In June 2011 the core persons in the PSO action research “Learning Programme on Healthy Networks” came together in The Netherlands to write down their experiences after one year working with the FAN Approach in their NGO’s. (for a summary of this project: “Looking at North South Collaboration”).


Participants came from Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Malawi, Argentina and the Netherlands. The Writeshop was guided by Sandra Hill (CDRA, South Africa).


After a FAN workshop in September 2010 at MDF in Ede, when this group met for the first time, we had hoped to collect real life stories through on-line coaching and peer-to-peer consultation. When this proved ineffective, we decided to call them back and write down the stories together in person. This turned out to be a very interesting experience.


Although they found it hard to put their finger on the moments they had made a difference in their networks, it was interesting to see that they had given their own meaning to the role of the "Free Actor".


The concept of the Free Actor gave them recognition for the actions they believed in, even though they lacked a mandate for doing so. The FAN approach underlines that this sometimes is necessary in networks. (This does not mean that anything goes. A Free Actor is only effective if they are accepted and appreciated in their role.



The Writeshop methodology was most interesting for me. Sandra introduced tools and exercises for "free writing", following the principle of “First write, then think”:


Write your first draft with a pencil and just keep on writing. Keep you pencil on the paper and if you don’t know what to write, just repeat the previous sentence. Then be surprised for what flows out of your hand. From this raw material, you start selecting what you like and the rest follows.


This was quite opposite to what I learned in the “Box Plan Method” from Yourpoint. In this method you start with statements: things you really want to say in one sentence. Collect all elements in statements and then put them in a logical order in boxes. Only then start writing. This method even works for collecting ideas and experiences as a team.


Together with Kees-Jan Donkers from Yourpoint I developed a two days training course at Wageningen Business School, combining this clear way of organising thoughts with the Learning Histories method from the FAN network approach. This course is called: “Building Collective Knowledge, the Learning History 2.0”.


Looking at it closely, the two approaches actually complement each other. Free Writing is about getting ideas flowing, and Box Plan is about structuring what comes out.


Working with this international group in this intensive way was a real pleasure. Even two core persons who had not been attending the first FAN workshop in the previous year, fitted in smoothly. Of course there were promises to keep in touch, to make use of the ‘social capital’ that had been built up here. And once again it appeared hard to do once everybody was back home again...