This is the first in a three-part series exploring Root Change’s experience as a learning partner. Throughout it we will describe some of the experiences we have had as learning partners and share tools that can be useful when exploring your own journey in this role.
At Root Change, our mission is to bring people together to question assumptions, think deeply, test ideas, and lead the way to a world built on social justice principles. We believe that achieving social justice requires transformative processes both within and outside organizations, and throughout the years, we have developed a set of skills to become what we believe can support this transformation: an effective learning partner.
What is a Learning Partner?
A learning partner is someone – a friend, a colleague, or a mentor – who actively engages with you during a process of learning by providing support, feedback, resources, and experience. Root Change has been a learning partner to different organizations in various contexts: from supporting Children International and their 13 country agencies to identify challenges facing their communities and test solutions, to tackling electoral violence in the United States alongside The Carter Center, among others.
Through those experiences we have learned that a key component of the learning partner role is accompaniment, a powerful process that involves demonstrating empathy, ongoing concern, and unwavering solidarity with partners. Accompaniment is about being there for people on their journey of change and development, providing a supportive presence and, when requested, offering guidance.
Accompaniment Values: Cooperation, Openness, Teamwork, and Empathy
The core values of accompaniment are cooperation, openness, teamwork, and empathy. Accompaniment demands that we shift our “mode of being” from assessment, training, grant-making, or consulting to expressions of compassion that flow freely along with steadfast emotional support. We move from actions and behaviors that communicate “I know” to gestures, both verbal and non-verbal, that say “I care.” In the realm of movement strengthening, accompaniment can be a powerful tool for building and sustaining momentum for change.
“Good accompaniment boosts morale and the commitment to change, because “changers” know they are not alone. When they face challenges and encounter obstacles, they have someone to turn to—not necessarily for advice—but for reassurance and a sympathetic ear. “
-Beryl Levinger, Root Change Chief Learning Officer
AQUART: The Accompanateur Quarterly Reflection Tool
To promote good accompaniment, Beryl Levinger, Root Change’s Chief Learning Officer, designed AQUART – the Accompanateur Quarterly Reflection Tool. AQUART is a framework for engaging in a process of critical reflection and self-assessment. Specifically, the tool helps users develop accompaniment mindfulness and intentionality. Mindfulness refers to a deep understanding and awareness of the extent to which our interactions with partners model such core accompaniment values. Intentionality describes the idea that creating the time and space for accompaniment is planned even when the details of the actual interaction evolve more or less spontaneously.
AQUART consists of four realms of accompaniment for movement strengthening: planning, presence, moral support, and technical support. When all four realms are embedded in the interactions between partners, true accompaniment has occurred.
- Planning describes the process of setting times aside for engagement that are predictable, dependable, convenient, and at a level of frequency that is meaningful to the accompanied partner and feasible for the accompanateur.
- Presence is essentially the act of showing up in a manner that is consistent with agreed upon plans. While planning involves “talking the talk,” it’s through presence that we “walk the walk.”
- Moral support refers to how we behaved during the time that we were present. Specifically, did we have conversations that helped us to truly feel the concerns, doubts, frustrations, and uncertainties that characterize our partner’s lived reality with the change process? Did we listen, reflect, mirror, and internalize our partner’s capacity development journey? Were we able to offer meaningful reassurance without minimizing our partner’s concerns?
- Finally, we focus on technical support. To what extent did we work collaboratively in exploring and formulating options that might remove whatever technical obstacles are impeding the movement strengthening process? While accompaniment is first and foremost about listening with understanding and empathy, it does not preclude technical support when this is what our partner wants and needs. However, technical support should never replace moral support; rather, technical help should complement expressions of solidarity.
Using AQUART to Foster Accompaniment Mindfulness and Intentionality
AQUART is primarily designed to foster self-reflection and “accompaniment mindfulness.” In the context of movement strengthening, it can also be used as a framework to onboard new civil society actors into existing collective action structures and arrangements.
In the spirit of constant learning, adaptation, and innovation, we encourage readers to download AQUART and use it for critical self-reflection about the empathy and solidarity we demonstrate in our interactions with partners. Accompaniment is a powerful tool for promoting meaningful and durable change wherever we work.