I have had the opportunity to facilitate a City-AIDS workshop mid-December 2005 in Lyon. As many of you already know, the City-AIDS project aims at building capacities of Local Authorities (City Managers) and stakeholders to develop an efficient response to the HIV/AIDS epidemics. The main strategy of the project is based on Human Capacity Development implemented through the AIDS Competence Process and the development of learning capacities as well as sharing of experiences/knowledge.
As we started a new session for the project, CIFAL Lyon (International Centre for the Training of Local Authorities) and its main partners (UNITAR/DCP and UNAIDS) decided to start a more quality-oriented process in order to ensure a better promotion of Learning and Experience Sharing among local authorities. It was then decided to run that session over two periods: (a) the training of facilitators coming from 20 invited cities, and (b) a Knowledge Fair where representatives of local actors and local authorities from the same cities will come to share their experience and knowledge regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the interventions they implement. Between the 2 periods, each cities would have carried out a Self-Assessment with all actors. For the first period (12th-13th Dec. 05), CIFAL Lyon requested the local authorities to identify an potential facilitator and a profile was sent in advance to help the identification of the person.
The December workshop was co-facilitated by UNITAR and UNAIDS. All of the facilitator have a very good knowledge of the process. Emphasis was put on the facilitation skills needed to conduct the AIDS Competence Process with all city actors. City participants are actually supposed to kick-start a process when back into their home city, and a Self-Assessment exercise with all local actors involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS should be carried out before the next period.
We developed a format for this two-days workshop: it may look brief, but in most of the cases, we need to make a balance between an ideal time-length during which we need to meet with local communities and NGOs around the site of the workshop and the fact that participants do not have the possibility to stay very long, away from their city/work.
In Lyon, we have the privilege to work with a large number of NGOs, under the umbrella of the CRIPS (Centre Regional d'Information et de Prevention du SIDA), and all of them areimplementingg effective and interesting activities with PLWHA and other vulnerable groups. In fact, the so-called "technical visit" was the most successful exercise of the workshop and the most satisfactory activity for the facilitators. Participants could not only created a comfortable and at ease ambiance for the exchange of experience but carried out a self-assessment exercise with actors in the field (already prompted to the City AIDS initiative, resulting in a successful exercise).
As we review the format, we think that for the next "training sessions" we may need to further reduce the presentations on Knowledge Management and on tools which are probably much more simple as people get to understand the basic SALT principles.
Our main concern for this particular workshop was the limited number of participants. As I mentioned before, 20 cities were invited. In addition to the cities participants, there were representatives from two partners, Handicap International and GIP-ESTHER. While invitations for this first period were sent end of July 2005, only 7 cities sent representatives for this training of facilitators (Bujumbura, Antananarivo, Bucharest, Kayes, Rabat, Agadir and Porto-Novo). Some others could not come for "external" reasons (Visa problems for Kinshasa and sickness for Douala and participation at ICASA for Bangui). But most of the others either did not respond at all (Tunis, Bruxelles, Kiev, Nouakchott, Vientiane, Phnon Penh, Hanoi, Ouagadougou) or declined the invitation (Dakar, Victoria and Paris invited as "observer").
Why so few cities responded? Following are attempts to explain this low turn-over. As usual, the reality is likely to be a mixture of all or part of them. But it may be important to have them in mind as we go along with the project.
(i) One of the first reason may be that CIFAL does not have any direct counterpart within these municipalities, in spite of its intend to work with local authorities. It is a recent institution, not very much known and whose purpose and strategy is quite innovative; therefore, local actors may not have paid the relevant attention to the invitation. It is always necessary to have a kerespondentnt in the city or the country in order to mobilize people asw it was shown through some UNAIDS officers.
(ii) The logistical arrangements (only local accommodation was paid) may have defeated a few cities to send participant. Such arrangement was decided in order to favor highly committed participants and ensure a better follow-up. Meanwhile, it must be noted that some of the participants (Porto-Novo, Kayes) decided to come in spite of the absence of support from their municipality. About that aspect, CIFAL decided to modify its point of view and it will pay for all aspects for the next period. it will probably bring more people on board, but it will be interesting to see how that may affect commitment and implementation of the process.
(iii) Local authorities, and in particular Mayor's offices, are not used to work with multilateral institutions like the UN system. Therefore they may not give the right priority to the proposed activities.
(iv) The heavy agenda of some municipalities did not allow (even with a five-month-in-advance invitation) them to release the appropriate person.
Because of the limited number of cities that participated at this first training workshop, CIFAL, UNITAR and UNAIDS will have to decide quickly how, and to who, the invitations for the next period will be done. While it would not be appropriate to invite cities that would not have performed their Self-Assessment before the session, it is worth noting that exchanges are much more powerful and rich as we increase the opportunity of mutual learning. It was then agree that invitation will be sent to the 20 initial cities. For those that did not participate in December (which don't have any facilitator), all efforts will be done to make distance-coaching so that they can realize their Self-Assessment exercise in due time.
It seems that CIFAL Atlanta and Lyon have not the possibility - for the time being - to make use of other existing cities networks. Such possibility should be developed as the City AIDS project should complement activities undertaken by other networks (including the AMICAALL). This will provide entry points and identify city counterparts who can support and mobilize local authorities whenever necessary.