8 non-analytical things I learnt at an analysis training

By Leonie Le Borgne, Start Network 

In this piece I reflect on a workshop which I attended in mid-June where I spent 3 days with the IARAN fellows: a group of humanitarian professionals with expertise that spans urban planning and UK asylum law to GIS and social entrepreneurship. We discussed how each of us, in our separate organisations can bring change to the humanitarian sector, for the better.

Here are 8 things I learnt:

1. Strength in (diverse) numbers

Despite our varied backgrounds and roles, we face similar challenges across our organisations, and have the same ambition for collaborative working in the humanitarian sector. The conversation that started between the IARAN fellows is not a one-off, but rather a process to drive long-term positive change in the sector. One of the fellows aptly summarised this as ‘alone we go fast, together we go far’. Changing and improving the humanitarian system will be a marathon not a sprint, so we will need to join forces if this proverb turns out to be true.

2. Remember the end-user

User centred design is bang on trend at the moment. One thing that needs to be said in its favour is that it forces us to ask the questions: who are we doing all this for? Who do we serve? Or in for-profit speak: Who is at the end of the supply chain? Who are our customers? In our case, it’s the people who receive humanitarian assistance. We need to continuously keep them and those closest to them (our frontline colleagues) at the centre of what we do. We need to design change and develop projects from the user up and be subjective, rather than objective.

3. National aid should inform international aid

When conducting a scoping workshop for the IARAN on integrating beneficiary voices in aid programming and decision making, it was very useful to see if, and how this had been done in the UK. How do we work in our own countries? Would we do the same ‘at home’? What struggles do we have in developed nations that we will also face in developing contexts? These discussions are already shaping the methodology being used in the next IARAN report, which is about integrating ‘beneficiary’ voices in decision-making in the aid sector.

4. Using analysis to understand the other side (i.e. Trump voters)

During the event we were trained on Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), an analysis technique that allows you to unpack a complex issue and identify root causes and power dynamics. My group chose to focus on the US border crisis, particularly the recent separation of children from their families at the Mexico-US border. CLA allowed us to analyse the situation from different viewpoints -- social, political, economic, religious, etc. to develop normative scenarios - how does this person or actor think the future should look? I found one of the most interesting parts of the CLA approach was uncovering the myth or metaphors that shape our worldviews. What are the civilizational myths that shape our understanding of the world? If we understand these, we can better empathise with the ‘other side’ of the debate.

5. Short and snappy titles win the race

For any project, campaign or report, titles should be snappy, short, and understandable by non-technical people (...much like the title of this blog!). Most of all, it should do what it says on the tin. My recommendations are to use diverse focus groups to test names out and to stay open to new ideas -- sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected sources. As one of the fellows said, we need to merge the IQ with the I CAN - always making theory fit reality and not vice versa.

6. Working face-to-face is gold dust

This was such an important takeaway that a whole blog can and will be devoted to it (stay tuned!). In short, what I learnt: despite advances in technology there’s nothing like face-to-face time to strategize, bring a team closer together, and establish ways of working -- especially communicating.

7. Don’t forget tactile learners  

Playdough was used in a few exercises and we found that it helped us come out of our shells and forced us to think more creatively about our identities and the strengths we bring to a team. The exercise went down so well, that there were rallying calls for more playdough to be used in future workshops. It reminded me that when organising training it’s always important to cater to different learning styles (auditory, tactile, and visual) -- this means actively remembering to be inclusive of the style that most ‘unnatural’ to you.

8. We’re people, people

Two of the fellows are experts in facilitation and partnership brokering - a strategic skill for the future. Humanitarian work, as the name indicates, is about humans. As fears grow that jobs will be taken over by robots, dealing with people will (hopefully) remain something that humans do best. Facilitators who are experts in compromise and dialogue are going to be winning on the job market for the foreseeable.


Leonie works as a Technical Advisor in the Anticipation team of the Start Network which forecasts, funds, and mitigates predictable disasters around the world. Leonie's role centres on growing networks of pre-emptive thinkers at national, regional and global levels.

Follow Leonie on Twitter @leonieleborgne and Start Network @StartNetwork
Learn more about the Start Network at https://startnetwork.org/