Designing Educational ProgrammesIntegrating the learners' socio-political backgrounds into the educational programInterprets relevant information from/about learners / Adjusts the methods and approaches to learners’ contextsSkill to deal with the socio-political contexts of learners

Understanding, Manipulating and transforming tools


Here we’ll have to explore practical skills. Skills that gets sharpened by experience and tough situations a trainer can find him/herself in. It is closely tied to the “Making Observations” article. Both rotate around each other. We observe, interpret and take actions accordingly. Then we re-observe what these actions have produced so we can assess the situation again. It is a process and it is ongoing.

Because it is something that we can practically improve it. Also, it is good to keep it in mind when we design tools and activities, for ourselves or others. It is needed to not limit a tool into one context. It is good to make it easy to manipulate and transferable to other contexts. It is an important element of any tool used in international youth work.

Sometimes trainers get fixated on tools and how to use the most progressive and attractive ones. That is good and important. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what’s important in using these tools. It is to get participants engaged. If a new attractive tool is very appealing to use, or if a tool we use from years and always proved efficient, trainers must think of how it applies in the new context of the group. And to do that we should tend to choose tools that we are competent with and that we have a deep understanding of its objectives. That will make it easier to manipulate and transform for the advantage of the sociopolitical context of the group.

Main content:

In this article, we will list some pointers on how to transform tools based on the observations we talked about in the Observations article. These pointers can be considered while delivering training, or while developing a program for a specific context or even to diversify the use of the tools we are used to.

  • Focus on objectives. This is the essential element of a tool. Anything else is up for modification. So as far as you use tools that you have a profound understanding of its objectives and the reason why it was added to an educational program, then you can transform it to serve your purpose. Objectives are the baseline of a tool, keep it this way. Don’t get distracted by dynamics, materials needed, preparatory steps, etc. They are important too, but they are dispensable. Dynamics can change due to the group context reality, materials can be changed due to resources, prep work can overdue for many reasons. Objectives are the reason why this activity was on the table, if the group’s socio-political reality is different, still they are on the table and the tool stays on the table, but what’s surround it must be altered.
  • Experiment with tools. Change one thing at a time to have accurate results. Use imagination and creativity to transform tools according to your observations and assumptions. Experiment with new routes and re-do your observations. It is the only way you can challenge your assumptions about the group’s sociopolitical context.
  • Be transparent about it and ask for feedback. This is how you know what is working and what is not. This how you know which assumption is false and which is true. This is how you get better in observing and making assumptions after. By experimenting and getting feedback, you put yourself on a trajectory of development.
  • Record it. Like any other development tool, you have to record what you are doing. Write down the new transformed tools and add comments about how it went. What new observations you have, what changes took place on the output. Keep a record of this and you will have a learning diary on how and when to manipulate with tools for the sake of a group.
  • Accept that you are not perfect. You will make mistakes. Some groups will not like some tools you use because they are not relevant to their socio-political context. You learn and move on. Don’t doubt your skills in transforming tools, but rather questions your underlying assumptions that lead to this transformation. You might have missed some observations you might have been blindsided by a crucial element from the group’s context.
  • Ask help from colleagues. This will add to your insights. Some might have crossed this contextual transformation of the tool. Some might have an eye for socio-political elements that contributes to your process of developing a proper relevant educational program.
  • Improvising is not so bad, embrace it if you think you are good at it. Sometimes it looks like a nice plan before training. But things change faster than we think. Also, your observations might come at any time. Improvisation is a skill to deal with sudden urgent changes which usually happen in training. The plan should not be to improvise all the time but trust your instinct and it will produce good work. Socio-political contexts are not usually easy to define or describe, sometimes you learn about it around the lunch table. And then you have an activity in 15 min.
  • Consult or include someone to the team who knows the context. Someone like a local trainer or a trainer who is experienced in working within the context. That will help you transform your tools appropriately and will be a short cut to understanding the context. But that trainer might not fully understand the objectives of the tools, so you will have to work in tandem to come out with something relevant to the participants and fulfill the training program’s objectives.


How to apply it in everyday life:

When visiting a new city, a city that is diverse and has multiple socio-political realities that are represented in their residents. Capitals usually fit this description. Observe public spaces there during weekends and holidays. Spaces such as parks and kids’ playground. You will observe how each group use the space. You will observe different and similar ways of using the space between all.

Then imagine if we will have to renovate the space, what would you change, add or remove out of the space to make it more suitable for one group. Try this with one group at a time. Then try to compare and see if a common vision of the space can be achieved for all groups.

Reflection questions:

Which tools do I like to use the most? How can they be transformed? which elements can be manipulated and which can’t?

What are the underlying assumptions of these tools?

Can you think of any socio-political group that won’t find this tool relevant to them as it is?

What can be changed about it to make it relevant to this socio-political context?


Author of the article: Amr Araf

is a freelance consultant, trainer  and researcher based in Cairo, Egypt. Amr believes in the impact of youth work and the efficiency of non-formal
learning thus he turned these into his main areas of speciality. He works with several local and international institutions in MENA and Europe on designing and delivering educational programs for young people 15 – 30 years old. Amr has a master in Education and Youth studies from the University of Hong Kong, and a certified practitioner in Adult Learning by Calgary University in Canada and recipient of Community Leadership Certificate from George Mason University in Washington D.C. in US. He supports the autonomy of young people and transformative powers in them, and the importance of youth work to activate that.

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Editor: Federica Demicheli

A training focusing on participation as methodology (not only as topic) is based on a certain value premise that believes in the empowerment of all the learners and supporting the equal participation of the ones with fewer opportunities or in situations of disatatage (temporary or long term). The focus of participatory training is not just about ‘knowing more’ but about…

Click here to read more about Federica Demicheli

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