Although community members have participated in the learning process, different people may have taken part in different activities and may not have the “big picture” that comes from a collective sharing and discussion of the overall findings.
An important step, then, is to have a process of collectivization in which the community as a whole discusses and reflects on the findings. This process is fundamental for the purposes of validating the key findings. After all, it is possible that the learning effort has been limited or even gone off track.
A whole community discussion can help to ensure that the findings are comprehensive, accurate, and interpreted in an appropriate manner. This process offers valuable opportunities for communities to reflect and begin to mobilize themselves for action to address the harms to children that the learning phase had identified.
Preparation, Sharing, and Validation
In preparing to feed information back to communities, careful attention should be given to how the information will be presented.
For example, if local people have low rates of literacy, it would be more appropriate to feed the main findings back verbally in simple terms, rather than by means of a sophisticated written report. The verbal presentation could be coupled with a “light” written summary report that the community leaders could keep to think through.
To enable a respectful, participatory process, it is important to have a meeting with significant numbers of community people, including children, with the leader’s support. We can ask the leader if it is a good idea and acceptable to have a community meeting that everyone knows about well in advance and in which the findings will be shared. If the leader has felt respected throughout the process, they will likely not only approve such a meeting but will also advise on how to make it successful and best prepare for it.
The objectives of this community discussion of the overall findings are twofold. The first is to share the findings with community members in a respectful manner and in a spirit of co-learning. The second is to check the accuracy of the findings.
The feedback and validation will be most enjoyable for community members if it is done in a highly participatory manner.
For example, in Sierra Leone, one of the mentors (David Lamin) fed the findings back to the community by asking questions at the group meeting, such as: “Now, what are the main things that harm children here?” After community members had called out many items, the mentor then reminded people of all the good things they had taught the learners, noting the key harms to children they had identified. People could see the convergence of ideas or the lack thereof, and they commented accordingly. Fortunately, there was a high level of convergence in this case.
The same process was then repeated with questions such as: “Who is a child?” and “What supports children’s well-being here?” As people chanted out responses, there was animated discussion. In the end, the findings of the learning phase were validated by the community.
This validation is more than a means of checking accuracy. Since local people appreciated the findings and the respectful feedback process, some people said things such as, “This research has given us a fuller picture of our children and what harms them or helps them.” This was the beginning of a process wherein people internalized the findings, not only seeing them as accurate but also taking them on board and owning them.
The feedback session creates a fertile space for community reflection that ultimately paves the way for community-led action.
Often this happens spontaneously. For example, during the course of validating findings, someone might ask a question such as: “What are we going to do about these [harms to children]?”
This question is important because it invites thinking about action by the community itself. Such a question reflects a sense of community ownership. The community members see particular harms to children as the community’s problem and responsibility.
If the question does not arise spontaneously, the mentor or facilitator could ask a general question such as: “Can anything be done to address these problems [or a specific problem]?” Now the question is what the community itself will do about it, which is the subject of our next chapter.