Recently, I attended the Civil Society Knowledge Forum II: “Assessing progress, Advancing change” organized by FHI360, a nonprofit dedicated to improving lives through locally driven solutions. The participants represented NGOs working with FHI360 to advance civil society. When we entered the meeting space, we were asked to answer three questions that hung on the walls:
- What is the change you would like to see in Jordan?
- What should we do to achieve change?
- What prevents you from achieving change?
The exercise was presented by FADFED, which is a slang Arabic phrase that means “Let it out.” It is a youth initiative founded by entrepreneur Dr. Sami Houran that provides an open, low-key and free platform to encourage citizens to creatively express their opinions about sensitive issues on white papers in public spaces. This tool can be used for several purposes, including research, public polling, evaluation and as an accountability tool. The tool was first used in 2010 as a way of documenting Jordanians’ perceptions of the parliamentary elections in creative way, hanging white papers in the streets and public spaces to motivate people to express themselves and innovatively document public opinion. Social media and social accountability were other components that introduced new dimensions: by live-tweeting people's opinions to decision makers, experts and officials, FADFED bridges the gap between the offline and online communities, holds decision makers accountable and keeps the experts in touch with the grassroots.
Initially the process may seem very ordinary; however every stage is very well orchestrated—you are first given a name tag the color of which is tied to the sector you work in; then, you receive stickers of that same color as well as a colored marker that corresponds to your age and gender. When you write on the white paper and put stickers next to each answer, this data including what you write is sent to a computer and electronically coded.
The results of the exercise were shared with us at the closing session, and the findings were really interesting: in terms of change in Jordan, a high percentage of participants focused on education; civil society participation; and improving basic daily interactions such as respecting other drivers, not overstepping another person’s turn in a queue and being considerate of differences. Frequently identified obstacles were bureaucracy, funding and difficulties cooperating and communicating with the target groups with whom NGOs work. Interestingly, many women also identified tradition as an obstacle to change. To achieve change and overcome the identified obstacles, many participants acknowledged the need for better networking between different organizations and the inclusion of the civil society as important strategies.
I think the event was successful and using the FADFED was very rewarding for participants. The tool created a positive atmosphere and emphasized to NGOs that our opinions matter.