Questions for an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop

AVP workshop March 2016 5Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops are experiential in nature which means that an important part of the process is assisting participants to reflect on their experience. Rather than telling them what their experience means, the aim is to ask questions that encourage them to come to their own conclusions.

Because AVP relies on volunteer facilitators (and interested participants are encouraged to become facilitators) not everyone is experienced in asking questions that promote reflection. The Sydney AVP group has adopted a set of three questions that form the basis of discussion following workshop activities.

The questions (and some potential alternatives) are:

Basic three questions

Alternative questions

What happened?
  • How was that for you?
  • What was that like?
  • What was it like when…?
What was the hardest thing about that for you?
  • What was difficult?
  • How might that have affected others?
  • What were you thinking when…?
Is there anything you would do differently next time?
  • Would you change anything?
  • Is there anything you need to do or say to…?
  • Are you OK to move on?
  • Is there anything you need to be able to move on?
  • Is there anything that could have made a difference?
  • Is there anything that you could have done to have made a difference?

These questions have been introduced since I was last a facilitator about 15 years ago, and I think they are a helpful initiative. One of the advantages is that they are simple to use, can initiate some useful discussion and work very well in some contexts. For example in role plays they provide a useful framework for discussing what happened and to think about what else could have happened.

At the same time, in the workshop I just participated in, I found that at times the questions weren’t all that relevant to some of the activities. I also wonder if they could be refined a bit so that they have a greater focus on what participants are gaining from the workshop and are more strengths-based.

Greater focus on what participants are gaining

The questions are based on restorative practice, which is an approach to repairing relationships that have been damaged (e.g., through conflict, bullying or violence). In discussing workshops based on AVP in schools, Ian Miles (a Sydney AVP facilitator) explains the process in the following way:

The role of facilitator in Restorative Practices is to hold the space open to allow the participants to go through the process of ‘listening to’ and understanding each others feelings and needs, asserting those needs, and finding ways of accommodating each others needs in a win/win scenario. The skill in facilitating is to use the minimum of intervention to steer, allowing the participants to use their own skills and understanding to achieve their ends.

This approach can be very relevant to workshops on conflict resolution and nonviolence, and I can see the advantage of using the same questions throughout the workshop so participants become familiar with using them.

For some of the workshop activities, however, I found some of the questions weren’t all that relevant. For example there might not really be “a hardest thing” and people might not feel the need to have done anything differently. In these cases it might be more helpful to explore what participants gained from the activity.

Questions like the following could help lead to useful reflection:

  1. What insights have you had?
  2. How is this relevant to conflict resolution and nonviolence?
  3. How is this relevant to you?
  4. How could your experience [in the activity] help you?

A couple of very experienced facilitators said they were concerned that asking questions about what participants learnt from an exercise could move them from an experiential space to a more cognitive, analytical space and that it can be hard for the group to return to a more experiential mind set. My experience suggests that it is possible to move back and forth between the two.

One of my favourite questions immediately after an activity is to simply ask, How was it? Participants are then free to take their response wherever they want. It can be about what they did, what they thought, or what they felt. I suspect “What happened?” is likely to start with what they did rather then how they felt during the activity.

Strengths-based questions

Most of my work is based on strengths-based approaches and so I struggle with the emphasis on what was the hardest thing. In a strengths-based approach we focus on, and build on, strengths and what’s working rather than deficits and what’s broken. “What was the hardest thing?” seems to me to invite more of a deficit focus.

I hope that the workshops help participants identify skills and strengths they already have that they can build on. I also think it is important that by the end of the workshop participants come away with a range of things they can do when faced with conflict and violence. It isn’t as helpful to focus on what NOT to do.

I wonder about questions like:

  1. What helped in this activity?
  2. What helped you address any challenges?
  3. What strengths did you draw on?
  4. What was the hardest thing and how do you overcome it?
  5. Were there any challenges? How did you address them?

Creating some criteria for the questions

To help identify the key questions I developed the following criteria. They needed to:

  1. Be easy to use by new facilitators
  2. Be consistent with a strengths-based approach
  3. Encourage personal reflection and new insights
  4. Be relevant to a range of contexts

Some potential questions

The key questions (without the comments) could be on a poster in the room as a quick reminder for new facilitators.

Key Questions

Comment

How was it? A general questions that allows participants to start wherever they want. Prompts could include questions about What they did, What they thought and What they felt.
Were there any challenges? How did you address them? I’m not sure about this one but I think it can help to look at the challenges – after all people probably come to the workshop because they find conflict or violence challenging. Linking the challenges with how they addressed them keeps the focus on positive responses rather than the actual challenges themselves.
What helped (or could have helped)? By asking what helped we are identifying a range of possibilities that might be relevant in other situations. Once the mandala has been introduced I would also ask, What parts of the mandala helped or could have help?
What insights have you had? The insights might have come from the activity or the discussion after the activity. I think asking this question can help participants process their experience into learnings.

Other questions (that could be provided on a handout for facilitators) include:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did you feel?
  3. What do you need at the moment?
  4. What was it like when…?
  5. What were you feeling when…?
  6. What was the hardest thing about that for you?
  7. How might that have affected others?
  8. Is there anything you might do differently next time?
  9. What could have made a difference?
  10. What could you have done to make a difference?
  11. What strengths or skills did you notice in yourself or others?
  12. What’s one thing you will take away from this activity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What questions do you find helpful in reflecting on your experience. I’d particularly love to hear from you if you are an AVP facilitator or have participated in an AVP workshop.

If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution
  3. Principles of nonviolence
  4. Asking questions in workshops
  5. Workshops for Aboriginal fathers in prison – what worked
  6. Facilitating workshops – creating a container

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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