Train the Trainer … DEBUNKED!

This past spring, I helped an organization develop their strategy to promote their program in neighbourhoods across Toronto. Broadly, this method of promoting an idea or tool to a group of people outside of a familiar group is called community outreach.

My guess is that if you’re using the term “community outreach”, you’re likely trying to make the world better in some way. If not, you would be looking into marketing or Propaganda 101. So you probably want those involved to be those who are connected to the social issue you are hoping to tackle. Who are these people so connected to this issue and how to do you reach them? There’s not an easy answer – especially if you’re stuck in the belief that what works best for you will work best for someone else.

Even with years of experience, I still made plenty of mistakes when developing the community outreach strategy. Over the next month, I will outline a few strategies that always tempt me during community outreach; strategies that seem exciting, but rarely work on their own. Let me be clear and say each strategy has the potential to be invaluable, but they are all based on certain assumptions that need a closer examination. I’d like to outline some of the pitfalls with each strategy, starting with…

Let’s train trainers!

The main idea behind the “Train the Trainer” model is that if one trainer could be used to teach 10 folks, then maybe if you trained 10 “regular” folks to be trainers themselves, and then they trained 10 folks themselves… well well … looks like you just did community outreach to 100 folks! YES!!! #WIN!

NO! This falls flat on 3 major assumptions:

People can organize people. 

Not so true. To have a steady social network, understanding of an area, time and skills to promote, budget and organize accessible regular space with food, as well as the ability to document and evaluate the event, is asking a lot of folks. The tough truth is that people are not robots, and they live wonderful and dynamic lives. To believe that all 10 folks you train will have the organizational or administrative capacity to replicate a short or lengthly community workshop, training or public meeting is unrealistic.

People can become trainers.

Maybe. Training folks is not easy. Your Train-the-Trainer certificate by itself will not guarantee success of what happens next. You must consider the folks the new trainers will be working with and how they will be training them. Consider, for example, the assumptions we often make about literacy and computer use. Is your whole curriculum written in english and only accessible online? How will your trainers support someone whose first language is different than their own? On top of that, what does working with a group of people actually look like? Upper level board room meetings can be straight-up nasty! How, too, will your new trainers support those who have a learning disability or have had traumatic experiences in classroom setting? Let’s be honest – at the very basic level of training capacity, it’s very hard for anyone to teach anything.

People have time.

Are your newly trained trainers being paid equitably to attend training and to do their own training? Are they given the resources to pay others to attend their meeting. They do? Fine. That’s great. But more realistically, you are likely hoping that the trainers who you are training are volunteers in some capacity, and are looking for other unpaid folks to take their training out of their sheer interest or stake in the issue. These folks, the unpaid trainers and those attending these workshops, do not have time.

Let me explain. I like to use the term time poverty from time to time (haha?). People are busy. People have children. People support people they care about. People are working long long terrible hours and live far away from you and the transit sucks and is expensive. Likely the “community” in community outreach that you are trying to connect with, is busy. If you do not provide supports and resources (transit, child care, accessible space, adequate honorarium, food) for the new trainers or to the communities they are expected to outreach to – folks will not show up.


Consider Train the Trainer model DEBUNKED! Next up, another classic tactic that is ripe for debunking … “Let’s find volunteers!”

How to Draw an Asset Map


The first training session for Jane’s Walk’s new Neighbourhood Choreographers started this week.

We use the term choreographer as it relates to the ideas of urbanist Jane Jacobs who speaks about the “intricate ballet” of sidewalks with their “individual dancers and ensembles”.

Similarly, the sidewalk ballet needs choreographers to organize, direct and promote the preformance. Neighbourhood Choreographers in this way are ambassadors of Jane’s Walk in their neighbourhoods and they will support, recruit and “choreograph” their local communities to share their unique stories and lead their first Jane’s Walk. Over the next month, I will be working with 35 of these Choreographers in the three corners of Toronto: Kingston Galloway in Scarborough, New Toronto in Etobicoke and Bathurst Finch in North York.

But how to help people discover and explore local stories to share?

To answer that question, I introduced the participants to the idea of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), a concept coined by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann at the ABCD Institute.[1]

An easy way to start thinking about ABCD is asking “is the glass half full or half empty?” A glass half empty represents the notion that communities are deficient and have needs. The half full glass represents the notion that communities (and the people who live there) have many strengths, capacities and assets that are already found in the community. [2]

ABCD asks everyday local people to identify their valuable relationships and existing assets (personal, social, physical, natural) and create steps to make those assets stronger. It recognizes the strengths, gifts, talents and resources of individuals and communities, and helps communities to mobilize and build on these for sustainable development.[3]

For our first Neighbourhood Choreographer session, I introduced the concept of ABCD with an accessible and fun exercise called Asset Mapping which you can try for yourself and friends, family and neighbourhood groups of all ages.

How to make your own Asset Map:

  • Using a flip chart paper and markers, draw a map of your local community considering all your personal and community assets (ex. stories, unique spots, groups, business, informal networks, schools, roads, nature, buildings, hangout spots, relationships, skills)
  • Use the following questions to guide you [2]:
    • What are the strengths and assets of your community?
    • When was a time you felt your community was at its best?
    • What do you value most about your community?
    • What is the essence of your community that makes it unique and strong?
    • What are you most excited about these days about your community?

Asset mapping is a tool you can use to document people’s understanding of their communities and neighbourhoods. Through these maps, it is likely that number of themes will emerge that can inform the direction of your Jane’s Walk.

During the Choreographer’s exercise, themes of nature, local business history, social services, community programs were clearly visible and will be discussed further at our next training.

What walk stories do you see?





Look forward to more posts about the Neighbourhood Choreographers in the coming weeks!

@Nico Koenig

PS: If you are looking to discover more about Asset Mapping and ABCD, consider the following resources:

[1] The Asset-Based Community Development Institute

[2] Sustaining Community Engagement, What is Asset-Based Community Development?

[3] The Coady International Institute, About ABCD

This post was originally posted as “At Jane’s Walk, the glass is half full” on the Jane’s Walk Toronto Page here: on March 14th, 2014.