In a community-led approach, the facilitator plays a key role in all phases: learning with and about the community; the community-led planning regarding which harm(s) to children to prevent and respond to; designing and implementing an appropriate community action; and evaluating the community-led action.

The facilitator may be a staff member of a non-governmental organization (NGO)—an outsider who is not from the community and who brings an external perspective. However, the facilitator may also be a member of the community who brings an insider’s perspective.

As we shall see, the facilitator does not counsel, guide, or quietly lead community members to address particular child protection issues or to use a particular action approach. Rather, the facilitator is there to learn, ask questions, invite dialogue among people who are positioned in very different ways, and to support the conditions conducive to full community participation, discussion of different options, decision-making, and action. In essence, the facilitator accompanies or “walks with” the community without guiding it.

This mode of facilitation contrasts sharply with the way facilitators usually work in top-down approaches. An international NGO that has received extensive funding to address issues of violence against children might use a top-down approach in which a facilitator works with the community for purposes of mobilization and partnership.

In contrast, an NGO that supports community-led child protection uses a more open, nondirective approach. The community members dialogue about children’s well-being and harms to children, identify and discuss the merits and drawbacks of different options, and decide for themselves which harm(s) to children to address.

In this approach, power is vested in the community, not the facilitator or the NGO. From the start, the community’s agency and collective power are at the heart of decision-making. As communities take decisions, they gain a strong sense of ownership about the issues to be addressed and the actions to be taken. These high levels of ownership spark community empowerment and animate processes and actions that are more likely to be sustainable than outsider-led “projects.”

This approach to facilitation entails a different role and orientation, and a stronger set of “soft” skills such as deep listening and enabling constructive dialogue. It also requires having effective facilitators and mentors, who are more experienced practitioners who backstop, co-learn with, and support the facilitators.