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Resourceful & impactful capacity building

Knowledge roundups are created in response to questions raised by members of the Global Grassroots Support Network (GGSN). The GGSN is an initiative building upon the Blueprints for Change project. The GGSN is building a community of practice that brings together projects supporting grassroots justice-oriented** activist groups in multiple regions and continents. The objective is to share knowledge around common challenges that these groups face, and how each project has solved for them. Questions are raised to other GGSN members to compile the knowledge and resources we have to respond.

In this roundup, we responded to the question: Workshops, coaching, toolkits and chat groups – what blend of capacity building approaches do you find gets the most impact for the time you spend?

**See the following document for the GGSN definition of “grassroots.”


GGSN community answers

1. The first step is to identity needs 

I think it depends on your purpose and objectives, and those of the people you are working with

What do you/they want to achieve? What skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours do they need to achieve that purpose? Doing this analysis first will enable you to identify needs, and then plan for the best way to meet them. 



2. If you have the time, use coaching. If you’re short, try toolkits

The best approach depends on what you mean by impact, and depends on the work you do. Impact can be defined in many ways, of course, but it’s central to the question of most impact for time spent. Some thoughts on different aspects of impact, and the time going into capacity building:

  • Hard skills: workshops/trainings, followed by coaching opportunities. To develop this capacity, you have to invest time. The greatest thing you can do is offer short coaching calls or follow-up opportunities to solidify the learning, provide feedback etc. The people who take you up on these opportunities are the ones who are committed to keeping and embedding this capacity, so it’s worth the time!
  • Strategy/analysis: this is a long-game because it takes a long time to cultivate. Consistent coaching calls are best for this (time-intensive) but once it “clicks”, they have embedded the thinking, strategy, and analysis that will make them more successful on their own, and they will share it too!
  • Replicability/shareability: toolkits all the way! Video resources or how-to docs on how to use the toolkit are really helpful because it’s a one-time input that can be viewed again and again. Opportunities for coaching are important and again, it helps identify people worth investing time into because they’re reaching out to learn and grow their skills. A great example of this is what David Suzuki Foundation has done with their Future Ground Network: https://futuregroundnetwork.org/resources/

Our team is often doing capacity building with people who feel like their house is on fire (i.e. there’s a really pressing, urgent issue happening in their community). This means we’re doing really time intensive work for a short period of time, and embedding all sorts of capacity building as the time allows, teaching principles for campaign organizing, working with groups, developing a successful action plan, etc. We find this is a really great “sprint” opportunity to build capacity, and often there’s a hard end-date to the intensive work. 

The people we work with have limited time to respond and organize their community, to create pressure, and to get the outcome that they want. We use a deep approach of sitting with them through that time. We introduce different concepts at each meeting of a steering committee for the grassroots group. We also use a broader approach of creating spaces where we’ve looked at, if every single group has this challenge, how can we create a space where we create a time to actually sit with them?

Just being available to answer questions, and in a fishbowl style is often really really impactful as well, because other people get to think about the answer as it pertains to them, and can take what they can from that, plus come back with more specific questions about how it applies to their group.

-Dani Lindamood, Water Watchers


3. Use examples from lived experience and participatory action to solidify learning

There’s often a disconnect between the training and the struggle. We need to use and incorporate lived experiences to be a good trainer and to have an impact. Otherwise, you need to build content from those with the lived experience of the issue you’re tackling.

Assess whether what you’re providing meets the needs of the most important issues that the community is facing. Also, participatory action really helps. Connect with directly-affected people’s lived experiences, and facilitate groups based on the particular problem that’s impacting them.

-Julius Okoth, National Coordinator for the Kenyans For Tax Justice Movement


4. Knowledge/skill-shares can go a long way 

Through skill and knowledge shares, we have an online series every first Wednesday of the month. We have 1.5 hours on a concrete topic, and we share what people in different countries are doing now. Sometimes we start with highlighting one or 2 examples that may work or may not work, analyzing why, and then moving into breakout rooms to share. This is an effective way to build capacity; learning from people who are doing the same things. This community of activists gains knowledge and skills, and they then work with their own communities to pass the knowledge along.

We also run trainings on campaign strategizing and campaign planning. After the trainings, it’s useful to follow up with coaching or support sessions as an add on. Being available when people are trying to do and apply some of the things they learned helps. One to one goes a long way alongside just the training.

I strongly believe in the power of coaching where you’re looking at the problem and asking questions to help people find their own answers. This is time-consuming, but also doesn’t need a lot of preparation. 



5. Peer support and experience-sharing builds confidence

Sharing experiences with other people who are doing the work is impactful. It’s one thing to present in the abstract. Hearing from and seeing examples of people who’ve actually done the work is important, and it also builds confidence. If somebody else who I can relate to has done this, I can too! Bringing people together to support one another, so they can lean on each other and support throughout their organizing, is the basis for how our network does our work.

If you are investing in building the capacity of people to take on a campaign and to take on an issue, the reality is you will need to see a deep investment of time.

-Lella Blumer, For Our Kids


6. Use different approaches for mass vs deep impact

We built up the Climate Justice Organizing Hub over the last 3 years in so-called Canada.  I’ll just pull out some highlights that resonate with what folks have said. We were given the task of supporting all young climate justice organizers across this huge country, and we had 2 challenges. One was scale, and the other was going deep and supporting promising groups in a more significant way. This goes back to that question of impact.

We had 2 types of impacts. One was to get basic trainings out to as many folks as possible. The other was to nurture and support promising groups in a more intensive way

  • For the first impact of serving a lot of groups with basic entry level content, our first step was to do a lot of listening. We did over a hundred intake sessions with climate justice organizing groups around the country to get a sense of what the top 10 challenging topics are. We had built no programming in advance. We were free to build our initial trainings around the top 4 most commonly asked questions or challenges. We pulled knowledge from different experienced organizers on those 4 topics, and have repeated trainings on those for the last 3 years or so to as many groups as possible. These were universal topics such as how to create a group strategy, how to structure a grassroots group etc. These were questions a lot of groups were grappling with.
  • We use a similar promising approach to the fish bowl, and sharing of experiences between organizers, that we call learning circles. They have been one of the best formats for knowledge exchange, where folks come with some content prepared from other case studies, plus their own experiences. Collectively, we come out of so much richer and retain a lot of knowledge from the experiences of others, plus with everybody engaging as peers. It creates a better context for knowledge exchange. People don’t tune out and become passive, like they can in the trainings sometimes.

-Tom Liacas, The Climate Justice Organizing Hub


7. Document everything you can to reference and pull from

In terms of efficiency, one thing we did was create a repository for all the knowledge that is shared in these different sessions. We created a wiki in English and French. We wanted to make our knowledge base open and accessible to everybody at all times. It’s also a place where we document what comes from our learning circles. The articles and topics that you see there have been enriched by group sharing. That’s happened over time. Every time we do a training on a topic, it incorporates more lived experience from those who participated. We document it in the wiki, and next time we do a training we draw on that wiki. It’s been a good way to serve people in between trainings and coaching sessions, for those who want to go and browse a topic.

We have a promising program starting in Quebec right now, which is a flying squad of trainers that go right into the field and sit down with organizers. In their case they’re visiting youth-led groups that are organizing the next big student strike on climate right now. They’re sitting down with them in real space to hear what their challenges are, and then spinning out quick and formal workshops and trainings drawing on our knowledge base. They’re delivering this without too much refinement, but then also meeting with the groups afterwards. 

There’s a kind of follow up and implementation coaching that goes on week after week. Continuous engagement with the groups that have been engaged with via trainings and workshops is a considerable investment in time. However, we use this model of having a whole squad of young trainers who aren’t experts, nobody is an expert themselves, but that have access to a larger knowledge base and can just be there in the field, listening to groups and working with them. 

-Tom Liacas, The Climate Justice Organizing Hub



Input and resources for this guide were provided by: 

  1. Dani Lindamood, Water Watchers
  2. David Suzuki Foundation’s Future Ground Network 
  3. Julius Okoth, Kenyans For Tax Justice Movement
  4. Lella Blumer, For Our Kids
  5. Tom Liacas, The Climate Justice Organizing Hub

Other individual contributions have been anonymized.


This knowledge roundup was prepared by: 

Kenzie Harris and Tom Liacas

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