More details of our trial of a weekly, open AVP group

As discussed in a recent post, our local Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) group has been trialling a Basic AVP workshop as a weekly open group (in partnership with the Samaritans Recovery Point) where people can join any week. In this post we will discuss some of the finer detail of this approach.

While there are variations in a traditional, closed-group AVP Basic Workshop, (e.g., to adapt to differences in the number and length of days for the workshop), we largely follow the same sequence of activities and have a relatively standard agenda. However, The open group, however, is quite different. As mentioned in the recent post, participants in the open group receive a Basic certificate after completing 9 weeks. This does not mean that we rotate through a series of nine agendas. After each session, we debrief and plan the next week’s agenda depending on what we think will be most useful for the group. Issues or problems are identified and discussed as they arise and we can address them the following week if needed. For example, one week there was a lot of distraction because a few people were leaving the group to take phone calls and then returning to the group. (One person was needing to find housing and another person had a family issue.) One of the participants commented in the feedback that they were disappointed that the facilitators didn’t address the distractions especially during the Gathering. (When we explained some of the background in private after the workshop, they understood why we didn’t respond in the workshop, but still thought we should have done something.)

In response to the feedback, the next week (Session 25) we had a real focus on listening, including a variation of the Safety Circle. We explored, “How can we make the Gathering a place where people really feel listened to?” [We start each workshop with a Gathering where we go around the circle saying our Affirmation Name and responding to a question or prompt (e.g., In this session it was “How I feel/react when I am not listened to?”). The Safety Circle is similar to a Gathering, but we go around the circle twice, once responding to “What do I need to feel safe in this group?” and then “What can I do to help others feel safe in this group?”

We try to ensure that participants have covered all the key topics in a Basic workshop before they graduate. We record which sessions participants attend, but we want to improve how we do this. If there is somebody who has nearly completed nine sessions, but hasn’t done a key topic, we will try to introduce it. (Of course we might plan something like that, and then the person misses that session.) Sometimes people do repeat an exercise (e.g., Light and Live-lies, Broken Squares, and the Violence, and Peace Trees), especially people who have graduated. One of the good things about AVP, however, is that each time we do an exercise, we learn something new. None of the participants have complained about having to do an exercise another time. The person who has done 20 sessions has done some of the major exercises three (maybe four) times.

At some of the team debriefs we have discussed how we could have explored Transforming Power more during the session. This is an area we are trying to improve. One strategy we are trying to introduce (but keep forgetting) is to include the Mandala (which we use to explore Transforming Power) in the workshop feedback at the end of each session. For the feedback we use a smiley face (for what they liked or appreciated), a sad face (for what they didn’t like or didn’t work) and a light bulb (for bright ideas: insights they had or ideas for how to improve the session). During the light bulb, to help make sure we keep the workshop grounded in Transforming Power, we have started asking what parts of the mandala the group thought we explored in the session. We need to get into the habit of starting the feedback earlier so we have enough time for the added question.

Other ways we explore Transforming Power (a key concept in AVP) in each session include:

  • Asking about it in a debrief
  • Discussing it in some depth on a fairly frequent basis
  • Making it the theme of a session at least every 9 weeks.

Because we plan each session as we go, we don’t feel the same pressure to get through set material that we sometimes feel in a traditional Basic workshop. We usually plan a little bit more than we think we will get through in the weekly sessions, which means that often something from the agenda gets pushed back to the following week. Not feeling the same pressure to get through material means we are less likely to rush a debrief to get to another activity. Planning sessions as we go, also means that we have tried activities we don’t normally include in a Basic and have trialled new exercises (from the manuals or ones we have developed). The weekly planning (and having to put-up and take-down posters every week) requires a greater time commitment by the facilitators. The facilitation team usually spends an extra 1.5 – 2 hours (setting-up, tidying-up, planning and debriefing) in addition to the 2-hour session.

For AVP facilitators who are interested, our first 35 agendas are available from the Google Doc Shared AVP agendas sessions 1-35. These agendas include brief reminders for ourselves about exercises and brief notes from the reflection afterwards, and are largely unedited (except for removing names of participants). Most of the exercises are from AVP manuals but some are ones we created or adapted.

In our planning for next year, we have decided to incorporate some changes. We quite often start 10 minutes late, and there is a “short” break in the middle, which sometimes extends longer than we would like. We don’t like to go past the advertised finish time so we are going to make the advertised time of the sessions from 10 to 12:30 (rather than 10 to 12) so that if we start a bit late, and have a slightly longer break, we will still have at least 2 hours for the session.

We also want to give graduates the opportunity to be more involved. The normal path is to do the Advanced and Training for Facilitators (T4F) workshops and we have been unsure how to incorporate them into the open group. Next year, we are going to trial doing an Advanced followed by a T4F as closed-group workshops. These will be 3.5-hour, weekly sessions running for 6 consecutive weeks on Wednesday mornings. This will require a bigger commitment from participants but is still less intensive than our traditional workshops. There could be other ways to involve graduates besides being facilitators and we want to explore these opportunities.

Many of the people who attend Recovery Point, have experienced trauma and frequent judgement and discrimination, so we want to ensure that the workshop stays a safe place. We are thus careful about inviting people who are not from Recovery Point (although it does happen). We hope the Advanced and T4F workshops will include people not just from Recovery Point and help build connections between different parts of the community. We also hope to trial another, weekly open Basic group (possibly after work) for people not from Recovery Point.

Finally, it is important we support the growth of facilitators (both new and experienced) through facilitation team debriefs at the end of workshops. In traditional workshops, after a review of the agenda, we usually invite each facilitator to identify what they did well in the workshop and what they could have done differently or improved, and then they receive supportive feedback from each of the other facilitators. Because there is no “end of the workshop” in the open group, we have not been doing this process. We have decided to introduce our usual process every 8 – 10 sessions to ensure we keep improving our facilitation skills.

This is the second in a series of posts:

  1. Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab
  2. More details of our trial of a weekly, open AVP group
  3. Key activities in our trial of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) open group

This blog post was written by the current facilitation team: Graeme Stuart, Annette Hoffman, Jacob Cummins and Michael Badier. Zoe Griffiths and Gener Lapina were on the facilitation team earlier in the year.

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

  1. Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab
  2. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  3. The Alternatives to Violence Project: Reflections on a strengths-based approach to nonviolent relationships and conflict resolution
  4. An Alternatives to Violence Project workshop for parents
  5. Team building before facilitating
  6. 12 principles of a problem solving approach to conflict resolution

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them.

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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