So you want to run a BRIDGE course? BRIDGE has grown into the de facto elections training curriculum around the world today. Short for Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections, the course has developed out of initiatives by the Australian Electoral Commission, International IDEA and the UN's Electoral Assistance Division. A testimony to its growth is the addition in recent years of IFES and UNDP as partners in the BRIDGE Project.
With capacity development in elections becoming a major focus in many countries, BRIDGE represents a short-cut (not replacement) to the many years of on-the-job learning many of us were exposed to when we started in elections. However, many who see it as a simple "entry-level" training miss the point completely. Whilst it can serve that purpose, it also can act as a wake-up learning programme for those officials that have clocked up 10 to 20 years of experience behind them in the elections field. Many of these veterans have not been exposed to elections outside of their own contexts and have become complacent in what they know and tied to the belief that theirs is the best way of tackling their specialist areas.
So… Is BRIDGE the panacea for all election training ills? Well, with 23 modules covering the whole range of elections practices within the election cycle, it most certainly comes across as just what the doctor ordered. The 23 modules are structured around foundation modules, electoral architecture, stakeholders and operations. With massive flexibility coming through customisation options, one seems to be able to craft almost any training on elections around it. But, this flexibility and myriad of modules also becomes BRIDGE’s greatest weakness. While in theory any accredited facilitator can appear to tackle the training, the reality and practice are quite the opposite.
A few key things spring to mind when considering selecting a credible facilitator:
Finding a good facilitator is not as difficult as one would think. Either contact the author or the BRIDGE office in Melbourne to be pointed in the right direction. A good facilitator can help you through the rest of the process. But what can you do independently?
Define "Why" Clearly?
Understand that training is about change, whether it is about improving service delivery, introducing new technology changes or simply preparing people to do their jobs. You have identified a need for training/learning and it must be driven by understanding of why. Be clear about what the change is that you wish to see. Maybe it is about addressing past problems or pushed by a need for reform or wanting to introduce a new culture of learning? Be clear about why you want the training.
Understand the Target Group
You need to understand your audience. Understanding who the audience is will guide you into your project proposal. Who are you doing the training for? What is their level of seniority? How many of them are there? What level of experience in elections do they have? What have their previous training experiences been? How does this audience fit into the broader scheme of capacity development or change that your are wanting to introduce? How long do you have for the training?
Maybe you need to separate the "audience" in two or more categories. Mixing executive management with operational or field staff might not work well. Each audience category has specific needs. Field staff need to know the detail of specific election procedures and the basic rationale behind the procedures. Executive management’s focus may be more on the principles of elections and working with stakeholders. These needs can often be broken down into personal motivations, institutional/group areas and operational components. Once you can pin-point these needs, a more sophisticated picture can be developed on how training can be rolled out. Remember, people are not robots that follow recipes well. Problems in the field will quickly show up weaknesses in training that focuses simply on "robotic training".
BRIDGE consists of 23 modules. What are the topic areas that are relevant to you? What problem areas are you trying to address? The module titled Introduction to Election Administration covers aspects of almost all the other modules. This is often a good place to start if you are not sure which modules to focus on. This module can then serve as the basis for other additions, such as greater focus on registration, contestants (political parties and candidates) or media. These components can then be added.
How long does it all take?
A typical one-week long course takes can take up to two years to put together! Rubbish is what I hear you say 🙂 That is if you don’t have buy-in from key role-players. Have you got the funding to go ahead with the project? Have the key decision-makers inside the relevant institutions given the "green light" for the project? Does the timing of the project clash with operational time-lines? If you underestimate the amount of motivation and education that you need to put into the initial phases to get approval, then two years suddenly doesn’t sound unrealistic.
However, once you have all your ducks in a row, then the next step is finding an available good facilitator, a suitable venue and making sure all the other administrative processes kick in. You may have to be prepared to wait up to two months for someone to be available. Thinking that you can also do the course with only one facilitator is unwise. The BRIDGE course prides itself on its participatory learning and drawing on global experiences. You will need at least two good fully accredited facilitators to run a full programme that lasts one week. Look for opportunities to fully accredit existing facilitators from the country or neighbouring countries.
A good venue for up to 25 participants needs to be roughly 22m x 11m. This allows for sufficient space for the various activities associated with a BRIDGE course, including ice-breakers, energizers, role plays, etc. Of course it is possible to run the sessions in smaller venues. Just make sure there is enough space elsewhere for some aspects of the course, like a large area outside the venue. The venue, along with translation services (if required), will require booking well beforehand, sometimes up to a month or two beforehand. Venues should of a suitable standard, being used regularly for similar or other conference-type events. The location of venues should also take into consideration the proximity to the head office of the participating institution, as inevitably participants’ day-jobs will interfere with the course, regardless of how hard one tries to keep the learning separate. The disruptions to the course could simply prove to undermine the course to the extent of rendering its usefulness null and void.
I have a good lead facilitator and a venue…
Once facilitator/s and the venue is in place, a pre-course preparation is mandatory and this can be at least a week long prior to the course. Facilitators will need access to preparation space, printing and bulk copying/binding facilities in the run-up to the course. With a good lead facilitator the preparatory phase will be managed properly, ensuring that all the relevant materials are in place and to the appropriate standard, that all other facilitators have been briefed and are prepared for delivery of the course. The learning amongst experienced BRIDGE lead facilitators are such that checklists exist to cover most aspects of the logistical arrangements, from the preparatory phase through to the post-course component. What ultimately then distinguishes one from the other is style, experience and professionalism.
Then its all systems go…
For more information on how to go about organising your own BRIDGE course, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is sourced from Rushdi Nackerdien’s website – Lets Talk Elections