The Barefoot Guideline Connection – supporting social change through storytelling and writing
The Barefoot Guide Connection is a global community of practice from dozens of countries, on every continent, dedicated to promoting the writing and sharing of real stories, approaches, ideas and resources about effective social development and change practice. Through storytelling and action learning based case study writing we support on-the-ground practitioners to value their experience and appreciate the insights and wisdom they can offer to others, be they other practitioners, programme managers, policy-makers, students and academics or donors. In so doing they provide common reference guides for multi-stakeholder understanding and collaboration around the real work of change. Indeed, Barefoot Guides are used by many universities to provide grounded study materials for students learning about development.
This unusual and exceptional volume (and series) is hugely accessible yet deeply rooted in solid theory and extensive practice across a wide range of contexts and fields. Expect from it something truly unique in its combination of insight, reflection, experience and highly usable mixed text/visual presentation. It is not "dumbed down." I have seen it bite as deeply at high academic and professional level as at grassroots community leadership level, an astonishing achievement worth honouring.
Professor Jim Cochrane, University of Cape Town
We have worked with practitioner groups to support them to write and publish six Barefoot Guides since 2007, translated in up to nine languages and accompanied by a range of practical resources, all freely downloadable from our website. There are five more Guides in development at the present.
In 2019 we launched the Writing School to broaden our reach, teaching and supporting practice writing by development practitioners for their own publications as well as training facilitators to run “writeshops”, which are our primary processes for stimulating writing.
This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have developed our writeshops for online participation, with follow-up coaching and editorial support using a variety of internet tools.
In peer settings, stories and their telling of the past, present and future, can become powerful processes for community consciousness and transformation. Peer conversations lend themselves to working with experiences, providing easier and freer spaces for peoples to tell their deeper stories, to share the real dramas and “inside stories”, their inner dialogues and interplaying struggles with fears, doubts, courage and hope.
Stories, whether related informally or through case studies, are the source for an action learning approach to change, itself a natural narrative form of developing wisdom. We know that we learn best from our own experience, but a well-told story in a peer setting is re-experienced by the listeners, making it available for all to learn from, individually and collectively.
Storytelling is key to removing inner hindrances to development – it is at the heart of most therapeutic, healing practices, many at an individual level, but also for social healing and development processes, large and small. We become more fully human when we tell our stories and listen to each other. Biography workshop processes can help communities and organisations to understand their own life forces and processes, assisting them to move out of the past where many get trapped, through the present and into their own, more conscious and emergent future story.
Understanding this, thinking development practitioners, who want to work beyond simply implementing project recipes, need a strong narrative, learning core to their practice. One of the ways of developing this is through writing their own stories and case studies through which they can make their practice more visible both to themselves and to others, reinforced by and reinforcing peer feedback and collaboration.
The idea of the Barefoot Guides was born in 2007 from a group of practitioners, initially CDRA and then a wider community of practitioners (the Barefoot Guide 1 Writer’s Collective), wanting to meet the growing demand for accessible resources on social change. Since the publication of the first guide, Working with Organizations and Social Change, in 2009, requests for additional guides have continuously come in allowing a guide to be published every 2 years: The Barefoot Guide 2 (BFG2) on Learning Practices in Organizations and Social Change was published in 2011; in 2013 the first Barefoot Guide, written by an external group was published: Mobilizing Religious Health Assets for Transformation; and in March 2015, the BFG4 Exploring the Real Work of Social Change was launched in the World Social Forum of Tunis. Since then Mission Inclusion: Building a World where All Belong and Generative Leadership: Releasing Life in a Turbulent World have been written and published. Almost 300 development practitioners have already collaborated in the writing of the first six Barefoot Guides.
Several more Barefoot Guides are now in the pipeline, held by a variety of groups: Several agroecology oriented Guides to Seed Sovereignty, Nutrition, Landscaping and indigenous knowledge and culture are in motion. One on trauma healing is in conception.
For more detail of our early story download "Ten years of Barefoot Guides for Social Change - Unlocking collective generosity and intelligence"
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What We Do
a) Publishing Barefoot Guides through collaborative Writeshops: Four Guides, focusing on different spheres of social change practice, have been produced, with the participation of over 240 practitioners from all continents. Several more are in the pipeline. Each Barefoot Guide describes good practice, through stories, deep analyses and helpful frameworks, written in straightforward language and artistically illustrated with images and some poetry. Accessible practice description is key to enabling the full and joint participation of a wider variety of stakeholders, particularly to include leaders at local or community level in practice dialogue with government officials, donors and NGO practitioners. Academic texts, while helpful for some, often serve to exclude and undermine the participation of community stakeholders in their own processes of change. The Guides are freely downloadable, in several languages – see www.barefootguide.org.
Our guides have been downloaded more than 500.000 times since 2010 and are used by practitioners, policy makers and universities alike. Frequently heard feedback is, that the guides give insight in the realities on the ground through the narratives produced:
“I have learned so much from the Barefoot Guides as I heed my calling to walk with grassroots movements and community-based organizations, which are the true engine of social transformation wherever you are in the world. The folks and the contributors demonstrate that collaborative and mutual learning is for us all!”
“Proud of the Barefoot initiative which helps people to dig deep to find their source of inspiration, and gives practical handles for transforming self, organisations and the wider society”.
How are the Guides produced? We bring together experienced practitioners from around the world, into face-to-face and online Writeshops, to share experiences, and to rethink and to recreate practices that are more effective and sustainable.
b) Publishing helpful tools, exercises, readings:
Whereas the Guides contain deep practices and approaches to change, there is still a need for sharing more practical resources. Our website contains a growing library of freely downloadable resources (tools, exercises, frameworks, readings etc.) to support the design and facilitation of workshops, meetings, personal and leadership development and other vital processes of change.
2. We innovate Barefoot Guide Practices
Participants in the Writeshops have found that the method can be used for a wide range of creative processes, including strategic reviews and planning, multi-actor dialogues, alliance-building etc. Indeed, we have come to see that various forms of Writeshops can bring people together to learn and co-create in the kind of transparent, visible and participative social processes that should lie at the heart of genuine deliberative democracy. Besides the writeshops, the content, tools and online peer processes we have assembled and developed, provide opportunities for offering support to more structured learning processes and courses for social change practitioners and leaders to improve their own practice.
a. Writeshops: we are continually refining the Writeshop approach to share with the world, to enable others to design and facilitate for their own purposes. One of the most significant learnings from social movements and alliances over the past decades is that if we want to work together more effectively we can best do so through learning together more effectively. Horizontal learning, using tools of collective intelligence, is key. Disciplined writing, within creative, collaborative learning processes makes experience and thinking more visible and enables a depth of learning and relationship that make possible more effective working collaborations.
b. Other approaches to collective intelligence. There are other powerful approaches and tools of collective intelligence and many yet to be discovered. The Barefoot Guide Alliance intends to be a laboratory of innovation for these, to be shared with the wider world.
c. Curriculum and materials to support adaptable local face-to-face courses. We have developed a 5-day foundational organization development course, which can be downloaded, with manuals and resources. A “facilitating community process” course is under development. We will produce more of such courses for each Barefoot Guide.