Conducting a 2-Day Capacity-Building Program on Technical Facilitation for SEI’s SUMERNET Secretariat Staff and Partners

The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (or SUMERNET)
Non-Profit Organization
Jan 2021

The Sustainable Mekong Research Network (or SUMERNET) is a regional network of researchers collaborating on advancing sustainable development in the countries of the Mekong Region. The Secretariat of the network has been hosted by the Stockholm Environment Institute (or SEI) since 2005, and SUMERNET’s current focus is driving knowledge-based policy engagement on water insecurities in the Mekong region through online discussions and forums with relevant stakeholders.


SUMERNET identified technical facilitation as an essential skill needed to conduct stimulating online forums, but it was perceived that the secretariat and its network of researchers lacked training and experience in this skill. Specifically, there was a lack of knowledge on how to set up the infrastructure of a digital session and how to engage with the participants interactively. Thus, the network decided to host - with InsightPact’s collaboration- a capacity-building program for its researchers with two key components as its agenda:

1) lessons and exercises in facilitation that would engage people in online forums; and
2) a walkthrough of tools and platforms that could be used for digital forums.

The Co-Creative Approach.

InsightPact utilized a co-creative approach based on the abovementioned key components. This means that we established an iterative design process with SEI in order to design the program together and with the input of potential participants. InsightPact, together with SUMERNET, gathered more information about participant needs with the following key questions:

  1. On lessons and exercises in facilitation:
    a) How much experience did the participants have with technical facilitation?
    b) How would the participants best absorb knowledge and directly apply the knowledge in an engaging way?
  2. On the walkthrough of tools and platforms:
    a) What technical resources and infrastructures were available to the participants so that they could learn and practice technical facilitation?
    b) What other means of support were needed by the participants?

Two things were confirmed from the data gathered from SUMERNET: 1) the participants were quite new to technical facilitation, and 2) they also did not know many digital tools and resources to use in this area.

From these findings, several rounds of design drafts for the agenda of the capacity-building workshop were co-created before arriving at the final agenda. The final agenda incorporated the following key design elements:

  • Collaboration as a priority: Fostering capacity in not only technical facilitation but also enabling skills for easier and more effective collaboration was a central focus. This is reflected in the delivery team’s division of labor - some focused on developing a kit of digital tools that the participants could use to practice technical facilitation (ex. spiels for delivering technical remarks, run-of-show templates); whereas others focused on the content and delivery of teaching technical facilitation that was engaging. Together with the workshop organizers from SUMERNET, who took on elements of facilitation, and extensive group work among participants, everyone had a role to play as a participant and facilitator in the complexity of a gathering of diverse people.
  • Co-creation with client and participants: InsightPact actively co-created and sought feedback about the program design from SUMERNET, whenever possible, to ensure that the workshop was tailored to the participants’ needs - whether it was adjusting the schedule of the training or getting consent for certain activities planned for the workshop.
  • Space for practice, agility, and feedback: We believe that the best way to learn is to be agile; hence, the team designed the workshop such that participants would have opportunities to ask questions to the trainer real-time, immediately practice their learnings after studying the theory, and receive feedback right after the practice sessions.

The Results.

The collaboration between InsightPact and SUMERNET resulted in the delivery of a 2-day virtual workshop for more than 20 of the secretarial staff and selected partners of the network. The program consisted of the following elements:

Day 1:

The aspects covered were the kit of tools that could be used for leading digital discussions and lessons in doing technical facilitation that was engaging. Zoom, Mentimeter, and Google Documents were among the tools discussed in the context of technical facilitation. Participants were also assigned to groups and instructed to plan and design their own online facilitation exercises - which they would simulate during the second day of the workshop.

Day 2:

The groups were split up across two virtual rooms and were asked to practice facilitating their digital exercises/discussions among their fellow participants. After each group simulation, real-time feedback was given to the presenting group about how they could improve and strengthen their skills in technical facilitation.

“An excellent program - it was one of the best learning experiences I had. The facilitation was outstanding and inspiring, the time management was excellent, and the sessions were not too long. The workshop provided practical guidance, and enabled me to be more self-aware in my communications and interactions professionally. I came away with many new skills that I hope to use after the program.”