At Global Fund for Children (GFC), our convening practice is key to building long-term partnerships with community-based organizations as they learn, adapt, and lead change. In this blog post, we share our unique approach to convenings, how we shift power to our partners, and recent changes we have made to our feedback mechanisms.
Partnering with Local Organizations to Serve Children
Global Fund for Children envisions a future where all children and youth enjoy equal resources and opportunities in society and live free from violence, discrimination, and exploitation. We boldly pursue this vision by forming long-term partnerships with community-based organizations around the world to help children and youth reach their full potential and advance their rights. To do this, we offer flexible funding, connections, and a suite of other services tailored to the needs of our partners as they seek to strengthen their organizations. Our convenings are a key element of these services and open a space for partners to connect with each other and provide peer support.
A Participant-Centered Approach to Convenings
GFC’s convenings are opportunities to put our values into practice and collaborate with our partners to create an event where they can forge new connections and strengthen their capacities. We strive to act as facilitators rather than gatekeepers of expertise. Through conversations with partners and feedback that is collected after each convening, we let partner needs, experiences, and interests guide the content and pace of activities.
In practice, this means our convenings are full of opportunities for partners to share their overall approaches, the challenges they face, and their strategies for success, in order to facilitate peer learning and establish a basis for mutual understanding that can lead to longer-term connections. In our post-convening surveys, many of our partners reported that these connections led to ongoing sharing of knowledge and resources, as well as collaboration on projects.
We seek to create a safe, equitable, creative, and empowering environment for our partners. Power dynamics within partner organizations can impact how participants act during convening activities. While each situation is unique, we try to discuss this openly during our convenings. One way we have countered this dynamic is to abandon the use of job titles and suggest that each participant choose a characteristic or strength to include on their name tag. For example, someone might call themselves “Rodri the Learner” or “Devyani the Dreamer.”
A Convening Approach Inspired by Children
Our partners’ work with children has a deep impact on the way we facilitate convenings. Activities are designed to engage partners in fun and creative ways that can lead to deeper connections between participants. Most activities are conducted in small groups and provide space for everyone to share and move. Attention is paid to the wellbeing of participants, with time set aside to process difficult topics and comfortable, safe spaces available if participants need to take a break during activities.
In 2019, for example, GFC invited community-based partners working for the rights of migrant children to Guatemala for a convening. As a wellbeing activity, one entire day was spent outside in a national park where participants engaged in “circles of care,” speaking about places that were magical for them as children, giving thanks to someone who has supported them, and sharing what gives them hope to keep fighting.
Another example of an activity inspired by our work with children is the Garden of Transformation. Partners are asked to draw a tree, including elements of the surrounding environment that help it thrive, such as soil, sun, and rain. They then identify aspects of their organization and work that can be seen as different parts of the picture. Using this metaphor, participants examine the strengths and resources their organization already possesses and identify areas for improvement. This activity promotes group reflection, collaboration, and dreaming, and partners have reported finding it an inspiring exercise that helps them visualize the resources available to them.
Gathering Feedback from our Partners
Learning is one of our core values and is essential to our commitment to participatory approaches. As part of this, we consistently seek feedback from partners on our convenings. Acting on that feedback is critical to establishing a trust-based relationship where partners feel safe and respected when they ask for what they need.
Starting in 2018, GFC began consistently surveying partners about their convening experiences. We developed a list of core standard questions, with flexibility built in for regional teams to select from this list and write new questions to customize their surveys for each individual convening.
The core questions of the survey ask partners to rate various aspects of the convening, from logistical concerns like the venue and timing of daily activities to the relevance of the subject matter covered and what they took away from the convening in terms of new contacts and changes to their organization or programming. These questions represent the building blocks that go into creating a successful convening. They also focus on the convening’s impact, asking which aspects of the convening most affected partners and what, if anything, they will do differently going forward.
GFC’s Learning and Evaluation team is responsible for analysis and learning generation both within and across regions. In 2021, we took the first deep dive into the data and identified a pool of learnings that will inform GFC’s convening practice moving forward. Regional teams also looked at their survey results and came to their own conclusions.
Learning About Our Partners’ Experience
In this first round of analysis, the Learning and Evaluation team analyzed survey data going back to 2018, which included 10 post-convening surveys and a total of 189 respondents. While each regional team had processed the results of their post-convening surveys as they came in, this was the first time that GFC’s approach to convenings was being analyzed at the organization level. We were thrilled to find that most partners rated our convenings very highly on overarching questions like “How would you rate your overall experience?” and “How likely are you to use something you learned during this convening in your organization’s work?”
Other findings were helpful in identifying areas for future growth in our convening practice. One trend we saw was a desire for more unstructured time to allow partners to strike natural connections with each other. We had tended to focus on providing an engaging and informative experience and were less attuned to the benefit that partners could gain from time just spent connecting, without any relationship-building activities to assist in the process.
Another significant learning emerged around the emotional weight of convenings. Many participants reported feeling drained after a string of activities that tackled areas such as their personal connection to their work or the injustices of our world, even when those activities included a focus on wellbeing. In their comments, partners suggested that we distribute activities that deal with emotionally charged content throughout the day, with time for resting and lighter activities in between.
Making Feedback Count
GFC will continue to improve our convening practice based on our initial findings. When asking partners to take the time to submit thoughtful feedback, it is important not only to act on that feedback in some way but also to close the loop and communicate back to partners about the results of the analysis and any subsequent actions.
We will also continue improving our post-convening survey and the process for analyzing and sharing the results cross-regionally, including beginning to track how our convenings are changing over time in response to partner feedback.
In the meantime, thanks to the overwhelmingly positive results across the post-convening surveys, we are pleased to know that our partners have a deep appreciation for the spaces our regional teams provide to facilitate learning together and connecting with each other.