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Reaching Out to Field Reality:
Meta-Facilitation for Community Development Workers


Title: Reaching Out to Field Reality:Meta-Facilitation for Community Development Workers
Author: Nobuaki Wada, Nakata Toyokazu
Price: 2,300 JPY [Paperback], US$9.99[Kindle]
Published in February 2015

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Product Details

Published by: Mura no Mirai (3-820-1, Nishino-Isshiki-cho, Takayama,Gifu Pref. 5060031, Japan.);
Illustrations: Wada Aska
Edited by: Walter Mendoza & Radha Kunke
Book Design & Layout: Radha Kunke;
Printed by: MUDRA, Pune;
Original version in Japanese printed in Japan in 2010
Copyright © Nobuaki Wada, Nakata Toyokazu 2010
English version printed in India, January 2015
ISBN: 978–4–9908147–0–0 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-4-9908147-1-7 (Kindle)


“Brutally honest and plead for genuine respect for dignity and self-esteem of the interlocutor as a precondition of any facilitation” —Dominic D’Souza

‘Reaching Out to Field Reality’ reads like Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 but instead of Masami Aomame and Tengo Kawana we have Nobuaki Wada’s and Toyokazu Nakata’s real life stories narrated alternatively, complementing, analyzing and offering challenging responses to the contexts that they have encountered in their personal and professional lives and in the process letting their readers discover some basic eternal truths of human interaction for themselves. This self-discovery is an empowering process that is the hallmark of ‘meta-facilitation’. Offering numerous examples they point to the need to develop the capacity to observe and understand the context so that the facilitator awakens in the interlocutors through a simple fact question a willingness to narrate their life experiences and be empowered. It is this empowerment process, which is the purpose of ‘meta- facilitation’.

Most of the authors’ theatres of involvement have been to a great extent with Official Development Aid (ODA), which is in my opinion, fraught with difficulties, especially in crossing cultural barriers. However, what attracted me was how they have deftly transcended this context to arrive at the basics of facilitation. They are brutally honest in identifying and clearing the ‘mist’ that hovers over the ‘dialogue’ across socio-cultural contexts in the so-called developing countries. They plead for genuine respect for dignity and self-esteem of the interlocutor as a precondition of any facilitation.

The authors also explore the implications of the process of ‘meta-facilitation’ in broad strokes by examining the basic components of the framework of human society, issues of poverty, ‘International Cooperation’, modernization-industrialization, sustainable development, climate change.

The book’s immense value lies in distilling the real life experiences of the authors into androgogical techniques of ‘meta-facilitation’ annotated with similes and simulations that have been tested over years by Nakata. At first glance it may appear that this will benefit Japanese students, volunteers, especially in the context of ODA. However, I believe that this is a unique book that transcends cultures and a must read for professional social work students, community development workers in the Asia-Pacific region, and for that matter across the globe.

—Dominic D’Souza

“This is the psychological path to empower others as opposed to make other people feel our power, a path which not only let people open up to us with simple, sincere and non embarrassing dialogues, but also directly reveals us the role of our ego in our “good will” intentions.” —Guido Freddi

I had the pleasure and honor to meet Nobuaki Wada in Nepal in winter 2015. We were neighbors and our children went to the same French school. I was preparing a movie and Nobuaki was reviewing his manuscript of “Reaching Out to Field Reality”. We became quickly interested in each other’s work: Nobuaki is a fine cinephile, I have a background in anthropology. We both lived in France and felt how influential French culture had been on us. Morning coffees after boarding kids on the school bus were frequent, often long chats about each other’s views took off, intertwining a wide range of topics.

I had a feeling Nobuaki’s manuscript would make a very interesting reading. I guess I may have expressed this thought to him because a few months later I received in Paris a package with the freshly published book. Although I was in a morning run for a meeting I couldn’t refrain to give a glimpse at the first pages and was immediately taken: “…this book depicts… how we dropped the idea that they were beneficiaries and we benefactors.” I kept “Reaching Out to Field Reality” in my computer bag and got through it eagerly.

Some way Reaching Out to Field Reality addresses our innate empathy for others and the delusional path it can take. Wada and Nakata express in a clear way something that in our cultures is counterintuitive: our compassionate action, no matter how pious it may appear, can’t help unless we accept we don’t truly understand other’s problem. If we want to have a positive impact on others we must first learn what’s the problem from their point of view, breaking apart our subtle mental habits and prejudices. Actions based on our perception of simple concepts like “poor people” or “more income” or “growth” can lead our work the wrong way: we and “them” will be like actors performing on two different screenplays kindly pretending to listen to each other. Only by identifying ourselves in the other pragmatically and not just emotionally or intellectually we’ll be all working on the same screenplay and possibly the other becomes the protagonist and us the supporting actors.

In this sense the concept of “Meta-cognition facilitation” was an intellectual epiphany to me: they suggest to wear other people’s shoes by asking simple, unequivocal questions: the answers will be a puzzle of little truths which will finally show the big picture. This is the psychological path to empower others as opposed to make other people feel our power, a path which not only let people open up to us with simple, sincere and non embarrassing dialogues, but also directly reveals us the role of our ego in our “good will” intentions.

 This book explains in a very clear way that “meta-facilitation” let us overcome the impasse of “compassionate prejudice” (donor-recipient, rich-poor, adult-minor, knowledgeable-ignorant, skilled-unskilled, etc.) which has been cause of misunderstandings, failures and even conflicts since the day missionaries set foot on terra incognita.

As a filmmaker and documentarist, I strongly suggest this reading and its implementation not only to people involved in development but also to anyone focusing on social issues or aiming at leading positions in society by managing empathic and compassionate actions in a more pragmatic, useful and successful way.

 Guido Freddi (Filmmaker, Paris)



When the mist is cleared- asking “why” leads to a wrong path/Toyokazu Nakata

Obscured Reality

The scenery was quite pastoral with paddies in this mountainous village of a South East Asian country. I, an aid worker, asked the villagers to gather so that we could discuss what we could do for the village. I started interacting with one of the villagers, a middle aged man who seemed to be the leader of the village.
‘What is the biggest problem in this village?’
‘A lot of children are ill.’
‘What kind of illness is it?’
‘The most frequent one is diarrhea.’
‘Why do the children suffer from diarrhea?’
‘I think because we don’t have safe drinking water.’
‘Where do you fetch water from?’
‘From a nearby pond. We have clean water in the forest, but it takes nearly an hour’s walk and it’s a heavy load.’
‘Don’t you have a drinking water well?’
‘No, we don’t.’
‘Do you think it is convenient to have one?’
‘We do, but we can’t dig one by ourselves.’
‘Why not?’
‘We have neither the required skill nor the funds.’
‘Do you want to dig one if we support you?’
‘We are delighted.’
‘What we can support with is the fund and the technology. Can you contribute your labor?’
‘Of course we can.’
‘Will you maintain it after the completion? If you promise, we will support you.’
‘We give our word.’
‘Discussion is over. Let’s dig your well. Your children will be alright then.’
‘Thank you. Mothers will be delighted.’
I studied the necessary budget, and chose the most appropriate way of digging a well in this region by discussing it with the villagers and the local officials. We agreed to the contributions from both sides – what we will support, and what the villagers will contribute including labor.We started digging the well. Operations didn’t progress as planned, but that was something very common in developing countries, so we weren’t bothered much.
Finally it was completed and the villagers were able to have safe drinking water. Water poured from the hand pump, the children played splashing in the water and the women cheerfully filled their buckets.All these seemed to me unforgettable.
After six months I visited the place and saw that the hand pump set had become a bit filthy but it was functioning.
A year later, a Japanese volunteer, a friend of mine, happened to visit the village and he brought me incredible news. The handle of the pump set was broken, and there was no sign that the hand pump was being used. I thought at first that my friend mistook the village; but it was the very village in which I had worked.
A few days later, I visited the village myself. What my friend told me was true. The pump set, without the handle, was almost decayed; and the concrete foundation was full of silt and dust. The villagers started gathering upon seeing me. A villager, who was a part of the planning team of the well project, approached me. ‘Will you help us fix the pump?’,he asked.
I didn’t know how to respond. I thought, ‘They didn’t maintain it; how come they can ask my help for repairs? They can’t take initiative. It will be utterly impossible for them to be self-reliant.’ I was perspiring a lot in the humid, tropical wind; yet I felt cold inside.
Do you sympathize with this aid worker? Or do you feel something is wrong with him?
As I saw it, the failure was inevitable, and all the reasons for that were in his way of approaching the villagers as an outsider. Unfortunately this is a typical pattern in aid work.
The main purpose of this book is to give a considered answer to the questions raised by this episode: what was wrong here? and, how it could have been done otherwise? There are many elements that led to the failure; but the most critical one was in the way in which ‘I’ and ‘villager’ communicated.
Asking the villager ‘what is the problem?’ is the worst question an aid worker can choose. Leave alone the question ‘what is the cause?’Stupidity, awkwardness and even arrogance of the aid worker, who knowingly asked these two questions and thought that he understood the reality of the village from the answers they gave, led to obscuring the reality of the villagers and spoilt their initiative.
Yet it took me a long time to realize that asking ‘what is your problem?’ and ‘why is it so?’ is an awkward way of communication and to realize the real implications of asking such questions.
It all began in Bangladesh in 1986, when I started my assignment.I was assigned as a resident representative of the Japan based international NGO, Shapla Neer. Whatever experiences I have had regarding aid work, which sometimes brought me joy, and sometimes hardship, stems from here.
Shapla Neer is a grass-roots NGO, one of the oldest Japanese NGOs in international cooperation. It was supporting landless farmers of Bangladesh in their activities for improving their lives. I was assigned there to implement programs for these farmers. I lived in Dhaka, the capital city, but almost half the time I visited the villages to monitor our activities and to ask the villagers about their status. Bengali has the same syntax as Japanese and it was easier for me to assimilate than
English. So within six months of arriving in Bangladesh I was able to manage daily conversations in the language. If one were to see me chatting with the villagers, one would think I was capable of profound communication with the villagers.
Yet, in reality, the villagers were always veiled in a haze. I dined with them, I exchanged jokes with them, I listened to their plight; but it was merely my pretention and I actually knew nothing at all. The haze was always there. I didn’t feel I was touching their reality. Perhaps I knew somewhere inside me why it was so. Anyways my term of three and half years was over without my having understood the reality of the villagers.
I did not know what the haze really was, but if I were to put this feeling in words it can be summarized in these questions:
‘Do the people really need aid?’
‘Does our aid work really help the people?’
These are the questions one asks oneself sooner or later once one enters the field of aid work in developing countries. And I was merely one of those who ask such questions without knowing that the problem is quite common among aid workers.
These are the questions – easy to ask but quite difficult to answer.I was totally at a loss with such fundamental questions.  Meanwhile I returned to Japan and on a number of occasions talked about the villages in Bangladesh, and the activities of Shapla Neer there as if I knew everything. Yet my frustration never dissipated.
At the bottom of my frustration was the feeling which told me that, underneath my incapacity of answering my question, lay a doubt about my capacity to understand the reality of the villages and to hear the true voice of the villagers.
After having worked several years in Shapla Neer’s headquarters in Tokyo, I moved to Kansai and started working in an international NGO, Save the Children Japan (SCJ). There, too, I often visited villages in Nepal and the Philippines and interacted with local people. But I was still unable to clear the mist that blurred my vision.
Meanwhile, I had an opportunity to participate in the activities of SCJ in Vietnam. The American worker who was leading the activities there seemed to be able to see what was invisible to me. However I was not able to find out, specifically, the difference that lay between his view and mine, though I felt that my encounter with him cleared the mist slightly.

The day the mist was cleared

The mist started dissipating remarkably the moment I witnessed Nobuaki Wada’s interaction with the villagers when we visited Laos for two weeks as members of an evaluation team. The purpose of the visit was to compare and evaluate the performance of Japanese aided activities undertaken either by the government or NGOs .
Wada was the leader of an NGO based in the city of Takayama, Gifu Prefecture of Japan since its inception. I first met him when I was posted as Shapla Neer’s representative in Bangladesh in 1986. He was then traveling with his family in South Asia and happened to drop in at Shapla Neer’s office in Dhaka. Since then we were friends, but we had not communicated much during the few years before we visited Laos.So I was very happy to see him again; but this time the meeting brought me much more than just relishing an old friendship.
Wada led the evaluation team and initiated interviews with the villagers, the local government officials and NGO workers wherever we visited. The method and the style of his interview impacted me tremendously. He identified one villager asking questions in detail.His questions seemed so persistent that we felt uneasy watching it. Yet Wada and his interlocutor continued tirelessly. Just when we started doubting the significance of having such an exchange, suddenly unexpected words popped out from the mouth of the villager.
I forget the details, but the following is an example of one such exchange:
In a village near Vientiane the Department of Agriculture, aided by JICA, implemented a plantation project to recover a degraded forest area. JICA provided funds and equipment necessary for land preparation and plantation activities, and the village provided labor and took responsibility for post-plantation maintenance. When the trees grew big enough, they would fell them in a planned manner and sell the timber. A portion of the sale proceeds would go to the Department of Agriculture and the rest to the villagers as their income.
The villagers formed a maintenance committee for this. Wada, as usual, started asking the chairman of the committee questions about the plantation in detail; “when they planted”, “what varieties they planted”, “who did what activities” etc.  The chairman steadily answered each question. Almost 30 minutes passed and we were growing impatient. Then Wada asked:
“When will you sell these trees?”
“ After fifteen to twenty years.”
“Who will sell the trees?”
“It will be our children since we will be already old then.”
“Whom you want to sell the trees to?”
“Oh, I thought it would be JICA who would buy them.”
When Wada had this answer he stopped the interview by thanking the chairman. Not only the members of the evaluation team but also the experts of JICA project and the officials in charge of the Lao Government were aghast at the words of the chairman. The project had been explained to the villagers a number of times, and they had been given training after training, which made the project staff amply believe that the villagers understood the idea of the project very well. But the interview revealed that even the chairman thought that JICA would help them sell the wood, though the project would end in a few years time and it would be not JICA but the Government of Laos who would take care of them. Besides, it would be utterly impossible for JICA to take responsibility ten or fifteen years after the project had ended. Even if it was possible, there was no reason JICA would do it. Yet the villagers thought that JICA would do everything for them. It meant they were dependent on JICA. Not all the persons present there who were involved in this project understood the implication of that exchange, but some of them surely realized it and might have tried to put it on the right track. When I visited the same village again in 2005 the villagers had taken initiatives to maintain the plantation and the trees were growing quite well.
Like this example, when Wada interacts with people, the real thoughts or the facts are revealed. These real thoughts and understanding of their reality were what I had never heard from the villagers in Bangladesh or Nepal. Or rather I dared not to. But Wada, with his skillful interview, drew out from the villagers information that I dared not ask. I finally realized that because I was not capable of conducting such interviews that I was unable to see clearly the reality as if there were frosted glass between me and the villagers.
However, I was incapable of finding out How it happened. What was the secret of Wada’s interviewing skills? I was simply awestruck to see his subtle performance.
The next year, Wada and I participated in another evaluation mission to Indonesia and I again had an opportunity to go around the villages with him. There too, Wada showed his outstanding interviewing skills. The following episode was the most impressive one among those I witnessed:
In a village in South Sulawesi Province in Sulawesi Island we interviewed a young housewife about how she was using micro-credit. Surrounded by many people, Wada asked detailed questions as usual. In the interview the facts about how she spent her loan, whether she profited from it etc. concretely came up. In the course of the interview she realized that she had not been aware of whether she really profited or not; and by answering Wada’s questions, she finally found out that her profit was meager compared to the labor she was putting in.
At the end of the interview Wada showed the appreciation by saying “Thank you very much; it’s very kind of you to have
spared so much time. You must be tired.” To this she replied with a beaming smile “I am not at all tired, and I am very happy that you asked about me. Thank you.” These were delicate questions that may have invaded her privacy, even though she seemed to have enjoyed it. Her gratitude was not just diplomatic but real. It was apparent from her expression.
Wada had this interview translated from Japanese to the local language. The interpreter, a lady who was teaching in a local university, who was translating for Wada from Japanese to the local language, said to me after the interview “what an interview! I felt as if I was not there between them.”
The interview was so smooth that even she, the interpreter, forgot her presence.
Already having intention finding out his interview techniques, I started observing his exchanges with people. On the way to and from the villages, I asked Wada questions – to know his intent, and other vital points of his method.
His way was very simple. He posed only simple questions on facts, one after another. A friend of ours, Makoto Nagahata who happened to be one of our team members tried out Wada’s interview style, but soon he had to give up being unable to find next question and we learnt that Wada’s style was not easily imitable.
After I returned to Japan I set to find out for myself and analyze the mechanism of his skill. Wada himself had not articulated his way of doing and in that sense it was not systematized. And it was quite normal because artisanship is something you learn with your body not through a theory. But when some other person wants to learn it, it needs to be theorized and systematized to a certain extent. I wanted to do it for myself.

Coming of Meta-Facilitation

After that mission, I had a number of opportunities to accompany Wada to India or Indonesia and I continued to observe his exchanges with the local people. In the meantime, I also came to understand his view of human beings, his insight into human psychology. I shared my understanding with him, tried to theorize, systematize my understanding and I practiced what I worked out as a methodology. I can say now that I am able to handle it to a certain extent. This was how the methodology we introduce in this book was born.
As we deepened working out our methodology we came to consider naming it “Meta-Facilitation” was appropriate.
“Facilitation” is a substantive of the verb “facilitate”. Many people might have heard of “Facilitation” as this word has become quite common in recent years. Those who “facilitate”, for example, the process of a development project planning or a participatory workshop on town development are called “facilitators” and the word “Facilitation” has grown along with it. And if we are to explain in a few words, the essence of Facilitation, it is to “encourage” participants to “realize”.
When I first witnessed Wada’s outstanding skill I merely took it to be an interviewing skill. Or as he proceeded by responding to the answers given by the interviewees I also called it a dialogue skill. But as my observation progressed and analysis deepened, I came to understand that through the dialogue Wada always had an intention of encouraging some realization in the other person. I came to a conviction that this is the genuine and effective Facilitation we need in the field because it can be used without the kind of preparation required for a workshop or a meeting.
Usually our idea of a facilitator is the one who helps the workshop or a meeting to proceed in a way arranged beforehand. However, we are very aware of the limits of realization in such artificially arranged occasions. Once we step out from such places unchanged reality awaits us. We know very well, because we have experienced it many a time, that the insights gained in a workshop can be short lived. Yet what Wada showed us was realization is possible wherever it is through dialogue, viz. Facilitation..
The encounter with Wada completely changed my idea of Facilitation. Or rather, until then I had been doing Facilitation without having any specific definition of my own. When I witnessed Wada’s skill I can say that for the first time I reached the real meaning of Facilitation.
“Meta” of “Meta-Facilitation” derives from “Meta-cognition”, a term in psychology. Meta-cognition refers to one’s cognition of one’s own cognitive process. It is not easy to grasp the idea. We will give ample explanation in Chapter 4 of Part One and in Chapter 1 of the Part Three.
By the way, Meta-Facilitation went through its own evolution. It did not stay as mere tool of communication, but developed, and now provides a method for issue-analysis as well as for a new way to look at development and poverty. Thus, Meta-Facilitation is a methodology which we can use at any stage of a development project. At the same time, there is a perspective within it that can be also applied for training, education in Japan, or even to solve our day to day problems.
This book is meant to describe the all aspects of Meta-Facilitation. We also wrote this book for those who are involved in international cooperation activities, or aid activities regardless of whether they are professionals or volunteers. Those young people who have an interest in these fields are also welcome readers.
This book has its theoretical aspect; but above all this book tries to be practical. Those who do not have opportunities to undergo our training directly will be able to develop a certain extent of skill if they practice the detailed and practical instructions given in this book. If they undergo self-training keeping in mind only one tip that makes the core of our methodology, they will surely see a new horizon.
Wada and I wrote the following chapters alternately. At the beginning of each chapter we indicated the name of the author.
Nevertheless we tried our best to bring coherence in style. This book is composed of three parts:

Part One The Coming of Meta-Facilitation
Part Two The Framework of Meta-Facilitation
Part Three The Meta-Facilitation technique

Parts One and Two are more descriptive because of the nature of the topic, but Part Three is more methodological as this part is intended to be a kind of “manual” for the reader. So in Part Three the table of contents are in great detail to serve as a kind of index.


Part 1 – The Coming of Meta-Facilitation
Chapter 1 – A Method of Communication through Dialogue
Chapter 2 – Come out of the maze with simple questions
2-1. The maze of the “perception question”
1) Passage to International Cooperation
2) A path out of the maze
2-2. The awakening for a simple question
Chapter 3 – The wall beyond a simple question
3-1. What a simple question brought to me
1) Learning from interview training
2) Burgeoning methodology
3-2. The wall beyond a simple question
1) Doubting my own activities
2) Something wrong with the programs
Chapter 4 – The Coming of Meta-Facilitation
4-1. From dialogue methodology to Meta-Facilitation
4-2. Birth of Meta-Facilitation

Part 2 – The Framework of Meta-Facilitation
Chapter 1 – Beginning to see the context
Chapter 2 – The Path to Community
2-1. Realization at the bottom-line
2-2. Threshold to a framework: Major elements of human society
2-3. Transformation of community
2-4. The framework of community: Space
Chapter 3 – Between “Macro” and “Micro”
3-1. Decentralization – What does a community manage?
3-2. A “Capacity” called management
3-3. Help the villagers articulate – Tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge
3-4. Change in the level of consciousness and behavioral change
3-5. Significance of decentralization at community level
Chapter 4 – The Context of International Cooperation
4-1. Poverty of the others as my experience
4-2. Image of “being poor”
4-3. Frame the process in a specific Context
4-4. Universality of the story

Part 3 – The Practice of Meta-Facilitation
Chapter 1 – The Techniques of Meta-Facilitation
1-1. Basics and practice
1-2. The technique of Dialogue-style Facilitation in the field
1) Most important – Attitude to the basics
2) Concrete steps and how to think
1-3. Frame your Facilitation: Formulate a hypothesis
1) Formulate a hypothesis
2) Concrete steps and how to think
Chapter 2 – Applying Meta-Facilitation to a Project
2-1. Training as an introduction – From partnership building to CBIA
1) Be serious – What “on an equal footing” really means
2) Why is training necessary?
2-2. Training for implementation
1) Action plan
2) Make the villagers aware of monitoring
2-3. Training for the sustainability
1) How to ensure sustainability
2) Significance of evaluation by the community