Professional training usually does not involve impromptu soccer matches. But there they were: adult men and women engaging in an unexpectedly brutal game in a hotel conference room in Washington, D.C. Unbeknownst to most of the players, this was no ordinary game.
Before any bones were broken, a silver-haired player nimbly picked up the ballâ€”in defiance of the game’s normal rules that forbid touching the ball with your handsâ€”and began running toward the goal. The player was a plant, instructed by the gameâ€™s organizers to play by a different rule book and turn the other players assumptions about the game on their head.
The point of this exercise was to show that chaos can happen when electoral stakeholders don’t know the rules, laws and regulations that govern an election, said Maya Serban, IFES program officer for Southeastern Europe. Serban organized the exercise as part of her coursework for the first BRIDGE Train the Facilitators Workshop held in North America.
IFES Hosts BRIDGE Training
Like the other 18 participants, Serban spent two weeks in December learning the techniques needed to lead the various training modules of BRIDGE, or Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections. A group of international electoral administrators developed the course in 1998 to improve the skills, knowledge and confidence of election professionals and key stakeholders in the electoral process.
Ross Attrill, who developed the curriculum’s original framework, said the idea was to create a course that taught â€œthe things we would have loved to have known when we first started elections.â€ Nearly a decade later, BRIDGE workshops have been conducted in more than 30 countries to people from more than 90 nations.
IFES organized the December workshop for its program staff and participants from Elections Canada, the United Nations Development Programme and the United States Agency for International Development. IFES and UNDP became members of BRIDGE in 2007, joining the Australian Electoral Commission, International IDEA and the United Nations Election Assistance Division.
Those of us involved in BRIDGE want to have electoral administrators recognized as the professionals they are because the work they do is vitally important,â€ said Attrill, assistant director of capacity building courses in the international services division of the Australian Electoral Commission.
New BRIDGE Launches in 2008
The BRIDGE course book contains more than 600 pages of information about the standards, principles and skills needed for effective electoral administration. The second version of BRIDGE, due out in early 2008, is comprised of 23 learning modules that span the entire electoral cycle. These modules help election officials negotiate everything from financial planning and setting the legal framework for elections to ensuring ballot security and resolving electoral disputes.
The new course material also offers real examples from more than 40 countries, giving electoral administrators a chance to learn from the experiences of their peers around the world. Attrill said it is important for countries to know that BRIDGE does not advocate or impose a certain election system or provide a panacea to their problems. Instead, it provides a methodology to help electoral administrators make choices and address electoral issues over the long term.
One of the main advantages of BRIDGE is its flexibility, said Attrill. Courses can be tailored to an election commissionâ€™s individual needs or adapted for a particular culture or region. BRIDGE inspired countries in Melanesia to form a regional network to address common problems with voter registration. In Liberia, it is helping electoral administrators draw more accurate electoral boundaries.
Teambuilding is another benefit of BRIDGE. Instead of sitting in class listening to lectures, BRIDGE participants are usually on their feet, leading or participating in activities that teach principles such as cooperation, gender sensitivity and core electoral topics such as boundary delimitation.
"The enthusiasm is contagious" ,said Annick Losier, a learning advisor with Elections Canada. She and colleague Alexandre Michaud attended the first week of the training on a fact-finding mission to determine whether BRIDGE would be a good tool for training Elections Canada staff.
"BRIDGE has a very strong team building component and that can be very useful within an organization", said Michaud, a senior analyst at Elections Canada. As the name says, it builds bridges.
UNDP representative Aleida Ferreyra attended BRIDGE training earlier in 2007, but wanted to find out more about what it takes to be a facilitator of the course.
"I realized that I could talk about BRIDGE, but wanted I really wanted to see it from inside" said Ferreyra, who works as a research analyst in the democratic governance group of UNDP Bureau for Development Policy.
The training helped her understand the different ways that people learn and how to adapt to that as a facilitator, she said. It also gave her a chance to connect with other democracy practitioners and trade ideas for future programming. Ferreyra said BRIDGE fits in well within UNDP’s strategy of moving from event-driven electoral assistance to long-term capacity development.
To complete their training, Ferreyra and Serban will need to lead a BRIDGE workshop in the field with a fully accredited facilitator, a kind of student teaching program that ensures that facilitators are ready to teach on their own. IFES Senior Programs Director Scott Lansell said IFES is committed to seeing all of its BRIDGE participants become fully accredited.
BRIDGE offers IFES a globally-accepted tool to further develop the capacity of election administration bodies, he said.
For more information on IFES’ programs, contact Laura Ingalls at firstname.lastname@example.org.