Happy New Year! Stepping Stones Newsletter 2013.
The Stepping Stones Feedback Project is part of the Salamander Trust.

January 2013 Newsletter


Happy New Year!

We hope this will be a successful year for everyone in the Stepping Stones Community. The New Year is a time for fresh starts, so we thought we would use this newsletter to go back to basics.

What is Stepping Stones?

How can we get the most from the training programme 

This newsletter is dedicated to understanding how we can all get the most from Stepping Stones training programme. Stepping Stones engages everyone in a community to look at what drives HIV and violence - including unequal power relations, lack of knowledge, poor communication, gender and inter-generational issues. At its core, it helps people to understand their own behaviours and attitude, and to support them to bring about lasting changes.

The success of Stepping Stones depends on the quality of the training and implementation in order to have a lasting impact on communities. Implementing Stepping Stones is not an easy process and whilst the rewards can be great, there are many pitfalls and challenges along the way  - so we should try to plan for them as best we can. We often get asked
“what is essential about the programme and what can we change?”  Stepping Stones is successful because it can be adapted to many different contexts - but it rests on a number of core principles which need to be followed. Here, we bring together some key information about how best to implement Stepping Stones. Much of the information here comes from a document created by ACORD International called ‘Implementing Stepping Stones: A Practical and Strategic Guide.’ We think this is a great guide, which is of relevance to many similar community programmes, not just Stepping Stones.


The Structure of Stepping Stones

"Stepping Stones might best be described as a journey around a spider’s web or a maze – it is not a linear journey. At different points, participants stop and consider what is happening to them and others like them, to others in their community, of a different gender and age to themselves, and how their own behaviour and that of others affects each group and the whole community. Participants are also encouraged, at each point, to look back at where they have come from and forward to where they are going next, as well as inwards and outwards, as they individually and collectively develop a greater understanding of the situation. Thus issues of gender, generation, place and relationship are considered in every session."
Alice Welbourn, from UNESCO
Guidelines, 2012 


Adapting Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones is the most widely used intervention of its kind. The reasons that Stepping Stones has been successful all over the world - from Ecuador to India to Russia to Zimbabwe - is because it can be adapted for local use.
This allows communities:

  • To make it more relevant to the local cultural context
In Latin America many people are affected by migration. Often children’s parents will go to work in the US, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents. In the Latin American adaptation of Stepping Stones (Paso a Paso) a session on migration and issues raised by this (for parents and for their children) was introduced.
  • To respond to local priorities
In Myanmar Stepping Stones has been adapted for use in communities where injection drug use is common. In this context, specific exercises looking at issues around injection drug use were incorporated into the training.
  • To increase local participation and a sense of ownership
“ Before Stepping Stones, I thought that my husband leaving me was my fault and I was ashamed and I thought that everyone in my village thought I was not a good wife or mother. I didn’t like living in my community and I would not be involved in community activities. After Stepping Stones…I found out that many young women have problems like mine. It has made me feel less alone and being a Stepping Stones trainer, I can share my new knowledge and help other young women through their relationship problems.”
Stepping Stones Participant and later, Stepping Stones Trainer, Fiji

  • To encourage critical thinking about what they want to achieve with Stepping Stones 
After implementing Stepping Stones, women living with HIV from COWLHA in Malawi, organized community dialogue meetings in collaboration with their community leaders in order to seek collective solutions to the stigma and discrimination faced by women living with HIV. As a result Traditional Leaders have worked with the women to denounce gender-based violence. Community Innovations: Achieving Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for women and girls through the HIV response.

Keep the “Foundation Stepping Stones” in Place

It is vital that any Stepping Stones training always stays true to the Foundation Stepping Stones.  
  • Stepping Stones was set up to enable whole communities to explore issues affecting and affected by the spread of HIV and AIDS. The commitment of the entire community to the ongoing Stepping Stones process is needed to bring about real and long lasting change.
  • Work in at least 4 separate gender and age-based peer groups - before bringing everyone to together to discuss their perspectives and build shared understanding.
  • Remember that we are all equal and all learning together. Support each other to step out of our comfort zones and understand new perspectives in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
  • No lecturing or telling: The relationship is one of mutual sharing, discussion and learning rather than that of a teacher “educating” a student.
  • An openness to explore one’s own attitudes and beliefs.
  • A commitment to Stepping Stones as a long term training process that must happen at a pace that feels right for the participants.

The Stepping Stones Journey

It is important to remember that the manual has been designed to include some topics in a certain order and to be experienced as a process.
Stepping Stones progresses from easier sessions with less emotional content, to more challenging sessions, addressing taboos such as gender and age norms, and death. It was never intended as a manual into which people might dip and pick: therefore, it works most effectively where the road map of the progressive exercises has been closely followed.” (Alice Welbourn, 2007:126 )

Knowledge Versus “Critical Literacy”

Unlike this image below, Stepping Stones is not about telling people what they should think or do, as if they are empty vessels, just needing to be filled. Public health messages very rarely work unless they take on board the psycho-social, economic or legal environment of the people concerned. 

Instead, developing our ‘Critical Literacy’ skills is a way of supporting us all to think about everything that is going on in our lives. It supports us to analyse and assess the ways that we behave and the behaviour of others around us. It gives us the ability to do this for ourselves for the rest of our lives. To have a real impact on HIV and AIDS, the whole community must develop these skills as part of a shared journey.

Helping participants to develop ‘Critical Literacy’ - rather than just giving them messages - means that Stepping Stones is a long term and sustainable process:
“The fact that you take a community through a discussion and dialogue is already a plus in terms of sustainability, given that you are getting communities to understand the underlying factors.”
 (This quote is taken from an interview with Ellen Bajenja; talking about her experience of working with Stepping Stones. You can watch the full interview as a video here.)

Peer Group Structure of Workshops

Stepping Stones workshops divide participants into working groups according to gender and age. The Format of the peer groups gives separate, equally recognized space to the different groups.
This “Fusion and Fission” structure, where groups work separately but come together to share discoveries, forms the basis of the Stepping Stones methodology.
“Thus the package was designed from the outset to work both simultaneously and separately with older men, younger men, older women and younger women in the community, in order to give them all private time and space in their own self-defined gender- and age-based peer groups. Here they could explore and analyse their own situations for themselves, without threat of domination or ridicule from others…Then the structure of the several plenary sessions, which bring all the peer groups together to share and compare what they have been doing, builds and steadily reinforces mutual care and respect between the different groups, across the generations as well as across the genders.” (Alice Welbourn, Author of Stepping Stones)


Without breaking down the participants into peer groups, you may find that power inequalities in the community repeat within the dynamics of the workshop. For instance: In mixed discussions men may speak for women, instead of letting them speak for themselves, younger generations may feel unable to assert views that challenge those of their elders. The facilitator of each group should also be at least the same gender and ideally the same sort of age as the same peer group they are supporting, as participants will find it easier to talk openly and honestly about sensitive topics.


Stepping Into The Shoes Of…

The structure of Stepping Stones workshops is designed to stimulate a new sense of understanding of the challenges that face other groups in each community.
Session K: Let’s Assert Ourselves
Here, as in many exercises throughout the Stepping Stones manual, role-play is an important activity. We can use it to step into the shoes of someone else. By looking at life from the perspective of someone with different life experiences, we can each understand the challenges faced by others in our community, with fresh eyes. Participants often find this exercise both challenging and rewarding.
Cross dressing” role-play.

Older / Younger Women
Female participants each get a chance to act as a man who is making unwelcome advances, and a woman firmly telling him “NO.”

Older / Younger Men                                           
The male participants work in pairs with one man role-playing a woman.
They role-play a situation in which they both display responsible behavior.
In this picture, the man finds a way to s
ay ‘NO’ to the advances of a younger woman.

Keep the Fun!

The sessions are designed to be fun for the participants (and facilitators!) It is important that the games are seen as a key part of the whole programme and are not taken out of it to save time. They are important for a number of reasons:
  • The games break the ice, helping participants to relax and feel a group bond
  • The “fun” games carry strong deeper messages and help to support participants to develop the skills for critical questioning
  • Experience has shown that if the sessions are not engaging enough, attendance levels will drop


In 2006, Tina Wallace, working with ActionAid International, conducted a review of all existing Stepping Stones Evaluations to date. The review was intended both to understand what has been achieved by Stepping Stones and to review the quality of existing evaluations. She found that the quality of both implementation and documentation varied significantly:
“Many of the [Stepping Stones] reviews lack clarity on essential information, such as when the programme started and whether it is finished or on-going, a timeline or any sense of the shape and duration of the work, information on the budget, data on the numbers of staff/facilitators and trainers and who was selected and how, information on the nature of the training and the quality of implementation, whether the work was aimed at the whole community or key target groups, the coverage and reach of the project, how many participated and who did not, rates of attendance, and issues of follow-up…”

Monitoring the progress of Stepping Stones training is central to its overall success. Below we give you some key recommendations for how to do better Monitoring and Evaluation for Stepping Stones training, based on the findings from her evaluation. 

Key Recommendations from the review

1. Clarity about why Stepping Stones is being introduced. It sounds simple but careful planning about what exactly you are trying to achieve is key to the success of Stepping Stones. Tina Wallace found that many previous Stepping Stones reviews have failed to include this vital information in reviews.
Key Questions to think about…

  • Why have we chosen the Stepping Stones Training Programme?
  • What challenges are we hoping to address?
  • What groups of people are we planning to support?
  • How will we know if our Stepping Stones training is achieving its aims?
  • What barriers could prevent us from achieving our goals?
  • What enablers could help us to achieve your goals? 
Answering these questions will help you when you come to the monitoring and evaluation process.
2. Support Implementation with Appropriate Baseline Data Collection! Remember - This needs to happen BEFORE any Stepping Stones sessions begin. What data you collect will depend on what you are hoping to achieve with Stepping Stones. You will need to be clear about what you are going to measure and how this will demonstrate your success. 

Try to keep objectives precise, as it will be easier to evaluate the impact of Stepping Stones training on communities. To look at examples of different ways of monitoring and evaluating the programme, see our M&E newsletter. For instance the Fiji evaluation used the “Gemscale” model and other models. The CAFOD “battery” model is a useful tool. There is also the WHO QOL-Bref tool which you could use, for people who are open about their HIV status. This tool is available in many different languages.  
3. All evaluation reports should aim to meet minimum standards of describing the training. Tina Wallace found that key information, such as how many people participated in training, was often missing from evaluations. As a minimum, she recommends that written documentation should include information about the following areas:
  • Present the key aims
  • The budget and basic costs
  • The implementation process
  • The methods used and why they have been chosen
  • The key findings, including:
          - Overall trends in findings and any exceptions to these trends
        - Coverage and reach of training
        - Who benefited most and how, and who benefited least and why?

Remember to include the ‘Action Plans’ made by groups after the training, the requests for change that people within communities made and whether these were achieved or not.
4. Publicize and Disseminate evaluations and findings as widely as possible to share valuable experience and findings and promote Stepping Stones methodology. Evaluations should be accessible to as many people as possible and made available online if possible.
The Stepping Stones website hosts a wide range of previous Stepping Stones evaluations. We love to hear about work you are doing and see you evaluations! If you would like to see your report on the website, please email documents to us at enquiries@steppingstonesfeedback.org. You can also upload files (up to 5mb in size) directly onto the Stepping Stones online forum. Click here to read the review in full.

News from our International Community of Practice

ACTWID – World AIDS Day Celebrations

ACTWID is an NGO based in Cameroon that uses Stepping Stones with communities throughout 48 villages. They recently held a range of activities to mark World AIDS Day, on 1st December. These included training women and youth groups to grow Oyster Mushrooms. This type of mushroom is a great source of protein (equivalent to meat) - they can provide a cheap and nutritious meal for families. As Mrs Wendi Losha, National President and Coordinator explains: “these rural people live below the poverty line and cannot afford for meat and fish to balance their nutrition.” ACTWID also provided two months of free computer training for underprivileged youth leaders and activists.

This sounds like a great initiative! Do you have a story you would like to share with us also? Please send it to us at: enquiries@steppingstonesfeedback.org

Annie Banda from COWLHA talks about using Stepping Stones to Engage Men and Boys

Annie Banda from COWLHA in Malawi talks about Stepping Stones as part of a Johannesburg Workshop for Gender Equality, which took place in December 2012. She gave a talk entitled "Strengthening Attention to GBV's in National HIV Strategies and Plans: COWLHA's Experience," in which she explained how Stepping Stones has allowed them to engage meaningfully with whole communities on issues around HIV - including men and boys who might otherwise have been missing. Click here to Download the Presentation that she gave or click here to watch a video of her speaking.

"I have a Dream" Video Campaign

In case you still haven't seen our video campaign created to mark the 16 days of Activism 2012 - you can visit out campaign page here. We interviewed women activists living with HIV from all over the world - asking them to tell us about their dreams for a better future. Please watch the inspiring messages and share widely!

Related News

“Zero HIV infection rates will never be achieved unless tackling gender-based violence is part of addressing the epidemic”

This is the message that Professor Rachel Jewkes conveyed during the first Southern African HIV Clinician’s Society Conference. She also said that a “very high percentage of HIV can be attributed to gender-based violence.” This speech comes at a time when UNAIDS had relegated gender based violence to a “situational factor.” Read more about her speech here.

UNAIDS report cites Stepping Stones as key prevention tool

UNAIDS has cited Stepping Stones as a key prevention tool in a new report, “Women Out Loud”, in which Alice Welbourn, the author of Stepping Stones, co-authored a chapter. Stepping Stones was also cited by the Executive Director of UNWomen, Dr Michelle Bachelet, in a speech at the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board in December 2012.

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Created by Nell Osborne. With kind thanks to Tina Wallace for her guidance.