Voluntary participation in group work – the example of Alternatives to Violence Project

An important foundation of AVP is that it is based on voluntary participation [1, 2]. We expect that workshop participants have made a choice to come to the workshop and generally do not accept mandatory referrals (e.g., court orders). At times, however, the voluntary nature of participation is debatable. If a court has “recommended” that someone does a workshop or if a child protection agency has suggested that it would help a parent regain custody of their child if they do a workshop, clearly a person may feel they have little or no choice.

According to AVP [1] “Our workshops are about personal growth, and people can only grow when they choose to do so themselves” (p. 3). Given that the workshops are based on a philosophy of nonviolence, recognising people’s right, and ability, to make decisions for themselves is an important foundation. We are promoting an approach which cares for others and that avoids coercion, so we need to model it ourselves.

Being mandated or “strongly encouraged” to attend, however, does mean that some people access the workshops who otherwise would not. When participants feel they have been coerced into coming, we encourage them to make a decision about what they will do, and are careful we that we do not react in a negative way, or overreact, to them if they are angry or testing the limits within the workshop [3]. By acknowledging their anger or frustration, emphasising that it is up to them whether or not they stay, and making it clear that they have the right to pass at any time, we encourage them to take responsibility for how they will react to the workshop. At the end of the first day, we have a brief exercise where people make a conscious decision about whether or not they will return for the second day. We can, if needed, move this exercise earlier to earlier in the day.

In this way they can at least decide to what extent they will be involved in the workshop. We generally find that as the workshop progresses, they discover that they really do have a choice about how involved they will be and most people will actively participate in at least some activities.

Having strong registration processes where we talk to people before the workshop can help prepare them, but it is far from a guarantee that everyone in a workshop is an enthusiastic participant. At times there are people who do not actively engage, and we respect their right to make that decision.

AVP also relies on volunteer facilitators. The vast majority of facilitators volunteer their time. At times, like in NSW, AVP works in partnership with other organisations that allow staff to facilitate workshops as part of their work. AVP is part of my work at the Family Action Centre, (but mainly related to research related to it) and Gener, who coordinates AVP in Newcastle, is involved as part of his work with Family Support Newcastle, but both of us also do a lot of voluntary work with AVP.

An important foundation of AVP is that “none of us have all the answers” [4] (p. 43) and as we say in our introduction: We are all teachers and all learners. By working in a team of facilitators (generally between three and six), facilitators can participate in the group when they are not leading an activity.

One of the advantages of having a team of volunteer facilitators is that it makes it an affordable program that can be implemented in a range of settings. It also means that the facilitation team is able to model teamwork and cooperative relationships—important skills in nonviolent relationships. Facilitation teams are encouraged to consult each other in front of the group if they are considering changing the agenda or making some other change to their plans. By doing so in the open, facilitators can demonstrate ongoing, respectful communication with each other, and cooperative approaches to decision-making and disagreements.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups
  2. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  3. An Alternatives to Violence Project workshop for parents
  4. Blogging as an academic
  5. Workshops for Aboriginal fathers in prison – what we learnt
  6. Strengths-based measurement

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


  1. AVP international. (2018). Alternatives to Violence Project organising guide.   Retrieved 25 August 2018, from https://avp.international/wp-content/themes/proto-hybrid/pdf/avp-international-organising-guide.pdf
  2. John, V. M. (2015). Working locally, connecting globally:The case of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 10(2), 81-86. doi: DOI: 10.1080/15423166.2015.1050794 Available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15423166.2015.1050794
  3. Levin, K. G. (2006). Involuntary clients are different: Strategies for group engagement using individual relational theories in synergy with group development theories. Groupwork, 16(2), 61-84.
  4. AVP USA Joint Education Best Practices Team. (2018). Is what you’re doing an AVP workshop? The core elements of AVP workshops. Alternatives to Violence Project International.  Retrieved from https://avp.international/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Is-What-Youre-Doing-an-AVP-Workshop-The-Core-Elements-of-AVP-Workshops.pdf

About Graeme Stuart

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

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