Establishing Good Working Conditions

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The more diversity there is within a group, the greater the potential for exchange, inspiration and learning from peers. People however are only willing to activate this potential if they feel safe and respected. Therefore before engaging more deeply with the content of a seminar, facilitators establish appropriate ground rules based on basic democratic and human principles. When facilitators demonstrate that they take the democratic principles they are promoting seriously through their actions, this raises the feasability that participants will as well.

Fundamental Rights - the social contract in trainings and workshops

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not only a legal document but describes also the basic principles of Education for Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights education. Among other legal documents, it can give a good starting point to guide your way of conducting trainings as well.

From the perspective of Education for Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights Education participants or learners are not receiving rights or freedoms from facilitators or educational providers. Rights are what they have. They form the fundament of the 'social contract' in a training or workshop.

On the basis of rights and a democratic culture trust may evolve.


Trust is the certainty that at any stage of the shared learning process, everything will happen according to the values of mutual respect, autonomy, and personal freedom.

This necessitates that everyone is allowed and free to monitor his or her own goals and needs and decides what to do based on these values.

Trust is a condition for that people feel safe and empowered to involve. Especially in heterogeneous groups in which participants and facilitators may feel uncertain the facilitation needs to build a ground for trust.


Trust may develop when people are informed or if they can inform themselves about the motivations, goals and decisions of others. Only those individuals who have all the relevant information can and want participate in an optimal way. This includes transparency in terms of our motivations and goals as facilitators and of the institution providing learning. The second important aspect of transparency is clarity about conditions and rules on how to work together.

Introducing and Negotiating Rules and Conditions

Both facilitators and participants have certain rules in mind. Instead of imposing rules on participants, participatory learning processes enable participants to discuss their wishes for rules and goals and expose facilitators to negotiating them. Three rules (or better: rights) are basic:

  • Discretion: What should stay in a group, has to stay there.
  • Voluntarity: Each participant has the freedom to participate or not.
  • Freedom to disagree.
  • Other rules or rights can be added.

Digital Facilitation

Digital seminar rooms must follow the same rules as real rooms. But it's harder for trainers and learners to keep track of all these things. This makes preparation all the more important, which serves to consider how to still get the breadth of information needed to facilitate respectful and needs-based collaboration with the limited means that a given platform offers.

Moreover, it is not easy to transfer spaces that would be given in classic trainings to the digital - for example, creating spontaneous spaces where trainers do not have access, tolerating lateness, allowing side conversations to some extent. Digital tools are often constructed from the teacher's perspective. How can we put it more in the hands of the participants? Perhaps also by using multiple tools for different purposes instead of having everything take place in one platform.

Reflection for Facilitators

How do you observe,

  • that all participants are attentive?
  • if somebody feels uncomfortable?
  • that their feel their needs are respected?
  • that their rights are respected by you and the other learners?
  • that they agree with the common rules?
  • how do they show resistance or that they disagree?
  • conflicts or respectless behaviour among participants?
  • that participants are overwhelmed?
  • that participants are underchallenged?

What can you offer?

  • different low-barrier opportunities to express (in the digital for instance, chat, whiteboard, anonymous messages)
  • sufficient information and collaborative planning of the learning process
  • communication and collaboration with and without you
  • appreciation of difference and diversity
  • respecting and addressing rights in your training or workshop

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Nils-Eyk Zimmermann

Editor of Competendo. He writes and works on the topics: active citizenship, civil society, digital transformation, non-formal and lifelong learning, capacity building. Coordinator of European projects, in example DIGIT-AL Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship, DARE network.

Blogs here: Blog: Civil Resilience.