From awareness to participation, or how to support adults and young people in developing their civic competences

I will tell you a story

Midweek, evening. Checkout queue at a grocery shop. Several people stand in a single queue. There are two checkouts. People in the queue go to one checkout and then to the other. At one point, a man, who was not standing in the queue, comes to one of the checkouts from the side. He is waiting for the till to clear to put his purchases on the conveyor belt. One of the women standing in the queue in a calm tone says: Sir, there is one queue for the checkout. The man does not respond. He stands and waits to put his shopping on the belt. The woman repeats, louder and more firmly: Sir, there is one queue for the checkout.  The man responds by almost shouting: Why are you speaking? Nobody asked you!

Or perhaps you fancy a different story? For example, one like this: 

An estate street. Middle of the day. A car slowly drives by. The driver opens the window and throws a drink can straight onto the road. Stunned, people look at each other.

Or a situation that happened on the beach:

End of the day. A woman calls a preschool child and wants the kid to get dressed and collect its toys. The child does not listen and continues to dig in the sand with a shovel. The woman calls the kid again. You can hear the growing nervousness in her voice. The situation continues like this for a minute or two.  Finally, the woman approaches the child. She jerks and shakes the child. The child stunned looks at her.

Each of these stories happened. What do you think of them? What emotions do they evoke in you?  What do you think happened next? How did each of them turn out? How do you behave when you witness them? What can you do during or afterwards to counteract them?

Everyday life to improve, competencies to develop

Every one of us experiences many similar situations in which social norms are broken, someone’s boundaries are crossed, and human rights are not respected. We cannot always recognise these situations properly and respond appropriately. In this text, I propose a way of working with young people and adults that develops the competencies needed to better cope with such situations, fosters a sense of agency and a desire to shape reality with respect for social and civil values and rights, their own and those of others.

The educational process I propose is to use the individual or group experiences of adults and young people to raise their awareness of social and civil rights and in developing self-agency. I proposed and developed it with an international team of educators in the StoryDeC project, which the NGO Trainers’ Association sTOP implemented under the Erasmus+ Programme. 

As part of the process, participants:

  • build their knowledge and understanding of social and civil values and rights by relating their experience to these values and rights,
  • construct their knowledge and understanding of social and civil values and rights by internalising personal experiences, which helps them to organise and reassess their previous knowledge,
  • increase their sense of agency and influence through a process of participant interaction and personal involvement.

In the beginning, is the word

The starting point is a story.  During the workshop, participants prepare and share their stories that happened now or in the past. They must be meaningful to them. The form of their presentation is free. It can be an oral story, or it can be illustrated with drawings or photographs. It can be played as a small drama scene. 

Then comes the time for a group discussion on the story(s) presented in terms of social and civil values and rights. The aim is to have participants share their feelings and perceptions about the story and how they find it in the context of respecting (or not) social and civil values and rights. The role of the facilitator at this stage is to facilitate reflection on the story(s). 

Then comes the time to introduce the knowledge of social and civil values and rights, relevant to the problems posed in the stories. This stage should finish with conclusions, which may refer both to the participants’ reflections on the stories analysed and may go beyond them and refer to a different social context concerning the participants’ knowledge and understanding of social and civil values and rights. The role of the facilitator at this stage is to:

  • facilitate discussions on social and civil values and rights, 
  • broaden perspectives and encourage people to go beyond the stories presented, so that participants can relate them to other experiences of introduced social and civil values and rights.

The next step is a discussion on possible actions that can be introduced by the participants in dealing with the problem(s) presented in the story presented. The result can be an individual or group decision on how to deal with the problem(s) identified in the story(s). It can lead to action planning that participants will implement in their own lives and/or in their local communities.

The action can be a group or individual activity, which participants can talk about next time. This story can be the starting point for another educational process following the same pattern. 

Practical implementation

Let us try to imagine a simple educational process on gender equality. 

  1. Raising awareness through storytelling: 

Ask participants to share their stories of what it is like to be a woman or a man. This can be a story based on their personal or someone else’s experience.

  1.  Reflection

Ask participants to share their opinions and emotions about all the stories presented. What can they say about the position of women and men in society? What does gender equality mean to them? What do they know about the laws regarding this issue? If they do not know much about it, introduce them very briefly to the key values/rights (as described in the EU Treaty, for example).

  1.  Conclusions

Ask participants what they think about these values/rights. Do they feel that everyone is respected in their daily lives? If not, ask for some examples.

  1.  Planning

Ask participants any or all of the following questions: How can you respond to certain types of gender-based disrespect? What can we do as a group? What can you do as an individual in your daily life? 

The outcome of this part of the session can be a group action plan that aims, among other things, to raise awareness of gender equality in the local environment.

  1. Action

Participants carry out their plans (in groups or individually). They are likely to need time to act (depending on the action plan).

  1. Evaluation of actions through storytelling

Ask participants to share their experiences of what they have been able to do. It can be a story based on a group or personal experience. After sharing stories, ask: What has helped you to act? What is the benefit to you? What is the benefit to other people?

Author: Agnieszka Borek
Translation from Polish: Anna Motwicka-Kaczor

Translation of educational material financed as part of Skrzydła dla STOP project from the funds received from NIW- CRSO under The Civil Society Organisations Development Programme for 2018-2030 CSODP (PROO).