You are here

Briefing Paper for Small Group Work

Small group work Objectives Small group work is an essential part of the IPHU experience. It serves five broad objectives:

  • getting to know each other and learn from each other in a safe place;
  • consolidating our learning in a safe place; engaging with the ideas presented in the plenary sessions; applying them to our own situation and testing them against our experience;
  • working through the practical methods and skills of planning political engagements;
  • articulating and practising the skills of small group facilitation; and
  • contributing to the work of PHM.

Getting to know each other Many people say that the most valuable things they gain from IPHU courses are the friends they make; the networks they link; the learning from shared experience. The small group work is an important place where we get to know each other and start to share experiences and build friendships.
Consolidating our learning Small group work also provides an opportunity to get to know each other and to learn from each other. It also provides an opportunity for us to try out new ideas in a safe place. This may involve exploring the application to our own circumstances of the ideas presented by a lecturer. It may also involve disagreeing with something that has been said in the plenary discussion and trying out ways of engaging with it. It is a critical part of learning to re-express new ideas in our own words in relation to our own issues. Or it may involve trying out new skills such as facilitation skills.
Action planning IPHU is a course for activists. Our purpose is not just to understand the world but to Change it. Action planning is an important part of changing the world: identifying strategic opportunities; prioritising alternative targets and strategies; linking the developmental and the instrumental (building the movement as well as challenging the existing situation); projecting forward possible scenarios associated with particular iniatives; sequencing, estimating resources and time requirements, etc. These are not just theoretical exercises. Getting activists together in IPHU courses provides real opportunities to plan for real projects that we will put into practice. So the small group work is designed around project planning and movement building as well as learning and consolidating our learning. We learn to plan better by doing it.
Principles of small group facilitation Activist practice involves a great deal of small group work. There are some well-known principles for the operation of successful small groups. The two key principles are participation and efficiency. Participation is about ensuring that there is space for everyone to speak and to be listened to; that there is space for different ideas to be properly explored. Efficiency is about ensuring that the tasks at hand are completed, limiting irrelevant byways, focusing the work of the group on what has to be done. These are sometimes in conflict. See Working in Groups for more about group work. The small group work scheduled as part of the IPHU is also designed to provide a place where participants can share with each other the strategies and skills of effective group work. We expect that to a large extent the small groups will find their own feet; establish their own norms; and steer their own pathways between participation and efficiency.
Contributing to the work of PHM Both the project groups and the country groups are intended as places where real projects are planned with a view to those projects being carried out later as part of the work of PHM or as part of continuing PHM project work.
Project Groups In previous IPHU courses we have organised small group work solely around "project areas". Project areas are areas such as "trade and health", "gender relations and health", "intellectual property rights", "the right to health", "action on the social determinants of health" and "developing comprehensive primary health care". These are areas of advocacy and organisation that are common across different countries. They are areas of struggle around which activists from different countries can collaborate and work together in parallel but complementary ways. The task, associated with these project areas, is to prepare a project proposal for presentation to the whole group at the end of the course. This project proposal will include goals, objectives, background, strategies, methods, resources, timelines, etc. It will be a project that we as IPHU participants in collaboration with other IPHU alumni and other members of PHM could pick up and implement. Project groups will present their proposals in a plenary session on the last day of the course. There may be an opportunity in longer courses for an earlier presentation of ideas in development. In working on this project task, the groups need to also make time for the other objectives (in particular, getting to know you and consolidating our learning). See above. In working on the project task and these other objectives the groups should also keep returning to the principles of effective group work. This will require attention to facilitation and documentation as well as group process. Many groups find it useful to appoint a "process watcher" from among their membership, someone who undertakes to follow and evaluate group process and report back to the group from time to time.
Deciding on groups for project work and allocating participants to project groups We have not found a particularly neat way of selecting project areas and then allocating participants. Perhaps the simplest is to start with the broad range of curriculum topics listed on the Library Page and invite people to identify their preferred areas to work on. As a general, 4-5 participants is a good number for these groups.
Country Groups For the Savar IPHU we divided into Country Groups as well as Project Groups. These were groups constituted by participants from one country or region and instead of working on projects which could be mounted as international projects they were tasked to work on PHM development in their country or district or region. Thus everybody was a member of two separate groups. This helped us to work closely with a wider circle of friends. Apart from working on country PHM development the objectives of the country groups were broadly the same as for the Project Groups including getting to know you and consolidating our learning. The same requirements for group facilitation and group consciousness apply to the country groups as well as the project groups.