This is another post in the #lean4dev series I started up a couple of weeks back.
One of my colleagues was attending an event a few weeks, and was pleasantly surprised when they decided to hand out feedback forms. To her dismay, the first question on the form asked about the quality of food that was provided to the participants. Soooo close. So close.
The free lunch is a development sector staple. Most often chicken and rice in a Styrofoam takeout container, still hot if you’re lucky, but usually lukewarm because the workshop is already two hours behind schedule. Business lunch doesn’t seem out of place or unreasonable coming from a North American environment, but it sometimes amazes me how much people care about the free lunch. So much so that it shows up as the number one question on feedback form.
The problem here is not so much the free lunch, but the incentive it provides. After a few months in the development sector, it becomes apparent how many completely useless, or at least improperly targeted trainings go on in this industry. Becoming lean is about reducing waste, and trainings are one of the first places I would start looking if I wanted to reduce waste in the development sector. This is not to say I don’t believe in capacity development. I just don’t believe capacity is built through six hours of black-text-on-white-background powerpoints (or if you’re really lucky, powerpoints branded with an NGO’s stock template). But still, people come. And part of the reason they come is for the free lunch, the per diem, the paper pad and pen, the expectation of future benefits from the project or NGO, or whatever other artificial incentives have been thrown in to sweeten the deal.
Here is a quick challenge that I would pose to any NGO running a training. I’m calling it “The Free Lunch Test” and it is extremely simple and incredibly cheap. When your participants show up, give them the option of turning right around with their free lunch (and per diem, pens and paper, eligibility for your future programs, etc.) or sticking it out through the training. Even have them sign the attendance sheet for the donor’s sake. If your participants see value in the training and are there for the right reasons, they will stay. If not they will go. And if they go then ultimately things will be better off, as participants who can’t be bothered to stick around for a training would certainly not be bothered to apply what they’ve learned.
Getting proper feedback on trainings is hard and often expensive and The Free Lunch Test certainly doesn’t answer the ultimate question of whether or not a training was effective. It does give a very good picture of participants’ motivations for being in a training however, and all at the low cost of $0. Proper motivation is a prerequisite for effective capacity building, so if a training fails The Free Lunch Test it will almost certainly fail a broader effectiveness test unless a significant amount of the training is spent on building participants’ motivations. This type of feedback one step away from the status quo of achieving failure where a completed training is counted as progress towards impact.
I’m not suggesting doing The Free Lunch Test at every training, making it some sort of development policy, silver bullet, or anything like that. But next time you’re hosting (or at) a training or workshop, I’d love for you to ask yourself, “Would this pass the Free Lunch Test?”