councils; staff from other NGOs working in the area who have an interest; one or two community members who have previously participated in community-led work on children’s protection and well-being; and mentors or prospective mentors.

Overall, it is valuable to have as many as 20 participants and a good mix of women and men in the workshop. A group of this size enables rich role-plays, group discussions, and reflection with feedback. Fewer than 12 participants would make it difficult to do the participatory scenarios and role-plays, whereas having more than 20 participants could make it difficult to have rich, in-depth discussions.

The participants may also include multiple facilitators, who take turns “in the hot seat,” trying out their skills in different scenarios. However, it is important to keep the number of facilitators low so that each individual gets in-depth practice.

Tool TRN 11 gives one example of an agenda for a training workshop for facilitators. Of course, the nature of the activities in the workshop should be modified according to the particular context in which the facilitator will be working. Following an introduction to the approach, the participants should ideally move right into working on scenarios through role-play, followed each time by group reflection and discussion.

One aspect of the training process can be “unlearning” approaches we have been taught and used previously. A useful scenario and role-play early on pertains to the limits of top-down approaches (see Tool TRN 1). Acting within the prescribed roles, one of the facilitators works in a top-down approach, with the other participants in the workshop playing their respective roles. Immediately afterwards, the group discusses each of the reflective questions in the tool and reflects together on the limits of a top-down approach, helping the facilitator to understand things to avoid.

Next, the workshop should advance into its main task of developing the positive skills that facilitators will need to enable community-led work. Typically, these skills are identified by a planning group in advance but include items such as enabling inclusive dialogue, listening deeply and with empathy, introducing yourself to the community leaders and people, managing conflict, helping community members to decide which harm(s) to children to address or to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, helping the community adhere to the action criteria, and so on.

Scenarios and role-plays relevant for training facilitators may be found in the associated Toolkit. They may also be improvised by particular agencies or individuals in a manner that enlivens the workshop. Whether they are planned or improvised, the scenarios should mimic what actually happens in the communities and reflect the values and practices of the local culture. It is important to sequence the scenarios and role-plays in a progressive manner so that facilitators develop basic skills before trying to handle very complex situations that require multiple skills and likely also a good bit of thoughtful improvisation.

Before conducting a particular scenario plus role-play, it is best if one of the prospective facilitators is designated to play the role of “community facilitator.” The workshop coordinator then identifies the context and what is about to happen (for example, the facilitator is meeting with community members to discuss which harm(s) to children to address). After that, the facilitator is asked to leave the room and think on their own about how they will approach the discussion. Meanwhile, the other workshop members are briefed on or decide themselves how they will behave in their respective roles. Next, the workshop coordinator invites the community facilitator to enter the room, and the role-play begins and continues for 15-20 minutes (or however long is deemed to be appropriate). When it is time to end or interrupt the role-play, the workshop facilitator steps in, performing the function of a film producer and saying “Cut!” or “Okay, time out!”

Then begins the critical process of group reflection on the scenario and feedback to the facilitator on how to do a better job. This can be done by asking questions that are appropriate to the moment. If the community facilitator seemed confused or nervous, the workshop coordinator might ask, “Okay [name], how did you feel in this setting and why?” and “How did your feelings affect your ability to facilitate?” Or the workshop coordinator might ask the entire group certain questions such as: “How did the participants feel in their respective roles?”, “Did the facilitator listen well/invite the participation of different people/manage the conflict in a constructive manner?”, “What were some things the facilitator did well?”, and “What were some things that need improvement?”

It is important that this process of group feedback and suggestions be done in a constructive manner that reflects a desire to support the facilitator and to help them develop the necessary skills. It helps, too, to remember just how complex the process is and that it takes practice to refine the needed skills. With this in mind, it can sometimes be beneficial to repeat the scenario and role-play, giving the facilitator the opportunity to do a better job the second time around.

A high priority throughout the workshop should be the development of a reflective process that provides space for personal and collective transformation. The facilitators should gain new insight into their interpersonal relations, their communication strategies, their strengths and weaknesses, and their management of power relations. They should also think more deeply about who they are and how they are perceived by community members, how they want to behave in relation to community members, and what personal changes they will need to undergo in order to facilitate in an effective manner.

For everyone in the workshop, transformation is needed to keep the emphasis on the community views, discussions, and actions. This entails deeper respect for community people, repositioning ourselves relative to communities, sharing power more fully with community people, and following the motto: “It’s about community people, not about us.”


A once-off workshop will not in itself prepare facilitators to meet the complex challenges they will face in their work with communities. To provide ongoing capacity building and also support for facilitators, it is vital to associate the facilitators with a mentor, who could also be called by other appropriate terms such as “co-learner.”

The mentor is not a line manager but a more experienced practitioner who can help the facilitators to do their work in a more effective, community-led manner. The mentor serves as a sounding board for ideas, provides a good role model for interacting with community members, and offers advice on how to handle difficult situations.

The sample responsibilities of a mentor include the following:

  • Make two 2-day visits per month to the action villages for the purposes of observing, mentoring, and advising the facilitator with regard to the community-led process.
  • Communicate weekly with the facilitator to take stock of progress in their work and advise on how to enable a respectful, inclusive process of community dialogue and decision-making.
  • Review the facilitator’s written reports, making suggestions as needed.
  • Provide periodic updates to the facilitator’s line manager.
  • Work with the facilitator and community members to manage difficult situations, if necessary.
  • Liaise with the formal stakeholders and service providers, helping to develop appropriate MoUs for their part in the action, and following up with them as needed as the action is implemented.

By making regular visits to the field and also having frequent phone discussions with the facilitator, the mentor tracks the work and approach of the facilitator, helps them to reflect on their work and the community process, and to make any needed adjustments. Understanding the communities and the facilitator’s work, the mentor can help the facilitator to address very challenging situations.

In one community in Sierra Leone, for example, where there was disagreement over who should be the Chief, the mentor provided the steady hand needed to help manage the conflict and to enable community members to engage with the planning and action process, without using it as a political tool.

The mentor also plays a critical role in brokering relationships and collaboration between communities and formal stakeholders and service providers. For example, as communities discuss which harm(s) to children to address, they will likely generate ideas about which formal stakeholders to link with, and how to collaborate with them. These ideas may be quite ambitious or may assume that government actors will be willing to play a significant role. Quietly, the alert mentor can have exploratory discussions with different formal stakeholders to learn more about their possible interest in collaborating and to judge whether they have the capacity to deliver. Questions of capacity and commitment are key, as it would only frustrate communities to help them to collaborate with formal stakeholders only to find that those stakeholders or their ministries will not fulfill their expected roles.

Mentors also play a valuable role with regard to ethics and psychosocial support. When ethical dilemmas arise, mentors serve as a sounding board and help facilitators think the situation through and act in accordance with ethical principles. Mentors may also see when facilitators have gone off course in their personal conduct in communities and can help to bring them back on track.

However, the mentor’s primary role is not to spy or to correct but to support. Facilitators who live in the communities and work with them day-to-day will face diverse complexities and challenges, which can create excessive stress or even risk burnout. A mentor’s accompaniment helps to give facilitators confidence, find a way through difficult spots, and cope with the stresses in a positive manner.