Barefoot Guide 4 - Writeshop

18 to 22 November 2013, Johannesburg

A summary and record of what we did, including the online Hackpad conversations


This document is ready record of the Writeshop process for those who were there and those who could not make it. We will be posting a fuller version of the method and approach in a few weeks.


Here is a link to the Barefoot Guide 4 Writeshop Website where we can post files and pictures that might be relevant for this document. If you have files or pictures to share, please email them to

Day 1:

We started the Writeshop with a Free Writing session divided in 3 parts (and with 3 prompts): ‘I am…’, ‘What really brought me here is…’, and ‘If I were a colour, I’d be_______, because…’ After that, we shared some of our responses with other participants and had time to start to get to know each other. 

Then we had a quick overview of the process of creating the Barefoot Guides 1, 2 and 3, followed by a brief explanation of what is initially planned for this Writeshop – including the online elements of it. Participants were also invited to “Take a Barefoot Guide to bed” in the first night…

Finally, we made groups of 4-5 people and started to prepare our “tablecloths” for the World Café session on Day 2. The process consisted of groups seating around a table with a flipchart on it (“the tablecloth”)  and each one in the group had time to tell their stories (which they had time to prepare by using some more free writing), while others listened, doodled and then gave them feedback about it.

At the end of the day the first review group met and received the task of preparing a creative presentation about the first day to start the activities on Tuesday.

What is the real work of social change? - reports from small group story sharing



  1. Amplifying the voice of the poor and marginalized. 

How  civil society, while supporting and amplifying the voice of the poor,  there is need to provide more space for the genuine voice of the poor to  be head in its organic form ’with less voice overs’. when the  marginalized speak for themselves, little is lost in translation. The  big question is how to do this? obviously,  different situations will  require different approaches, but what would be the fundamentals and  what are the key success factors.

2. Challenging the power systems and structures 

While  there are numerous cases where individuals and communities are  empowered, the grand prize remains that of ensuring the change is  systemic and it will serve all en sundry. Two cases from Mozambique and  Kenya showed how this can be done successfully at local and national  level respectively.

3.Capacity  building (not tonnes of training) is key to sustainable social  transformation. community led the capacity building, while it may time a  long time (and sometimes unexpected outcomes) makes a huge difference  in transforming societies.

4.Bringing  people together. Civil society or NGOs can achieve more with less  resources by working together (less competition) among themselves as  well as with other partners like the government, private sector  (especially), local leaders etc. community challenges are not parceled  in thematic areas and they never fit one organization’s focus, hence  partnerships with solution providers of what ever form is vital.

Some questions that are emerging:

Day 2:

The day started with the presentation of the review group, and immediately after the World Café groups got back together to finish preparing their “tablecloths”. Some really amazing images started to appear and one of the groups even brought pictures to illustrate their story.

Once groups were done, the rotation part of the World Café session started: each table had a host and the other members circulated to the other tables (one table for each round). At the end of each round, each table put their main insights or questions on a flipchart. In the final round, participants went back to the original tables to hear about what had been discussed there.

After the World Café we had a 5 minutes free drawing activity, follow by another free writing session with the prompt: ‘What is the real work of social change?’ We then closed this part of the Writeshop by sharing in the big group our main thoughts and questions that came up during the World Café. 

To close the day, each participant was invited to write in a couple of sentences what their pieces of writing would be about. One by one we presented our contributions to the rest of the group, and started having an idea of what the content of the BFG4 may look like. Participants were then we divided into 5 groups and were invited to give it a go in start designing a structure for the Barefoot Guide 4. The official activities of the day ended with the second review group meeting.

In the “after hours”, the group went for dinner in Johannesburg and then to watch a play called “Rainbow Scars”. 

Reflections from the World Cafe session:

In the World Cafe we present a tablecloth of ideas from our stories to others - everyone moves round and gets to share their learning. 

The growing gap between the new generation and old forms of governance

We have a rising new generation of young people who are connected, more globally aware, have high expectations and who know their rights and are able to network and  and who are increasingly difficult to govern (in conventional ways) - Arab Spring, Turkey, Brasil, South Africa (12000 service delivery protests in the last year) etc - the image of trying to "herd cats" comes to mind (I hope this does not offend).  Governments are increasingly incapable of meeting their citizens expectations...  is this true?  How do we begin to resolve this growing tension?

Makes me think of the impacts of technologies such as social media creating new sets of expectations and opportunities in the way we relate to government from local to global. The social system is lagging in how to respond to a whole new context.



 The biggest challenge of this morning’s session for me was about the role of organisations - are they (with their individual volunteers, staff etc. who bring their motivations, leadership capacities, values etc) the drivers of change? Or are individuals the drivers’ of change independently of the organisations that they’re in. Of course we know that individuals can at times be huge catalysts for change outside of organisations e.g. the person who decides to litigate on a key issue, like the person who set fire to himself in Tunisia, or the lesbian judge who went to court for her partner’s right to a pension. And we know that individuals within structures can make change happen e.g. Gates’ decision to focus on malaria and put $billions behind that, or a politician’s decision to focus on a particular issue and use the systems of the legislature or / and mobilising public opinion around that. But still, organisations and groups in networks and alliances have moved immovable issues repeatedly, from getting climate change onto the global agenda to increasing access to safe abortion in country after country. Yet many people here have noticed the growth of individuals speaking for themselves, without being part of or accountable to those who are most affected by an issue, or their organisations; blogging, twitter etc.also provide a vehicle that validates individual voice over collective voice (or can do); and we see pockets of groups mobilising without being linked up with each other. 


 One person said ’government shouldn’t be doing development’ and I find myself wanting to ask why on earth should people who are poor have to spend their time defining what they need at the level of toilets, schools or water? The rich haven’t had to do that. I don’t see participation and self-management as a positive value above everything. I’d like a world in which people had leisure time, recreation time and didn’t have to spend every moment of their lives organising around really basic things....even while recognising that if people don’t have a say, others might make decisions that don’t work for them; and that some of the apparatus of the development paradigm that I might see as a basic right might be unsustainable......and this relates to another useful conversation in various groups this morning which was that the question ’Where is the real work of social change’ is value neutral. After all, social change can take place to the detriment of the majority of the population, or certain groups within a population.We need a values statement to ground our effort towards this Barefoot Guide that says what sort of social change we’re hoping for. There’s also something that creeps into the conversation about ’the community’ as if it’s homogenous; yet others doing quite fascinating work to open difficult conversations within communities for example about gender inequality or sexual orientation in very innovative ways - reworking folk songs; or - two people I’ve met here - giving people videos to record people telling their stories, and then using the space of editing and then sharing those stories to tease out uncomfortable issues. By having those issues represented by people within and ’of’ a ’community’, it’s harder to contest their significance.


Being social change

Our conversations and reflections yesterday confirmed the centrality of space in facilitating social change.  In addition, authentic leadership of self and processes also emerged strongly. This made me think of myself as a space for social change given the connection  between individual and collective change.  "Be the change you want to see in the world" and "Walking the talk" are just some of the rallying cries.  Some thoughts on how I may proceed to be the space for social change from the free writing session:

In my work with community care workers I have learnt that the facilitation of a safe, attentive, supportive environment where one can reflect and be challenged to be more responsible for one’s own wellbeing is essential for realising collective power.  People help to create such spaces.....people can be such spaces.

Today will form day three of the Barefoot Guide 4 Writeshop. We have had two great days of thinking through individually and in group assignments and activities of what the guide should consist of. This has been an engaging and learning process.

In fact, since I left my home in lusaka, I had one key objective: Learning how to write. I have had great desires of being an author, to have the ability to sit and write some things that would influence others. 

Well, so far so good. My mission is being achieved. I have been exposed to various writers, being able to listen and ask them about the things that have puzzled my mind in the last few years and hearing the answers has really been a great experience!

  • What have I learnt? 
  • The key is the process of writing! The process of individual and collaborative writing. We started very slowly yet strategic at the very beginning of writing: timed free writing, with some prompts (“I am…”, “what really brought me here is…”, and “if I was a colour I would be… because…”) These questions set us on in writing. After each prompt, we were asked to highlight the sentences that we felt good about and then to share them in pairs with our friends. For me this was enlightening. 

    However the cherry on the cake is when I had a conversation with one of the facilitators expressing one of my major frustrations in writing: reading through and editing my draft! She immediately advised that I don’t work from the free writing when I’m doing the second draft but rather just lift the key ideas that have come out of there, and pick a fresh piece of paper and develop those ideas and write again. She further advised that with much practice and experience, the free writing will become better and you will know how to write, what to write and thereby reducing the number of drafts- I can’t wait for that day!

    Moving on to the process of social change, we had various questions, discussions, writing and sharing  of our stories in groups. We shared, discussed and synthesised our discussions on a tablecloth in readiness of the table cafe. This exercise was challenging yet very rich and engaging! We heard stories of change from all over the world - the caregivers who advocated for better recognition, the minority classes who become better organised, the beneficiaries of development work who better participated in their own development. Some stories where heard during tea and lunch breaks! One such theme that resonated well between a colleague from Kenya and myself were stories of our mothers. We both came from very large families and taken care of by our uneducated yet wise mothers who ensured that her children had far much better lives than their generation. Tears filled my eyes when I travelled down memory lane to a short conversation I had with my late mother that changed the course of my life! 

    It was in the early 90s and I was in my eighth grade. I developed interest in a girl who was older than me and doing her eleventh grade at a different school. I enjoyed being with her, but had not proposed to her. She was equally interested in me and would pamper me with a lot of gifts. But nothing had happened so far. I was shy! One day coming back from school with a bag full of presents from my friend, I met my mother in the kitchen. The conversation which lasted less than a minute is what changed my life. She asked me what I was carrying in the backpack (she noticed it was not my usual school bag). I told her they where biscuits and perfume from a friend. Then she said “ those biscuits you are eating alone, but it is I who will be looking after the children who will be born from that friendship!” This was profound and I felt embarrassed! How did my mom know that the presents where firstly form a girl! Up until then, I had never kissed a girl and she was thinking that I was sleeping with her! 

    I quickly dashed to the bedroom and knew exactly what I was supposed to do! The following day, I returned the backpack and ended the relationship. I started avoiding my friend and later moved to another town. Five years later while visiting my parents a friend who I had gone to school with told me that Angela had passed away after a very long illness! Casually I shared my sympathies. He looked at me and repeated the news again. I knew what he was insinuating - it was the late 90s - there was no safe sex then, no antiretroviral drugs- HIV developed into AIDS and people experienced the whole circle until death. I remembered the one minute conversation with my mother that changed and saved my life!

    I don’t know what today has install for me, but I am excited and looking forward to another exciting day and hearing and writing about change!

    Day 3:

    The day started with the presentation by the review group, followed by the presentations of the possible designs the groups had created the day before. We then shared a few thoughts about the designs, but kept the five options co-existing for a while. 

    Today we also worked with our stories - using head (what does this story make me think?), heart (how does this story make me feel?), feet (what does this story make me want to do?) questions from our listening group to help us go deeper into the story.

    We also worked with poetic titles - there are some great ones! - ’let the kitchen talk’, ’the power of us’, ’from lawyer to scavenger’ - don’t they make you want to read?

    We used haikus to help us develop these titles - lots of meaning in very few words:

    Don’t worry, spiders,

    I keep house


    What’s your story? What poetic title would you give it? Why?  

    At the end of Day 3 we started developing our writing maps:

    Reflections on Day 3

    In terms of social change, I strongly believe in the connectedness between and meaningful movement from individual concerns to collective actions. As such, social change must start from the bottom. Each time an individual has a felt need to share his/her story and listen to another with same interest, there would be possibility for change to happen. It is important to search for such change agents and connect them so that they all can speak out and take actions to improve current situation. 

    Howerver, it is necessary to redefine several concepts we keep in mind: what is the social change? Is there a need (and a will) to make a real change? What are the trade-offs of social change? Who will make changes (local people, NGOs, Government, etc.)? In my own thinking, I am convinced that it is the very insiders who have an answer.

    Over the last couple of days, we’ve been talking a lot about individuals (personal responsibility) and the collective (mutual obligation and accountability) within social change. We’ve also been talking a lot about the transformation that occurs when people discover the strength of their voice and are given space, or the opportunity to use that voice and engage with others. Experimentation, active citizenship, ambiguity, and trust seem to continue to circle back through our discussions. 


    It’s a big topic, but I’ve been quite impressed with the WriteShop methodology itself and how it’s open enough to support the formulation of ideas, while enabling “people who aren’t writers write for people who aren’t readers.” There’s lots of questions floating around, and that’s ok. After some intense days, we’re now formulating writing maps for our proposed chapters or sections, and then seeing where the content takes us. Tomorrow, we are unleashed! We write!

    Here’s the question I’m trying to answer: How do we communicate the reality of social change so that people can have a deeper appreciation of its complexity? It’s about how we portray people, our roles, our work, our mistakes in a “silver bullet solutions” world. It’s about engaging with people who aren’t great fans of “the process,” which is what’s needed if social change in a rapidly changing world will require us to go out of our comfort zones, (which it will)!


    And here’s some nuggets of wisdom I’ve been noting throughout the week:


    Listening and questioning are the two root tools we have in social change.” ~Doug Reeler, Community Development Resource Association


    The new era of M&E will be dawned by the people we serve.” ~Moctar Sow, Réseau Francophone de l’Evaluation


    If writing something is a voyage of discovery for you, it will be for your reader.” ~Tracy Martin, EveryChild

    A story I would like to share: Working towards a transfer of power to the people_examples from Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.pdf

    Working towards a transfer of power to the people_examples from Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.pdf

    Some more questions from Day 3:

    Day 4:

    Day 4 of the Writeshop had two parallel events: the writeshop itself and the online session.

    In the writeshop, participants shared their writing maps within their groups of four and received some more feedback. The rest of the day was dedicated mainly to writing their first drafts – with a few optional “pop up” session spread to throughout the day for those in need of a break. We had sessions on storytelling, writing your story on a postcard, and poetry.

    At the end of the day, the group got together again to hear some of the outputs from the online session and to start brainstorming what and how the next steps will be like… We built a huge timeline on the wall and everybody added their inputs.

    The day could not have ended without our very last review group!

    Virtual meeting URL 

    The virtual meeting for anyone interested, and particularly those who couldn’t attend in person, will be from 08.00 gmt to 09.30 GMT on Thursday 21st November.  The URL is and you’ll need a computer with an internet connection, and a combined headset microphone. Please switch off all background applications, particularly outlook, skype and online backup. 

     A few reflections, questions and insights from the online session:

    I like the ideas shared by group 2 (Chris, Lucy, Mina, Richard) about ’Where does resistance to change come from and how do we approach it?’. I just want to share a couple of things. First, the insiders might have their own strategies (change management such as AVOID, TRANSFER, etc.) to cope with current situation. Second, resistance might also come from fear of not being protected after a change happens. So there might be unexpected changes that we need to aware of. There must a change monitoring and evaluating system. 

    Thanks for having collaborating through online session ! a lot of things emerge from your contributions. First one which had not been discussed here, it’s the question of transparency that Rebecca and Mary Ann raised. Yes, I’m wondering how we can integrate that in our stories or make another story on it. 

    Other thing I found really interesting and have experienced is the question of professionalisation vs mobilisation ? Are we less mobilised today ? I think then the work of "civil society at croassroad" could really help to build on these question. I remember this piece on UK history of mobilisation....

    Questions of legitimacy, power, driving change... had also been raised in our journey : hope you’ll join us in writing pieces and many thanks for your brillant contributions !

    Thanks Vu Le Minh and Charlotte.  It was great to have the chance to be involved in this way.  Interesting point re. resistance resulting from fear of not being protected after a change happens - anticipating future vulnerability.  Will def. bear this in mind when thinking about how to reassure people about the impact of change processes.

    Day 5:

    In the last day of the Writeshop, we worked in 4 groups: one group looked at the design of the BFG4, the other group compressed the suggestions from the brainstorm of the previous day and proposed a timeline for the next steps, group three developed support strategies and tips for the writing purpose, and group four worked on one of the next ideas that came up during the week: the creation of a BFG game!

    After working together, each group presented their discussions and we all shared ours comments and ideas. We could not close the Writeshop without some more writing, so we had a final free writing session with 3 prompts: ‘When I first came here, I thought…’, ‘During the Writeshop, I felt…’, and ‘After the Writeshop, I will…’

    After reading our free writing piece, each of us chose a sentence to say to the whole group and we had our closing ceremony with the most inspiring, sincere and powerful words from every one of the participants…

    "You must live your entire life with honour and commitment. You must try to build something larger than yourself: a community of citizens, a community of reason, a just and peaceful world. You may be defeated, because violence, arrogance and unreason are powerful forces in history. But that does not diminish your responsibility." ~Aristotle

    Systems change when new networks supplant the old.” ~June Holley HT the Interaction Institute for Social Change - a great resource for us They look at their work through three lenses:

    Other resources include:

    1) Mobilisation Lab: “a dynamic, forward-looking space to envision, test, and roll out creative new means of inspiring larger networks of leaders and people around the world to break through and win on threats to people and the planet”

    2) New Tactics in Human Rights: hosts peer-to-peer exchange through monthly Tactical Dialogues, forming an online global community of human rights advocacy - there will be a 2014 conversation series on mobilizing allies

    3) Taxonomy of social movements (issue-based) from 

    4) Pelican Initiative: Platform for Evidence-based Learning & Communication for Social Change

    5) "Riding the Wave: International Civl Society Organizations must embrace disruption" Report from the International Civil Society Centre and the Rockefeller Foundation

    6) Books:

    7) Toolkits: 

    7) The Aspen Institute: The Community Builder’s Approach to Theory of Change: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO THEORY DEVELOPMENT

    8) Sida. Measuring Empowerment? Ask Them: Quantifying qualitative outcomes from people’s own analysis: Insights for results-based management from the experience of a social movement in Bangladesh 

    Quick Hackpad user’s guide (please do not delete)