“The global network of facilitators was created to support UNESCO in building human and institutional capacities for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (ICH)”, said the Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone R., who opened the side event. “Now in its seventh year, the network has grown into a respected and resourceful player for implementing the Convention. In some respects, it embodies the living memory of the Convention during its first decade.”
Then, moderator Deirdre Prins Solani (Africa) welcomed the four facilitators to give attendees to the side event firsthand perspectives of being facilitators on the global network. The diverse group of facilitators on the roundtable were Subha Chaudhuri (Asia and the Pacific), Harriet Deacon (Africa), Lucas Dos Santos Roque (Latin America and the Caribbean) and Hani Hayajneh (Arab States).
The role of the facilitator has evolved since the global capacity building programme started in 2011, going beyond the role of trainer.
Key to effective facilitation is good communication and understanding of the local context and stakeholders. “We have to understand the context in multidimensional lens and consider the local context. Communication with States Parties is invaluable for planning from the beginning so we can convey the message of the Convention properly to workshop participants,” Hayajneh commented.
Facilitators are managing a delicate balancing act they constantly encounter – be it between urban and rural communities, interactions between the local and international, or at the national and municipal levels facilitators are asked to help communities and stakeholders to relate the language and principles of the Convention to their specific contexts. “The interaction between the local and the international and the principles of the Convention and what’s happening in the local context – that is a crucial aspect of the role of the facilitators”, said Deacon. Facilitators play the role of impartial inter-mediators or ‘honest brokers’ they are not representing states nor NGOs or other institutions.
The fact that facilitators are not part of institutions have helped them to play this positive role. Said Dos Santos Roque: “We can think and speak in a liberal way, free to think and assist, to put ourselves in all these shoes, of UNESCO staff, government, local stakeholder shoes, and especially to think of the local communities. This has been advantageous in solving many issues, the fact that we are not from this region or area, to look as an outsider and to build on the capacity of the discussion.” Chaudhuri concurred, noting that facilitators had the benefit of experience from being in the field – “We can bring our own fieldwork experiences into the workshop situations, which gives us a space where we can work and demonstrate how this works best.”
Perhaps one of the most important roles that facilitators play is a longer term one – after the training with communities has ended, some have maintained relationships guiding and mentoring participants long after the workshops have ended. “Many of us follow up after the workshops to encourage people to establish and grow local networks, and we try and link people into other international networks that may be of interest to them. It is not just about the workshop itself – it’s about the bigger picture and the long term in that country”, Deacon noted.
At the end of the day, facilitators are not there to claim to be experts of local knowledge or communities - Dos Santos Roque summed it up noting that “facilitators empower the local people, to construct a situation for the local communities to facilitate their process and thinking.”
There was a lively Question and Answer session at the end, with many attendees taking the opportunity to share their positive experiences with the facilitators’ network, while others asked questions about how to get involved and benefit from doing so. Some warned that with the gradual growth of the network, attention should be payed that the high quality standards in facilitation are kept, which will require training opportunities for facilitators to keep abreast with latest developments in the life of the Convention.