The local context is key. These workshops should be run with local support from organisations based within the conflict-affected area being addressed. This means not only accessing potential participants but furthermore helping to choose the content (and potentially delivery methods) of any given workshop, thus ensuring that the content would always be as relevant as possible.
Local context must be considered from start to finish of a programme. This means disregarding top-down approaches, and instead designing the programme (and the training for the instructors or facilitators delivering the activities) with the local context in mind. An externally-designed model implemented in a highly complex local context without adaptation will inevitably be ineffective at best or damaging at worst. Furthermore, instructors or facilitators without local knowledge will have a similar impact. As such, instructors or facilitators should be given knowledge of the local context, including recent history, geography, customs and language where possible. If workable, instructors or facilitators should be drawn from a pool of individuals already well-practiced in research in the geographical area in which they are delivering their programmes. A certain flexibility amongst those delivering trainings is also necessary due to the changeability of different local contexts, as well as an openness to keeping up to date with recent events in each geopolitical region they work in. The importance of adapting to a local context is highlighted by Norman Clark and colleagues, who argue that ‘successful innovation systems are those with scope for adaptation in response to changing circumstances and contexts’. Trainers should also be open to adapting their instructional style according to the expertise and backgrounds of the audience members, and the level of contribution being offered by the partner organisation, amongst other factors. Capacity building needs will also vary according to local context.
In all capacity building programmes there is a tension between effectiveness and promoting local ownership. In a debate around security sector reform (SSR), for example, Eric Scheye and Gordon Peake argue that, while local ownership is a genuine goal, ‘SSR practitioners are under pressure to produce “results” that might be infeasible to attain if they were to adhere to the strictures of “local ownership”… In implementation, therefore, SSR programmes regularly sideline or bypass “local owners”’. The same is true of workshop design. Workshops must be innovative, adapting to local needs and to the views and priorities of the participants. Meanwhile, the support system for these workshops—composed of funders and evaluators—must be flexible in accepting that programmes that are locally-owned may not necessarily produce what is generally understood to be a ‘result’. There is generally a lack of patience with donor initiatives that do not result in concrete outcomes. In particular, this impatience is directed towards what are seen as multiple and often duplicated exercises in strategic planning and assessment, and multiple and often duplicated workshops, meetings and conferences. In contrast, those initiatives that are most valued are those that delivering capacities that will remain in place once the donors had left. These include equipment and, particularly, infrastructure.
Involve local organisations working in the appropriate field(s), with a track record in said field(s), throughout the design and delivery phases of the workshop. If possible, then through the local organisations, seek in advance a list of pertinent topics from prospective workshop participants. Ensure that all materials produced for the workshop can be related to the local context, and where they directly mention the local context, ensure that the materials are balanced.