The Spiral Model of Popular Education offers a framework for helping groups of people learn from their experiences using the concepts of participatory education. The model holds that when working with organizations or networks, it is important always to assume that the people in the group know best what their community needs and how to provide it. As backbone support and facilitators of community change processes, RSP believes that while we have knowledge, experiences, and ideas to offer, we should always start with the experiential wisdom of the participants and partners. Collectively, they have the wisdom to bring about significant change. They might not have tapped into that wisdom yet, but it’s there. Our job as backbone support and facilitator is to help them surface their collective wisdom, and use it to take their work to the next level. Below are the steps that guide this spiral model process. You can also download the tool here.
- Start by pulling out the knowledge and wisdom of the engaged participants. Use a variety of tools, including storytelling, card storming, appreciative inquiry, etc.
- Once there are a number of rich experiences and ideas on the table, help participants sort through them and look for key themes or patterns that are relevant for what they are trying to do. This builds a collective understanding of the system.
- Often, facilitators themselves have some information (e.g., knowledge about an approach or funder) that might help the group move forward. Alternatively, groups may want to identify new research needs that get incorporated later. Introduce this new information or the need for it once the group puts their information out on the table and has made sense of it.
- Once all of the group’s knowledge and wisdom has been shared and made sense of, the group has a much clearer picture of how they might work together. At this point, facilitators support the group’s development of plans for action.
- The group does what it planned to do, and then returns to step one in the center of the spiral. It’s a spiral model – the whole process repeats itself, leading to a second cycle of reflection and action.
RSP’s approach to working with our partners is based on Paulo Freire’s framework and the Highlander Research & Education Center’s approach to popular education, which offers the following set of guiding principles that are important to carrying out the Spiral Model for Popular Education. We embrace these participatory principles in order to ensure that the people we work with, and those who participate in meetings remain at the center of our facilitation practice:
- Participants are seen as potential agents or actors, people who can re-create the world.
- Facilitator and participants are active and creative co-investigators / co-learners.
- As a group, participants dialogue, analyze, brainstorm, plan, decide, and act.
- The content is chosen by participants — participatory curriculum development.
- Knowledge emerges from everyday experiences.
- The facilitator refuses neutrality; she is openly committed to marginalized groups and justice.
- The purpose of facilitation is to help participants learn from their experiences, develop analyses of society, and plan for collective action.
Over the years, Rural Support Partners has used the above principles and incorporated them into our daily work. The result is an adapted set of values that describes how we go about the work of facilitation and community development. Read those values on our Who We Are page.