Section 5:
Facilitating Human Rights Learning


A. The Role Of The Facilitator

These active learning exercises do not need a teacher, but rather a facilitator, for everyone in the group is a learner engaged in a common effort towards a shared goal. Together they examine their own experiences and seek to come to individual conclusions. Because people cannot be told what to think, the goal of a learning exercise is not some 鈥渞ight answer鈥? or even agreement, but a cooperative exploration of ideas and issues. Because this methodology assumes that everyone has the right to an opinion and respects individual differences, it is especially appropriate to human rights learning. It encourages critical analysis of real-life situations and can lead to thoughtful and effective action to create change.

Facilitation does not usually come naturally. As with any skill, the best way to learn to facilitate is to practice often and have a self-critical attitude, always seeking to improve.

Mastering the art of facilitation also requires a clear understanding of the role of the facilitator:

To establish a relationship of equality and cooperation with participants. The facilitator is 鈥渇irst among equals,鈥? but responsibility for learning rests with the whole group.

To create an environment of trust and openness. The facilitator helps everyone feel safe to speak honestly in a situation where differences of opinion, as well as differences in ability, are respected.

To ensure that everyone feels included and is enabled to participate;

To provide a structure for learning, which might include setting and observing meeting times, opening and closing sessions, and keeping to an agenda. The facilitator continually consults participants about the effectiveness of the structure.

To make sure the logistics are handled appropriately. This might include gathering and preparing materials, setting up the meeting space, notifying participants, and seeing that necessary preparations are made. Facilitating learning for persons with disabilities also includes providing accommodations so that everyone can participate fully.

A facilitator is NOT:

路 A teacher or 鈥渢he person in charge.鈥? The whole group is responsible for learning. The facilitator鈥檚 role is to help that learning happen more effectively. The facilitator is a co-learner, exploring all subjects as an equal partner and contributing individual experience to that of others.

路 A judge. In active learning, no one, least of all the facilitator, determines that some opinions are 鈥渃orrect鈥? or 鈥渂etter.鈥?

路 Necessarily an expert. Although preparing each session, the facilitator may not know as much about a subject as some other members of the group.

路 The centre of attention. A good facilitator generally speaks less than other participants; instead, she or he draws others into the discussion.

路 The housekeeper. While the facilitator takes initial leadership in coordinating the sessions, she or he should not become the only person who takes responsibility.


B. Interactive Learning

The process of learning is more important than the content! The activities in Human Rights. Yes! are designed to actively involve participants in their own learning and acknowledge the differences in the ways that adults learn. Each session seeks to encourage participants in:

路 Concrete experience: to involve themselves fully and without bias in new experiences;

路 Reflective observation: to observe and to reflect on these experiences from many perspectives;

路 Abstract conceptualization: to create concepts that integrate observations into coherent theories; and

路 Active experimentation: to use these theories to make decisions, solve problems, and take action.

The effectiveness of interactive learning techniques has been interpreted quantitatively by the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine, USA, in an analysis that measured and contrasted average retention rates across a variety of teaching styles.



Lecture 5%

Reading 10%

Audio Visual 20%

Demonstration 30%

Group Discussion 75%

Teaching Others 80%


C. Leading Discussion

Discussion is one of the most important ways for people to participate in their own learning. Therefore, every facilitator needs to learn to lead discussions skilfully.

1. Ask open or leading questions.

Most of the questions for discussion in Human Rights.YES! fall into this category. An open question encourages a wide range of answers, from the personal (鈥淭his reminds me of a time when I was a little girl 鈥︹?) to the objective (鈥淚 have heard that in some countries persons with disabilities are not allowed to marry鈥?). Open questions cannot be answered by 鈥測es鈥? or 鈥渘o.鈥? For example, these are open questions:

路 How do you define 鈥渞easonable accommodation鈥??

路 Can a leader also be a follower?

Leading questions take participants step by step towards a learning goal. Each question builds on the previous answer and leads to another question. Because the Greek philosopher Socrates used leading questions in his teaching, it is sometimes called the 鈥淪ocratic method.鈥? For example, this is a series of leading questions:

路 Do you remember a time when you were not consulted about your opinion on something important that concerned you?

路 How might things have turned out differently if you had been consulted?

路 What are some results of this failure to permit you to express an opinion?

路 Why do you think that the CRPD has emphasized the right of persons with disabilities to an opinion?

Avoid too many subjective questions, which invite a strictly personal response and do not necessarily lead to dialogue or discussion (for example, 鈥淗ave I summarized accurately what you said?鈥? or 鈥淎re you ready for a break?鈥?). Also avoid closed questions that can be answered with a fact or just 鈥測es鈥? or 鈥渘o鈥? (for example, 鈥淲hat time is it?鈥? or 鈥淒id you enjoy that activity?鈥?).

2. Respect all answers or opinions.

The role of the facilitator is not to judge and all participants need to have their opinions acknowledged and respected, regardless of what the facilitator thinks personally. However, comments that are disrespectful of other participants or contrary to the ethics of the learning partnership need to be addressed.

3. Repeat and restate.

The facilitator often needs to acknowledge that participants鈥?comments were heard and understood. Sometimes the facilitator may need to restate a comment to make sure that it was fully understood, but it is important to get the participant鈥檚 assent that the restatement was accurate (鈥淒id I understand what you just said?鈥?).

4. Signal attention.

In addition to verbal responses, the facilitator can communicate attention in many ways, including through tone of voice, 鈥渂ody language,鈥? writing down comments, and making eye contact.

5. Resist imposing opinions.

The facilitator鈥檚 role is to invite sharing of opinions, not to impose his or her opinions. As co-learner, facilitators may, of course, add their own views to the discussion, but only with discretion and tact.

6. Control the traffic.

The facilitator needs to ensure that no one dominates the conversation, that everyone gets a chance to speak, and that the discussion stays on topic.

D. Accomodating Participants With Disabilities

1. Before the Workshop

路 If possible, find out well in advance who will attend and what accommodations they may need in order to participate fully.

路 Adapt your learning materials, agenda, and activities to ensure that everyone can participate (for example, large print, Braille, plain language handouts).

路 Arrange any aids to communication that may be needed (for example, sign language interpreters).

路 Brief any speakers or additional facilitators on making their presentations accessible.

路 Consider the safety and accessibility of the workshop location:

o Transportation to and from the meeting place;

o Access to the building;

o Access to and inside all meeting rooms; and

o Access to bathrooms and eating areas.

2. During the Workshop

路 Ask at the beginning if anyone is aware of barriers you have not anticipated.

路 Invite participants to let you know during the workshop if new barriers arise.

路 Be sensitive to ability differences among participants.

路 As a general practice, both write and speak aloud important points made by both you and participants.

路 Ask participants to decide when and for how long breaks will occur.

路 Plan extra time for participants with limited mobility to break into groups.

路 Be creative. Be prepared with more than one way of explaining important concepts, processes, and instructions.

3. Concluding and Following up the Workshop

路 Encourage participants to find ways to take action appropriate to their concerns, disabilities, and advocacy.

路 In your evaluation, ask everyone whether they felt they were able to participate fully and equally.

路 Ask for feedback and advice on how to make future workshops more accessible.

E. Planning Workshops

Although workshops differ in their purpose, setting, and duration, the list below shows the basic component of any interactive workshop and may serve as a planning tool.


Plan what happens when participants arrive (for example, how they are greeted, get information, orient themselves). Be prepared to accommodate different kinds of disability.

Plan how participants will get to know each other. Consider using several modes of introduction (for example, verbal, such as self-introductions or visual, such as nametags).


State the purpose and goals of the workshop orally and in writing.

Some goals may be general and process orientated: for example, to understand, to appreciate, to know, to recognize. It is usually difficult to evaluate your learning impact with goals of this type (for example, at the end of the workshop participants will understand shared leadership).

Other goals deal with concrete skills that you hope participants will acquire: for example, to analyze, to plan, to construct, to produce, to identify, to compare, to assemble, to draw, to solve, to measure.



Allow a time at the beginning for participants to state what they wanted to get out of the workshop.

Be willing to admit that some expectations are not possible to meet, (for example, not within the capacity of the staff, the needs of the organization, or the limitations for the funders).

Be willing to change the direction of the workshop to include expectations where possible, especially if many participants express that expectation.


Post a written agenda with times of activities and names of presenters so participants know what to expect.

路 The agenda belongs to the group. Consult with participants about the agenda. Does it meet their needs (for example, for covering the topic or allowing for breaks and rest)?

路 Especially in a workshop of several days, consult participants daily about the content and structure of the agenda. Read this aloud at the start of every session on the agenda.



Anticipate some anxiety at the beginning until the group feels comfortable together. A simple request like 鈥渇ind a partner鈥? can cause distress.

路 If possible, have several different speakers and facilitators.

Use a variety of methodologies, keeping in mind that participants will have many different learning styles.

Adapt activities to the needs, interests, and abilities of the participants.

Anticipate sleepy after-lunch and early-morning periods.



Plan a way for participants to reflect on what they are learning and experiencing. This reflection might be some kind of journal, discussion in pairs or small groups, or simply a period of quiet.

Encourage participants to interject their questions or responses during the course of the workshop and/or set aside several periods for open comments or questions.




路 At the end of the workshop (or every day in a long workshop), remind participants of the original goals and the activities and presentations that they have experienced in pursuit of that goal.

路 Prepare some anonymous method for participants to evaluate the workshop, both in terms of accomplishing its goals, but also from the perspective of their individual experience. Make available alternatives to written evaluations for those who need it.

Summarize and record the evaluation feedback from every workshop you do. Use it to improve your facilitation skills.



Provide a method for participants to stay in touch with each other and you and your organization if they wish.

Evaluations done several weeks after a workshop can give you a different and often more accurate sense of the effectiveness of your facilitation.


F. Sample Workshops

With the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights are now on the agenda of many groups and disability advocates are likely be called upon to teach about or lead workshops on human rights. Workshops based on the exercises and materials provided in Human Rights. YES! may be highly effective for education and advocacy for a wide range of groups, including:

路 Disabled people鈥檚 organizations

路 Mainstream human rights organizations

路 Parliamentary human rights committees

路 National human rights institutions

路 Election officials

路 Primary and high school teachers

路 Employer associations

路 Tourism authorities

路 Faith-based communities

路 Development and humanitarian organizations

路 Health workers and emergency responders.

Note to Facilitator: For more sample workshops see Nancy Flowers, The Human Rights Education Handbook, (2000): The following examples, which are derived from successful workshops, provide some basic models for building workshops.


Topic: The human right of persons with disabilities to education

Setting: In-service workshop for high school teachers and administrators

Participants: High school teachers and administrators

Objective: To raise awareness about inclusive education


Introductions (10 minutes)

Ask participants to pair off and share who they are and what brought them to the workshop and/or what they hope to get from it. Then each partner introduces the other to the whole group.


Agenda and Objectives of Workshop (5 minutes)

Facilitator reviews the workshop agenda and objectives, commenting on how it can or cannot fulfil participants鈥?expectations.


Exercise 13.2: Experiencing Education (45 minutes)

This exercise offers an opportunity to share personal experiences of the education system and evaluate ideas for how it could better serve the needs of persons with disabilities.


Presentation: Introduction to the CRPD (15 minutes)

Part 1 of Human Rights. YES! provides essential terms and fundamental concepts, especially the human rights approach to disability.


Exercise 13.1: What Rights to Education Does the Convention the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Affirm? (30 minutes)

This exercise introduces participants to the provisions and key concepts on education in the CRPD.


BREAK (10 minutes)


Exercise 13.3: Identifying the Causes of Discrimination in Education (30 minutes)

This exercise encourages participants to examine the causes discrimination in education systems and consider how to address them.


Exercise 13.4: Speaking Up for Education (30 minutes)

This exercise allows participants to consider how to end discrimination in education against persons with disabilities.


Closing: Universal Exercise, Section 1: Making a Commitment (30 minutes)

This exercise allows participants to reflect on the notion that human rights involve both rights and responsibilities and encourages them to take action to support the right of persons with disabilities.


Evaluation 5 minutes

Distribute evaluation forms and collect.



Topic: An Introduction to the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Setting: National Disability Conference workshop

Participants: Disability advocates with little previous human rights education


路 To understand and explore human rights concepts and advocacy strategies;

路 To build human rights learning environments for disability advocates to advance their advocacy around human rights issues; and

路 To learn skills that participants can apply to their home communities.


Introductions (10 minutes)

Each participant can pair off with another and share who they are and what brought them to the workshop and/or what they hope to get from it. Then each partner introduces the other to the whole group.


Agenda and Objectives of Workshop (5 minutes)

Facilitator briefly reviews the workshop agenda and objectives, commenting on how it does or does not fulfil participants鈥?expectations.


Introductory Exercise, Section 1: The Impact of Myths and Stereotypes about Persons with Disabilities (45 minutes)

This exercise allows participants to share lived experiences with discrimination based on myths and stereotypes and to begin thinking about their impact on human rights.


Presentation: The Human Rights Framework (15 minutes)

Part 1 of Human Rights. YES! provides an introduction to human rights.


Introductory Exercise 2, Section 2: The Interdependence of Rights (45 minutes)

This exercise examines the fundamental human rights contained in the UDHR and to raise awareness of how these rights relate to each other.


Break (15 minutes)


Presentation: The CRPD (15 minutes)

Part 1 of Human Rights. YES! provides essential terms and fundamental concepts, especially the rights-based approach to disability.


Introductory Exercise 3, Section 2: Tree of Rights (45 minutes)

This exercise identifies the range of human rights to which persons with disabilities are entitled.


Introductory Exercise 5, Section 2: Language & Rights (45 minutes)

This exercise examines the role that language can play in supporting both positive and negative attitudes about the role of persons with disabilities in society.


Lunch (1 hour)


Energizer (5 minutes)

Re-engage the group with a quick energizer activity, such as 鈥淐alling the Names,鈥? in which the group forms a circle and thinks of individuals who support, inspire, or guide them in their work. Each member calls out the name of that person, one by one.

(For this and other energizers see: Nancy Flowers, The Human Rights Education Handbook, (2000):


Exercise 13.1: What Rights to Education Does the CRPD Affirm? (30 minutes)

This exercise introduces participants to the provisions and key concepts on education in the CRPD.


Break (10 minutes)


Exercise 13.4: Speaking Up for Education (45 minutes)

This exercise allows participants to examine discrimination in education systems and consider how to take action against it.


Closing: Universal Exercise, Section 1: Making a Commitment (45 minutes)

This exercise invites participants to reflect on the notion that human rights involve both rights and responsibilities and encourages them to take action to support the right of persons with disabilities to an education.


Evaluation (5 minutes)

Distribute evaluation forms and collect.


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