FAO Capacity Development

How to strategically identify learning participants

What does it mean to target the audience strategically?

Participants in a learning initiative must have the right profile and motivation to ensure that the initiative will be successful.  Experience has shown that, when participants do not have the appropriate profile in terms of authority levels and prior experience, the learning is not implemented and neither is it transferred to the organization. In other words, the return on investment of the learning initiative is minimal. 

While FAO is not always in control of selection processes, the Organization should work in close collaboration with target organizations/partners and ensure joint understanding of the objectives and expected results of the initiative. When national organizations fully understand and believe in the value and aims of the initiative, they are more likely to collaborate in identifying appropriate participants.   

How can we target the audience strategically?

As part of the selection strategy, FAO and partner organization(s) should issue a profile sheet for participants’ expected profiles, based on the objectives and the expected impact of the initiative.  

To define the profile sheet, it might be useful to reflect on and discuss with key stakeholders the following questions:

  1. Who should learn what to help bring about the improvements or the changes that the learning initiative seeks to trigger?
  2. What functional positions and authority levels in the target organizations are required to allow prospective participants to transfer their learning and experience to other members of their constituency?

Responses to these questions will help you prepare the right profile sheet for your learning initiative.

Commonly used tools

Sample Profile Sheet for selection of participants


This sample Profile Sheet provides a model to communicate the objectives and expected results of the initiative with partner organizations and ensure common understanding of the expectations of participants and their organizations. This should be used as part of the dialogue with the national counterparts who are being targeted and who are likely to propose or appoint participants.

You can customize the sample Profile Sheet to develop an invitation for your learning initiative. You may use this sample in conjunction with the Application Form (below)

Sample Application Form

The Application Form should be customized and shared with the national counterparts who are being targeted to identify potential participants in the learning initiative. Ideally, follow-up Skype interviews should follow pre-selection of candidates on the basis of these forms.

Tips for strategically selecting the target audience

Some tips for working with partners to ensure good selection of participants include the following:

  • Keep higher-level people (e.g. senior management, team leaders, key community groups) well-informed and on board. Not keeping these people in the loop can seriously hamper the effectiveness of the learning and the ability/willingness of learners to transfer their new expertise to members of the organization or the wider group.
  • Prepare detailed admissions questionnaires. They will help identify potentially unsuitable candidates by asking possible participants to describe their work and the challenges they believe the course will help them address. This can also be used as part of a learning needs assessment.
  • Undertake follow-up interviews (by phone or Skype) with identified candidates to help reconfirm the preliminary choice made on the basis of applications. This is especially helpful for long and resource-intensive initiatives. It also serves as an opportunity to explain unclear aspects of the learning initiative, such as the required time commitment.
  • Select participants well in advance of the course, when possible. In this way it may be possible to ask appointing officials for replacement options where advisable. In all cases, the selection process should be as transparent as possible to avoid raising false expectations or claimed injustices.
  • With longer-term learning initiatives involving a series of courses, use a preliminary online course to screen potentially unsuitable candidates. Only those who complete and pass the first course would move on to the others.
  • Include additional nominations in the case that despite rigorous selection procedures, countries may “appoint” participants who do not have the profile desired by the course organizers. If the budget allows and if the countries approve, additional people could be invited to supplement official nominations as “resource people”.

Example of a strategic identification of target audience: For the TOT Programme on Collaborative Conflict Management for Enhanced National Forest Programmes, the selection process consists of three steps. First, a general announcement is shared with National Forest Programme Focal Points to provide course information and guidelines to identify suitable candidates. In order to propose their own candidates, organizations commit to provide full institutional support to their nominees in using their learning, by training others. Second, interested candidates complete a questionnaire with information concerning their background and motivation. Third, potential candidates selected on the basis of the questionnaire undergo a phone/skype interview with a team comprised of Facility Coaches located in the (sub) region, and FAO HQ. While this process is resource-intensive, it has ensured that the right people are selected in order to achieve more effective and sustainable impact.

Check the presentation by Fred Kafeero, FOE on targeting audience effectively

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