How Suluh Penggugah transforms effective communication in civil society organizations
Suluh Penggugah
Everyone aspiring to foster change envisions a better Indonesia, and civil society organizations (CSOs) serve as key instruments in realizing this vision, one of which is by providing checks and balances for the country. According to the SMERU database, Indonesia currently hosts 1,648 CSOs across various sectors, all sharing a common goal: instigating change and establishing sustainable organizations. The attainment of these objectives hinges on effective communication, which is crucial for garnering support from the community and other institutions.

Donors and CSOs that realize the lack of effective communication skills in CSOs have spent years spending time and budget on capacity-building programs designed to address this gap. However, there are concerns about whether the conventional training approach received by these organizations yields significant progress. In numerous instances, CSOs struggle to apply the lessons learned through capacity building, evidenced in public outreach campaigns that frequently fall short despite the considerable time and energy invested by the CSOs.

There is also the distance challenge, as many CSOs are based outside Jakarta. COVID-19 has prompted a shift towards online training, and we now realize that this platform allows us to reach as many participants as possible. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this model is questioned, given that most asynchronous and self-paced online-based courses typically only boast a 7-13% completion rate. But there is hope: recent research about hybrid learning in college campuses has demonstrated that the learning model could boost the completion rate from 53,3 to 80%.

This realization prompted Yayasan Bahana to initiate Suluh Penggugah —an audacious experiment to cultivate a proficient and inquisitive communication tribe within CSOs— in 2023. The initiative has shown promising results thus far.

The will to upskill comes from within the individuals
Suluh Penggugah is designed to function like a dojo: it is both a training ground and a community of practitioners and lifetime learners of social change communication.

As with any community, Suluh Penggugah thrives on a strong sense of belonging, a sentiment that would be jeopardized if it was perceived as a mere "task from the donor" by participants. In contrast to the conventional training approach, Suluh drove individuals (read: staff of CSOs) to voluntarily register for the program, choosing to be part of it rather than being mandated. This self-driven approach attracted individuals who were genuinely interested in the opportunity. We wanted to reinforce the idea that membership in the learning community is earned, not to be taken for granted.

Furthermore, in Suluh Penggugah we disclosed the tuition fees, but CSO staff who registered knew they were eligible to receive a full scholarship. This transparency regarding the cost of education aimed to underscore the value of the classes to the students.

Lastly, because a sense of belonging is crucial in this community of practitioners, we designed the program to be cohort-based. In cohort-based learning, a group of learners takes a series of courses together. They have the same schedule and must meet the same deadlines. The goal is to connect the learners and keep them motivated to complete the learning in a scheduled time and not lag.

The three acts of learning: to meet, to learn, and to graduate to something bigger
Following the selection process, chosen participants who received the scholarship were invited to join two in-person introductory classes. This “onboarding” session was facilitated by both the Bahana Foundation and Roemah Inspirit (Roemi). Bahana and Roemi leveraged their distinct expertise: Roemi focused on fostering a bond among the participants and setting them to receptive mindsets for learning through various team-building activities. At the same time, Bahana taught classes to the groups on better brainstorming techniques and the fundamentals of messaging.

In the onboarding session, participants were organized into small groups, bringing together communication staff from different organizations, many of whom were previously unacquainted. This group-based learning approach compelled students to collaborate with individuals of diverse backgrounds, fostering the development of bonds among them.

Subsequently, participants engaged in a series of self-paced online classes. In this online phase, participants could choose one of these classes: Data Storytelling or Effective Presentation, with Story of Change as an optional class and "Writing 101" as a supplementary class. In three of these four classes, students could engage in online discussions with instructors, offering flexibility in both scheduling and promoting individual responsibility during study sessions.

Upon completing the online classes, participants were invited to participate in the in-person intermediate class—a gathering akin to a "reunion" for those initially meeting in the onboarding class three months earlier. Participants could choose one class between Campaign for Social Change or Brand Building for Non-Profit Organizations.

In the end, we threw a happy celebration for participants who completed the course. We wanted to end the learning journey on a high note and mark the beginning of real friendships.

As with any journey, some faltered, but most pushed through to the end
Suluh Penggugah received high enthusiasm from the beginning. We initiated this program by extending invitations to 172 organizations that are the grantees of the Ford Foundation, along with an open invitation to the grantees of Luminate and other CSO staff. This process resulted in 101 registrants from the Ford Foundation grantees and 51 registrants outside. Ultimately, after the selection process, Suluh Penggugah enrolled 76 participants.

The bond established during the onboarding session persisted and could be beneficial during asynchronous classes. Students actively reached out to each other to discuss how to complete their assignments, exchange notes, and share lessons. This suggests that investing in that session to cultivate a sense of belonging gave a good return.

However, it was unsurprising to discover a gradual decline in participants' enthusiasm over time.

Picture 1: The number of participants who completed the class for each course

We also discovered that participants faced certain challenges:
  • Time management proved to be a significant hurdle for participants, as classes occurred amidst their daily work responsibilities, requiring them to balance their jobs and learning.
  • Some participants encountered challenges related to internet connectivity
  • Another notable challenge was the revision schedule. Some students encountered back-and-forth revisions for their assignments.

Participants undertook efforts to address these challenges. Many said they engaged in private discussions and worked on assignments simultaneously during asynchronous class sessions through WhatsApp groups. Moreover, some participants residing in the same geographical area took the initiative to meet in person.

The outcomes surpassed our initial expectations, with 48 out of 76 participants, constituting 63% of the total cohort, completing the asynchronous classes. However, some of these classes are proven to have a lower completion rate than others, indicating that near future adjustments are due to balance the difficulties.

Picture 2: Comparison of students who finished the classes and those who didn't for each class.

Learning expands beyond the classroom
Discussions with the participants revealed that some have already applied and disseminated the knowledge acquired within their respective organizations. One of the participants who demonstrated the application of the knowledge gained from the classes was Warniati from Lembaga Perlindungan Anak Provinsi Nusa Tenggara Barat (LPA NTB) and Yulidar from Himpunan Wanita Disabilitas Indonesia (HWDI).

Warniati stated that she shared the knowledge she got from the training with her peers to discuss how to handle the ongoing problems they must solve. One was related to the horse-racing tradition in NTB. LPA NTB observed that children were often employed as jockeys in the races, making them prone to safety risks and exploitation. LPA NTB has consistently advocated with the provincial government to establish regulations to raise the age limit of jockeys at horse racing arenas.

In a recent opportunity to meet and present their case to government representatives, Warniati applied the lessons she learned in the Effective Presentation class to deliver a compelling presentation. While changes to the regulations have not materialized yet at the time of the writing, she expressed a heightened sense of confidence after delivering a more effective presentation than before attending the class.

Yulidar was one of the students who rarely skipped the chance to join the online discussion with the instructor for her class. She shared that her presentation during the Effective Presentation classes had convinced her village government to allocate village funds to assist people with disabilities.

What lies ahead for Suluh Penggugah and its alumni
The encouraging responses led us to believe that this model is replicable and can potentially build a sustainable learning environment for communication staff at CSOs. Currently, alumni of Suluh Penggugah are gathered in an online platform where they will further their learning through activities we will organize and from each other.

In the upcoming Suluh Penggugah program, our primary focus is to expand our reach for new participants. We will work with more organizations and individuals to expand the classes. We also want to keep providing learning and collaboration opportunities to our alumni.
Our dream is for the alumni of Suluh Penggugah to be recognized for excelling in their skills and contributing to the social movement at large and to their respective organizations.

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