Spotlight: Building skills to end violence through understanding and collaboration


The ISS is training specialist facilitators to help people find solutions to complex social problems like gender-based violence and xenophobia. Deep divisions across race, class, nationality, gender and sexuality can frustrate efforts to address South Africa’s stubborn challenges of racism, poverty and violence.

Policy makers don’t always understand the needs of frontline community workers. Researchers don’t understand the pressures faced by government officials, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can’t see how their work relates to policy. There are too few opportunities to talk and plan together, and meetings are often dominated by hierarchies which create potential for confusion and disagreement.

An evaluation of the Violence Prevention Forum (VPF) showed that skilled facilitation is vital to getting people to understand each other and then build the relationships and trust needed for effective collaboration. This prompted the development of a VPF training course that equips facilitators to help diverse groups listen more actively and empathise with the experiences and opinions of others.

‘We are working in an environment characterised by trauma and misunderstanding, which gets in the way of the partnerships needed to prevent violence,’ says ISS Senior Research Fellow Dr Chandré Gould. ‘By training skilled facilitators, we empower people from different sectors to break down their mutual mistrust, recognise their differences, and work better together.’ 

The training is based on the VPF’s values and meeting methods. Working with Reos Partners and Leadership Pathways, the VPF delivered two nine-day courses in 2021, with support from the Finnish government and the World Childhood Foundation. After the third course in June 2022, more than 40 delegates from government, donors, research organisations, civil society and the private sector will have been trained.

We are empowering people to break down mistrust, recognise differences and work better together

The course tackles racism, patriarchy, inequality and the widespread use of violence to resolve conflict. It helps participants understand the impact of trauma on people’s thinking and behaviour. Delegates are shown how to recognise power relations in a group and their own judgements and prejudices. They get mentoring once the course has concluded and apply their new skills in their workplaces and communities, where they grapple daily with the challenge of violence prevention.

A senior police officer who did the course says that he now has a better appreciation of how people see the police when he convenes community safety dialogues. And a youth development worker reports being more able to give all people a chance to speak.

Facilitation is also being used to improve policy and law. Adv Dellene Clark, a Specialist State Law Adviser at the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC), used the VPF training at a dialogue on domestic violence. Government officials, legal experts, police, prosecutors, judges, pathologists, academics, NGOs and an abuse survivor gathered to discuss a United Nations recommendation that South Africa change its law to define domestic violence as a specific criminal offence.

Clark said her new skills enabled her to level the hierarchies in the group and empower those who often stay silent to express themselves, including a woman in an abusive relationship and a police officer. The result was that the SALRC received 86 submissions, giving it a solid mandate to proceed with its recommendations for legal reform.   

‘We used to do these consultations in person,’ Clark said. ‘This time, instead of a dry discussion about law, a survivor brought their own experience to what they saw as a safe space. Dissenting voices were welcomed, and I believe the participants felt they were heard and included. The participation was good and the feedback was positive.’

For more information contact:

Chandré Gould, ISS: [email protected]

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