How was the CAT method developed?

The first idea to develop a workshop format on societal change came to me when I was working in Sri Lanka in 2011 right after the end of the civil war. At that time I had the assignment to lead a Do No Harm training (conflict sensitive project management) and a project planning workshop for a local NGO. During the planning process I became aware that the objective of the new project was very much focused to overcome the still unresolved societal conflict of the political marginalization of Tamil (and other) minorities – a complete overload for one organization only and in a period of three years. But the disappointment and sadness about the situation were noticeable and at the same time the strong desire to change this feeling of complete helplessness.

I gave the group space to express their feelings and also confronted them with the limits of project work in bringing directly political changes on society level. In order to better illustrate the different levels, periods, actors and possibilities of change processes, I gave an introduction into Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan, which describes the strategic and long-term dimension of societal change and the role of social movements in it. This met with such a great response that the Sri Lankan NGO asked its German partner organization to commission me to develop a new training format to learn more about it.

Together with my colleague Karl-Heinz Bittl, who has also a lot of experience in working with political groups and has developed his own methods and approaches in the field of constructive conflict transformation (ATCC-approach), I designed a new training format: CAT. In 2011 the first workshop took place with representatives of various Sri Lankan NGO employees and directors who work in the same district and had already a little network established. Another workshop with participants from Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, Sudan, Nepal, India, Lithuania and Germany followed. Since then I have used CAT elements in various contexts, e.g. in strategic planning processes in the program work of a political foundation or in the context of organizational consulting for NGOs and political activist groups.

Since 2017 Marina Peter and I have been working very closely on behalf of Bread for the World (BfdW) to train participants from the BfdW partner spectrum with the CAT method within the Horn of Africa region. After we had two first CAT basic trainings with 20 participants each, the participants asked for being trained as a trainer. BfdW responded to their wish and commissioned me to develop and conduct such a training of trainers on the CAT method. Together with Karl-Heinz Bittl again, I developed the curriculum and within three workshops throughout 2019, 12 new CAT trainers who were selected from the basic trainings has been trained and use now their new insights and skills in their different roles and in their own ways.

In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit our societies, Karl-Heinz and I were afraid of the political and social consequences of the lockdown. History has shown that especially far-right and extremist groups make use of uncertain political situation and abuse the fears of the people for their own ends. We longed to stay in contact with our trainees and other civil society actors, wanted to overcome our own feelings of powerlessness and co-create with others visions, ideas and steps what we can do in order to use the crisis as a momentum to constructive changes in our society. Out of this impulse, we reduce and adapt our original CAT format into a virtual one. We started with one pioneer group and the former participants became the moderators for new CAT groups. In this way we reached more than 500 people.

In our ATCC network, the idea came up to further spread CAT and to change the initial Covid-19 focus to a broader context of empowerment in situation of societal crisis. In close colaboration with Susan Hoppert-Flaemig, Petra Schachner, Barbara Schmidt, Ines Ackermann and Stefanie Schramm, we developed the virtual CAT training as you can participate here.

Karen Johne