The Participant-Driven Agenda

A Participant’s Training

While there are certain minimums and limitations that should be observed in order for an event to be a successful one, in general participants should be given as much control of the agenda as possible.

This is consistent with the notion of empowering human rights defenders and marginalized communities with ‘horizontal’ (rather than vertical) learning spaces, and with the operating principle behind LevelUp’s ADIDS approach of supporting adults with learning spaces that allow for both hands-on experience and direct involvement in both the planning and evaluation of their learning.

Furthermore, it is consistent with the notion that whatever capacities we intend to build in response to a perceived risk situation – in this case, the risk of information or information systems being compromised, leading to threats or attacks to the physical or psychological integrity of the participants or their communities – should correspond to an analysis of this risk situation, i.e. they need to learn what is appropriate for them to feel and be safe, nothing more.

Therefore, it’s advisable to emphasize the point and give participants the tools necessary to define the agenda to the greatest extent possible. Keep in mind that you probably don’t have all the background information you need about participants on Day 1 of an event - it’s advisable to carry out further exercises on Day 1 to complement whatever information you’ve gathered.

Trainer’s Note

We highly recommend referring to Setting Expectations for Participants, Organizers, and Yourself for guidance on crafting realistic expectations for what your event will accomplish.

Opening Up “Working Hours”

It’s worth always bearing in mind that the participants in your training, depending on where they are coming from and the work they do, may be subject to great stress and possibly trauma on a regular basis. In some cases, a digital security training takes them out of their usual context and possibly into more relaxing social, cultural, aesthetic surroundings, which could potentially be of great benefit to them.

While a digital security training should have clear objectives from a digital security perspective, it’s important to take account of the general well-being of participants, a positive impact upon which is our ultimate goal. Given this, it’s a good idea to open up the working hours of the training for discussion among participants, given that they may need time for physical or mental rest, exercise, networking and so on.

It should be made clear, however, the impact that shorter working hours will have on the objectives of the training, i.e. if shorter working hours are requested, you may not be able to cover everything that had been hoped for. Furthermore, don’t neglect your own well-being and agree to working 12-hour days if you don’t feel capable of doing so!

Trainer’s Note

One way to develop shared ground rules and expectations may be to have long lunches and end/start early, but invite participants to commit to being “fully present” during training sessions.

Sequencing & Establishing “Non-Negotiables”

Designing an agenda is an art - aside from requests to cover everything (which is impossible), you also are asked to meet organizers’ priorities while also carefully calibrating how to meet the most urgent priorities of participants as you learn more about them. While it’s important to give a certain amount of control of the agenda to participants, you may feel that there are certain topics which are “non-negotiables” for inclusion on the agenda.

These are topics considered essential which, if neglected, would undermine the usefulness of covering other topics - examples might include Malware Protection - Using Antivirus Tools or Protecting Data - Creating and Managing Strong Passwords. Make sure you don’t skip over the most fundamental topics that you will continue to build upon throughout the workshop, and avoid sequencing sessions in a way that may cause larger problems down the road.

Some participants may have already learned these fundamentals, but it’s important to ensure that this is the case and do not simply assume it to be so.

Furthermore, recognize that participants will inevitably be at different skill levels: if at all possible, consider additional training for beginners, or starting them early. Barring this option, you may have to split the group during the training, provided there is a co-facilitator or co-trainer to help with this.

Trainer’s Note

The How-To: Using the LevelUp Trainer’s Curriculum guide has further information on considerations for thoughtful sequencing of your event’s sessions and content.

Regular Evaluation and Feedback

It’s a good practice to carry out an evaluation at the end of each day where participants can establish what they liked about the day (and would like to see more of), called a Plus, and which elements they would like to change (rather than “what they didn’t like”), called a Delta. The term Delta is used (instead of minus, for example) to indicate upward, aspirational progress towards improvement, rather than flat and static criticism.

These can be gathered in a number of ways including (but not limited to):

Giving each participant two cards or post-its of different colors (one for Plusses and one for deltas) to write on and hand in.

Leaving large “Plus” and “Delta” flipchart sheets in visible locations in the training room, to be filled in by participants at the end of the day.

Using ‘base groups’ throughout the training to discuss with one another what they liked and disliked at the end of each day, and getting them to provide their feedback on cards, flipchart paper, or through delegating someone to report back each evening.

It’s a good practice to take a moment at the beginning of each day to respond, to the Plusses and particularly Deltas, identified by participants at the end of the previous day. It’s a good idea to highlight openly the aspects that the group felt was going well, and respond to reasonable and/or widely-shared Deltas which you have the ability to change. Remember to be clear about those which you don’t have the power to change.

Creating a “Safe” Space

As mentioned above, participants may be suffering from very high levels of stress or even trauma. In addition, they may not be familiar with the other participants, so establishing trust becomes an added challenge. Given this context, the importance of creating a relaxing yet productive, and above all safe, space for trainees shouldn’t be understated:

For further guidance on “safe” spaces for training events, our Creating “Safe Spaces” guide details a comprehensive set of practical steps and considerations.

For further guidance on awareness of participant stress and trauma levels, and how to manage these during an event, please read through our guide on the Psychological Underpinnings of Security Trainings.

Visitors and Guests

Although funders and other interested individuals may ask to “watch” or “stop by” an event, this should be not allowed unless:

  • Participants have been fully informed of who they are and what their role in the training.
  • They are known by everyone in the room, and everyone has agreed to their presence.
  • They are going to participate in the entire training, and particpants have agreed to this.

Otherwise, having non-participating individuals in the room is disruptive, is likely to make participants feel less comfortable and open, and, in worst case scnearios, endanger the training as a whole. This is not conducive to creating a safe space, especially for high risk or traumatized participants.

Trainers should handle this carefully yet firmly, and prioritize it as a requirement to communicate to organizers and funders. If for some reason this becomes an unavoidable circumstance, it is critical to establish as much trust as possible between yourself and your participants, and among participants, during the event.

Trainer’s Note

See The First 3 Sessions of Your Event for more guidance on relevant activities for introductions, trust-building, and breaking the ice.