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Opening Session

After the initial formal opening by Abdul Khalaq Al-Asaad, the director of the Steppe Directorate in Palmyra, and opening remarks by Dr. Mohammed Mirreh, the workshop got underway with a ranking exercise designed introduce participants to each other and to break down any vestiges of formality. Participants were asked to stand in a line based on the alphabetical order of their family names. They were then asked to give details of their experience with the project, their family numbers, and their journey to the tent that morning. The participants were asked to discuss what they remembered to be the principles of participation. This was a very short flip chart exercise.

This was followed by a mime presented by the trainers which highlighted the nature of co-operation, development, dependency and the need for self-reliance. Two men come to a river and look for a place to cross. The current is very strong and they are both afraid to cross. A third man comes along and sees their difficulty. He leads them up the river to a place with some stepping stones and a small island in the middle of the river. He encourages the men to step on the stones but both are afraid, so he agrees to take one of them on his back. By the time when he gets to the middle of the river, the man on his back seems very heavy and he has become very tired, so he puts him on the little island. He then goes back to fetch the second man who wants to climb on his back as well. But the third man refuses. Instead he takes his hand and encourages him to step on the stones himself. Halfway across, the second man starts to manage alone. They both cross the river. When they get to the other side, they are extremely pleased with themselves and they walk off together, completely forgetting about the first man, sitting alone on the island. He tries to get their attention, but they do not notice his gestures for help.

The mime was understood on a number of levels. There was a clear recognition of the symbolism of requiring help to reach goals, but not becoming fully dependent, of the importance of individual self-reliance in the context of development assistance, and of the divide between the developed and the developing.


A second game exercise was carried out which aimed at re-enforcing the importance of cooperation and the concept of sustainability. Two teams of five volunteers were selected and asked to harvest nuts from a bowl during a game often rounds. They could remove as many nuts as they wished from a bowl. The bowl was placed in the middle of the group and contained 25 nuts; all the volunteers were asked to harvest at the same time. They were also told that after each round, the number of nuts remaining in the bowl would be doubled. The outcome was that none of the teams were able to get beyond five rounds of playing because were unable to cooperate sufficiently to insure that a sustainable number of nuts were left in the bowl for replenishment, the requirement for a continuation to the next round. One team approached the goal of ending up with an increasing number of nuts in the bowl (due to replenishment) in the third round of the game, but they were cut short by lack of time (see Annex III).

With the content (methodological and conceptual review; process of group formation and consolidation) and context (the need for user groups to be formed for sustainable natural resource use and income generating activities in the project, handing over of participatory process to the national staff) of the workshop highlighted by a short presentation, the trainers moved on to discuss the importance of three concepts: empowerment, institutionalization and sustainability (see annex IV), Three points were raised: joint decision making, bottom-up approach and participation in development. These points were then compared and discussed in conjunction with a pre-prepared list of the principles of participation (see Annex IV). Talaal Razzouk then reviewed the important concepts and tools of PRA which he had used over the past two years in his extension work. This review included a discussion of the importance of triangulation in PRA. He then highlighted the PRA tools which he had used in the field with his team of extension officers. These included semi-structured interviewing, mapping, ranking and scoring, matrix charts, venn diagramming wealth ranking, daily charts and seasonal charts.

This session was closed with a pillow exercise, aimed at introducing the importance of communications within groups. Fifteen 15 participants each given a different set of instructions as to where to carry the pillows - middle, left or right side of the tent. They were given 15 minutes to carry out their instructions. After ten minutes of amusing chaos, they were asked to discuss amongst themselves to find a solution. They then identified that they were in three groups and began to negotiate strategies to carry out their instructions amongst each other. The game concluded when the three groups decided to ignore their instructions as a whole and to split the pillows into three parts and put them into the areas they had been instructed to put all pillows. This exercise was very popular. In plenary session it was clear that the message of the need for communication, of working in a group, of identifying differences and finding compromises was picked up by all (see Annex V).


This session opened with an exercise. A set of 5 drawings of people in various types of groups was pinned to the side of the tent. The participants were asked to look at them and then stand under the drawing that most represented what they felt suggested a group.

1. Extension worker lecturing a group from a podium.

This was selected by one person as an example of the ‘wrong’ type of group.

2. Group of people sitting in a circle listening to a trainer

This was selected by 6 participants as it represented people ‘wanting to learn’. It was a harmonious group, showing respect and clearly interested in learning.

3. Four people in a row boat

This was selected by 8 people. To them it represented cooperation and diversity of tasks. Different ages, working to the best of their experience and strength.

4. Bedouin family group moving across the landscape

This was selected by 9 people. To them, it represented organization and order, with little degradation of the range. It was of groups not individuals, with the future of the Steppe clearly in their hands.

5. Women in a crowd as demonstrators in a city

This was selected by 4 women - including the three Bedouin facilitators. It represented to them the concept that Bedouin women are like city girls, with the same desire for the same rights, shared interests and the importance of social work.

This exercise lead to the discussion of what makes a group. Eight suggestions were taken from the participants (see Annex Va). They seemed to focus more on the principles of successful groups rather than a general description of what makes a group. It may have been that the question itself was not clear enough to begin with. This was then followed by a flip chart exercise to identify the advantages and disadvantages of working in groups (see Annex Vb and c). As is usually the case more advantages were identified than disadvantages, but they were quite general and needed further discussion to better formulate the dynamics of group formation.

A review of the charts of the advantages and disadvantages of groups was conducted with the guiding question “Are groups better at achievements than individuals” kept at the fore. A synthesis chart of the advantages and disadvantages of groups (see Annex IV) was then presented to the plenary group.

Group Formation in the Context of the Project

On the second day of the workshop, the participants were organized into five working groups for the exercises to be run on that day and the following day. Group work started with the discussion questions:

a. What types of groups are there in your experience?
b. What does a group approach mean in the context of the project
In plenary session a list of the types of groups was collected (see Annex Vd). This list was strikingly formal, with all the various types of associations and cooperatives existent in Syria named. The family as a group, however, was not considered, though the tribal lineages and sub-tribes were. The significance of the group approach to the project was not clear, with participants naming ‘ a common vision, easier data collection and raising awareness’ as the significance of a group approach in the context of the project.

This session was followed by Dr. Mirreh who gave a summary of the milestones of the project and the ways in which people have to be brought into the project.

It is not only animals and plants which have to be managed but people as well. He discussed the positive achievements of the project and the challenges and difficulties ahead. The Project has trained people to work with the community - the Cooperatives, the Peasants Union, the Ministry of Agriculture and a limited number of Bedouin. They have all worked together. Now the Project needs to concentrate on the people who are concerned with natural resources, whose sustainable development depends upon the protection and conservation of the rangeland. The project needs to encourage these people to form groups, participatory groups, to work with the project for a common goal.

After a brief pause the participants were instructed in another exercise which highlighted the importance of group cooperation and shared objectives. A set of envelopes each holding different sizes and shapes of paper were given to the five groups. They had 15 minutes to exchange, give, accept pieces of paper from other groups in order to complete their own collect of five A4 size papers. This exercise required considerable patience as no one was permitted to ask or take a piece of paper from another group, only accept an offer. The game was successfully carried out in just under 15 minutes (see Annex IV).

In discussion, the participants expressed their initial difficulty with not being able to ask for what they wanted. Slowly they began to appreciate that in order to complete their own tasks for their group, they had to help other groups. In a sense they felt as though they became one large group with everyone trying to help everyone else in order to all ‘win’ the game.

In plenary session the facilitators then returned to the chart ‘What is a group’ of the previous day. This list of criteria was actually more similar to one which was answering the question ‘What are the preconditions of successful participatory groups’? A prewritten flip chart was presented (see Annex IVj) and the participants were asked to arrange them in the most logical sequential order. The facilitators expected an order similar to:

Common interests

Clear objectives
Sharing information and concerns
Accepting of each other
All member participate in regular meetings to discuss and take decisions
Potential for pay-off or success
Organizing for action

The participants order was:

Common interests
Clear objectives
Accepting of each other
Organizing for action
Sharing information
All members participate in regular meetings to discuss and take decisions
Potential for pay-off or success
There was complete agreement on the first three criteria, but not so for the remainder. However as all these criteria were perceived as important it was not considered useful to enter into a long discussion of the relative merits of one point over another.

This session focussed on activities and discussions designed to come to an understanding of group dynamics and the functions required in order to guide the process of group formation. To start discussion moving, participants were asked to walk around the tent and look at the 13 drawings of animals that had been put up (see Annex IVk). They were asked to look at these animals and consider their characters from the perspective of contributing to a group or not. The animals were fish, frog, donkey, rabbit, lion, elephant, camel, giraffe, hawk, monkey, cat, mouse, snake. Perhaps not surprisingly, the camel and the donkey were identified as representing the two most important types of behaviour - persistent, hard-working, load carrying - which successful groups needed.

In plenary, a short discussion was undertaken of the different types of behaviour - self-oriented, task-oriented, and maintenance oriented (see Annex IVl) and the different responsibilities of the members of successful groups. This included the importance of the ‘group contract’ which sets out the objectives and responsibilities of a group, the selecting of group leaders, time-keepers and recorders as well as the protocol for groups, such as regular meetings.

This was followed by a discussion of leadership styles. The facilitators presented an overview of three types of leadership styles: the dictatorial, the laissez-faire and the democratic. (See Annex IVm). There was clear recognition of the first two styles of leadership and some confusion as to how a democratic leader would actually function. The sense was that the latter form of leadership was admirable but very difficult to maintain.

A game exercises, the ‘bus game’ was organized to practice and compare decision making processes as individual actors and then as groups. First individuals were asked to prioritize 15 items that would be required on a two-day march to find help for a bus broken down in the middle of the desert. That list was then set against the groups list which each individual belonged to. The results were then compared with a master list presented by the trainers. The comparison shoed that half of the individuals had higher scores than the group scores. These findings were discussed in plenary session and three significant findings emerged:

1. individual versus group result

Sometimes the individual can be more successful than the group. Groups need to delegate tasks to those who are known to be experts. This is also relevant to the concept of ‘subsidiarity’, giving tasking to the most able.

2. how groups work together

Within a group the issue of dominance of one person over others, and that of compromise without questioning needs to be addressed.

3. the importance of clear roles in groups

The clear delineation of a group leader, a time keeper and a recorder is significant and clearly helps in producing good outcomes.

A flip chart exercise closed this session with the participants listing three points: sometimes individuals are more focussed than groups; sometimes the group works better than the individuals - this depends upon the goals and aims of the group; and group work is not always easy (Annex Vf). The consensus was that successful groups requires flexibility, cooperation, common goals, acceptance of others, compromise, and information and synthesis.


This session opened with a visual exercise. A card which when viewed form one side revealed a pretty young woman and when viewed form the opposite side showed an old woman was put before two participants. This set the stage for a discussion of the need to recognize multiple perceptions and multiple knowledges.

A set of communications exercises followed with various ways of communications tested out. One group sat in a line and communications were restricted only to the person adjacent. They attempted to pass information in this manner. A second group sat in a circle only permitted to speak to the person in the middle. A third group sat in a circle, but communications was open to everyone. The initial response of the participants was to prefer the second form of communications through one person sat in the middle. This is a very common form of communications in most of the region. In such an approach discussion can be ordered and organized. After some further discussion, the participants agreed that the third group, though more difficult to manage, was preferable as all could benefit from the knowledge of the other without the need for an intermediary. Also all members opinions could be heard by everyone and considered, thus promoting openness and transparency.

A further step in this session was to look more deeply at the difficulties of communications. A number of volunteers were selected, one from each group and sent outside the tent. A story was then told to one person, who told it to one of the volunteers in the tent. He, in turn then, told it to the next, and so on until the story had been retold five times. Not surprisingly, the story had become distorted almost beyond recognition by the end. The lesson that seemed to be most relevant here was the need to have first hand information and not to rely on second or third hand information or rumor.


This session consisted of discussion and review of a set of pre-prepared flip charts concerning conflict. What are the different levels of conflict; What are the causes of conflict and specifically as related to the project, and what are the strategies to deal with conflict in groups (see Annex IVn-q). This discussion set the stage for a case study in conflict exercise which each group undertook, coming back to plenary to ‘act out’ the solution which their group had managed to establish for the case study. Most groups came to the same conclusion in settling the conflict. Some put forward more elaborate procedures which required outside mediators and others emphasized the importance of meeting and discussing in small groups. A number of groups appointed leaders by consensus, time-keepers and recorders to manage the process. In all cases the discussion were open, sometimes ‘heated’, but initiative was taken by all. In each case, there was homogeneity of views, and full participation by the entire group.

This subject was closed with a review of the ‘Hierarchy of Procedures used to Manage Local Conflict. This was also prepared as a handout for each participant (see Annex IVr).

The session was closed by asking each group to reflect and self-evaluate the way in which their group had worked together. All the groups expressed the feeling that they had formed a coherent unit with democratic processes. Everyone had a voice and listened to each other, no views were imposed, all members were active participants and shared a sense of respect for each other. A couple of the groups identified that they had informally appointed a group leader. The overall sense was that a group cohesion had manifested itself allowing for cooperative and participatory interactions.


Before closing the workshop a simple evaluation chart was constructed to ascertain which sections of the workshops the participants found most interesting, most practical, and most needing of further information. The overall evaluation of the workshop was good. The average score was between 4 and 5. Not surprisingly the earlier session which reviewed PRA was not considered particularly needing further review and therefore was given a low score and the sessions on group management, perceptions and communications, and conflict management scored highest in the area of interest, practicality and wanting to learn more about.


We put forward the question ‘How useful did you find the workshop and what is your critical analysis of the workshop?’ Each team member was given an opportunity to respond. There was a concern that although in theory this was excellent material, it would require further adaptation to put into practice when working with the Bedouin. The project team felt that they were now better equipped to work with groups and also with each other. But that a training manual based on these three PRA workshops would be of great help to the project.

The facilitators agreed that the difference between a training exercise and reality is very wide, but the Project team has some choices to make. It can work through existing groups, modify existing groups, or encourage the creation of new ones. The Project team, however, needs to clearly define its own role as facilitators. The main actors in group formation and other future collaborative work should be the target populations itself. The Project staff needs to set up a management plan to transform the knowledge they now have into development. Thus, future data collection needs to be in terms of institution building.

The suggestion was made that there should be in the following phase of the project two further PRA based workshops one on conflict and perhaps only including the project staff, and another larger one on group formation including the full set of participants and potential members of user groups. The latter, however, could only be organized once land use patterns in the project area has been studied and clarified so as to identify who are the traditional users of the region.

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