Campaign Case Study – Amnesty

March 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

This Campaigning Common Cause case study is part of a series of stories that will share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“There are huge amounts of mutual respect and friendship between staff and volunteer trainers . It’s a charmed relationship, really.”

Amnesty International is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and has a long history of local group activity. Set up as a result of a newspaper article about political prisoners, small groups originally met to write letters about ‘forgotten’ prisoners.

I spoke to Julie Kavanagh and Clare Bracey, who job-share the role of Training Manager, about Amnesty’s successful Active Learning Programme, and their train-the-trainer model of building skills within Amnesty’s local groups. This case study is also an example of how a central head office can work fantastically well with volunteers and is a great example of putting values into practice by building movement capacity.

What is the structure?

There are 260 local Amnesty groups around the country. These groups meet together to write letters, lobby politicians, fundraise and raise awareness of human rights issues in their community. The Activism team at Amnesty HQ supports them, and they receive training and workshops from a network of volunteer trainers. Julie and Clare work with roughly 60 of these volunteer trainers, who each support four to six local groups – building the group’s skills and understanding of the issues that Amnesty works on.

Their Active Learning Programme is organised through a Training Working Group (TWG) made up of the Training Managers and around eight of the most experienced and committed trainers who are members of the group by invitation. This structure is purposefully parallel to Amnesty’s internal governance processes, and so attracts those interested in building capacity more than internal bureaucracy.

To be a trainer, individuals have to be a member of a local group, and this is where they are recruited. They apply to attend the Training of Trainers weekend run every two years. Being a member of a group helps the trainers understand the needs of their grassroots network, and keeps the commitment to the Amnesty community high.

How did this model start out?

When an experienced volunteer approached the staff 20 years ago with the offer of helping with trainings, a new model of grassroots training was born. Starting small, Amnesty volunteers ran a series of workshops for local groups with great success. Because they themselves were activists, local groups really valued their experience and participative approach to learning.

Over time, the new volunteer trainers lobbied for a staff member to support them (the role that Julie and Clare now share), and formed the Training Working Group, which has become the central node of this new approach to working with local groups.

How do staff and volunteers work together?

Generally Julie and Clare write the workshop packs, often based on ideas from the TWG, and trying them out at TWG meetings which take place 3-4 times a year.  A number of practices help to solidify the culture of respect and collaboration during these meetings:

  • Rotation of chairing and taking notes at the meeting.
  • Ending meetings with a ‘check-out’ to ask how everyone feels about the decisions made and work ahead.
  • Running the meeting as a series of interactive sessions led by different members of the group.
  • Taking an Amnesty campaign action together.
  • Spending social time together before and after formal meetings.

TWG members also do an annual ‘Call and Care’ This involves phoning all the trainers to have a general conversation about their welfare, and how they feel about their work. It’s a great opportunity for issues to arise and be solved together.  Not all groups request training, and low demand can be demoralizing for a trainer – contact from colleagues is essential.

How much resource does this take?

Both Julie and Clare work 2.5 days a week each. The budget they work with is (comparatively) very small – £15,000. Most of that is spent on producing the resources (handbook, workshop guides etc) – and on expenses for the volunteer training (travel and childcare). With this, the organisation quickly distributes best practice and deep knowledge of human rights issues.  The training managers also organize national skill-share events.  They now are also beginning to help build capacity for human rights defender groups in other countries.

What has been surprising?

There’s been a wider benefit from this model on the human rights movement. Some of the trainers take their skills outside of Amnesty, and are now also leading trainings for refugee support groups and local campaign groups, for example.

Because of the high commitment and friendship within the group, and the real enjoyment of running participative workshops, there is a very low turnover of trainers. Approximately every two years, the TWG run a training of trainers weekend for around eight or nine new recruits, and also a trainer conference where trainers can get together, try out new workshops, share ideas and problems. Trainers attending these get to know each other, as well as build up experience and institutional knowledge really well. At TWG meetings when a job needs doing, nearly the whole group step forward to do it – it’s often more a case of turning people down than bugging them to help!

Something really unexpected has been how members of the TWG have supported each other. They spend weekends together helping to prepare sessions, and have started to divide tasks internally based on their own interests. Some trainers were uncomfortable reaching out to groups to suggest a workshop, so in one case a trainer in the North West contacted groups for them and then allocated other trainers to each of the active learning sessions

What have they learned?

  •  Don’t be afraid to be selective. Not everyone who steps forward to be a trainer is the right fit. It’s explained that an element of mutual selection occurs in the Training of Trainers course, and Clare and Julie always try to find other ways for people to contribute – by co-facilitating, or alternative volunteer roles.
  • Give high quality support to trainers – really good materials, responding to requests efficiently, and thanking them for good work done really helps motivate and support volunteer trainers.
  • Trust the activists you’re working with. It builds a culture of respect and mutual support. For example, the Training the Trainers weekend is run by TWG members rather than staff.  In fact some Amnesty staff have been trained by these volunteer trainers, and enthused about the high quality of the training.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

Many NGOs struggle to create and maintain a grassroots network of volunteers and activists, often because the relationship between staff and volunteers is unclear and fraught with tension. This model of ‘helping the network help itself’ puts into practice values of self-direction, trust and empowerment. It enables impact to scale quickly, and embeds skills across the network – not only in professional consultants.

Intrinsic values are central to the participative learning approaches that the TWG uses. People share a commitment to enabling change to occur and to the empowerment of the Amnesty network. As with many of the other case studies – the focus on healthy relationships has been key to the success of this model.

The central reframing that Julie and Clare have achieved is that staff are part of the training network, providing specialist support to enable the volunteer trainers to exercise a degree of autonomy and creativity to do the work themselves.

Contact

Julie Kavanagh and Clare Bracey

training@amnesty.org.uk

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