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One of the central elements of the project was to pilot the intervention among the selected target population. The purpose of the pilot was to assess participation and acceptability of the intervention. This was successfully conducted in one camp in Dollo Ado in 2018. While there is a growing body of literature on intervention data, there is less attention on the process of piloting. This blog describes several key activities undertaken to ensure a successful pilot.

One of the key steps to the pilot was the recruitment and training of discussion facilitators who would be responsible for piloting of the intervention sessions. These individuals were selected from the refugee community and were assigned to facilitate discussions as follows: a male facilitator assigned to the male-only discussion group; a female facilitator assigned for the female-only group, and a male and female pair was assigned for the couples group.

Once facilitators were identified and trained, the next stage was to form six discussion groups among individuals who were selected for the baseline data collection. These baseline respondents were randomly assigned to the men’s, the women’s, the couples’ group, or the control group. Accordingly, two groups of men, two groups of women, and two groups of couples were assembled to participate in scheduled discussions sessions over a period of five weeks. Each group met three times per week over the five-week period for a total of 16 sessions. Each group comprised twenty individuals per group, while the couples group contained ten wives with their husbands.

In addition to the facilitators and participants, the pilot’s success relied on the engagement of key stakeholders. The pilot intervention started with the blessing of the Community Advisory Board members who rotated from one site to the other to give direction, advise participants, attend discussions and officially open the intervention. In order to give participants privacy while discussing sensitive topics, discussion sites were carefully chosen and thanks to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Partnership for Pastoralists Development Association, and Save the Children International; three discussion halls which allowed us to conduct the discussions in a safe and comfortable environment were used.

Throughout these five weeks, the intervention content, teaching methodology and timing were tested. The intervention was designed to include various interactive and participatory activities, such as small group work, large group discussions, skits and role plays, and debates. While many of these activities were new to most of the participants, in general they were seen to be enjoying the entire process. As sessions continued to be delivered, participants’ level of engagement, active participation and reflection on topics of discussion became a norm.

At first, men, especially in the couples group, were dominating discussions; however, through various techniques such as emphasising the ground rules that specifically address equal participation and ensure that people are not shy to express their views, our facilitators did their very best to engage all participants and enable active participation. This way we were able to witness heated discussions, sometimes witnessing opposing ideas among some group members.

Participation was voluntary and our aim was to obtain full participation and 100% attendance rates. This was challenging to achieve due to movement of the target population to various cities mainly for employment opportunities. However, there was a high participation rate for many of which indicates participants’ interest in, and the relevance of, the program. For those individuals who missed sessions, the most common reasons cited were work, family or health problems. Amongst the groups, we did not have any complaints about the intervention or attempts to stop the sessions despite the sensitive and sometimes taboo discussion topics. Rather, to the contrary, participants described how respective the program is of their culture and religion and because of that they wanted to continue to attend sessions.

In my opinion, observing the participant engagement, the intervention content was truly appreciated by almost all participants. All in all, participants in all three groups were seen enjoying the session, some even told us how the discussion is helping them improve their relationships. Others in the single sex group were asking us why we don’t include their spouses in the same way discussions are conducted in the couples-only group. For example, one male participant stated: “Now that I am empowered, the problem lies at home with my wife who may resist when I display behaviours learnt here which is contrary to what she knows”. Similarly, several participants in the women’s-only groups requested the program to also engage their husbands since talking about these sorts of issues together with their partners may bring bigger solutions than when the woman talk about it alone. This and other similar feedback from participants was very motivating and allowed us to see the extent to which our target population is seeing the benefit of the intervention. Our experience suggests that there may be benefits not only to the participants themselves but to their family as a whole by demanding the engagement of their spouses.

To conclude, the pilot intervention went very well, and was much appreciated by almost all participants who demanded that they would be ready to take the courses again. On top of that, our implementing partners and key stakeholders would like to explore the possibility for scale up. We have emphasised the importance of a more rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of the intervention before scale up. This innovation was also educative for us the research team, as it was led to transformation for our discussion facilitators who claimed to have learnt a great amount, leading to improvements in their own relationships.

Author: Samuel Tewolde, Intervention Specialist for Emergency Operations

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