"If I should find my friend in the wrong, I reproach him secretly; but in the presence of company, I praise him. . . Advice given in the midst of a crowd is loathsome."
A critical incident is usually a story-like description of a problem situation that could occur in one's personal or professional life. Generally, it presents a fictional situation in which the main character chooses one of several alternative ways to respond. The implications of the choices made are described and discussed by training participants. Critical incidents present Trainees with a problematic situation that has no clear cut solution, no absolute answer. It provides training participants an opportunity to examine specific circumstances, discuss the varied reactions among themselves and practice problem solving skills.
In a Peace Corps training context, this method is often used to address situations of protocol, appropriate Volunteer behavior, cross-cultural issues, the role of the Volunteer in development and the relationship between counterpart and Volunteer. It also could be used by Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in a village setting to address problems that exist in the community that seem to have no clear cut solution. PCVs who choose to use this method should feel confident in their language skills and already have a rapport with the population. Critical incidents told aloud as problem stories can be very effective in stimulating discussion and identifying possible solutions for the community. Read aloud, this method can work well for groups with mixed or limited literacy. The scenario used in a critical incident should be realistic enough to be relevant; however, using an actual incident should be avoided. The risk in using a real incident is that the experience may become a public criticism of participants rather than a problem solving practice.
A set of prepared questions should be presented to all participants of a critical incident exercise. The questions should help the participants address the main problem, the various reactions to the problem, and the different possibilities for resolving the-problem. The discussion questions used in a critical incident are never closed-ended but rather open to many varied responses.
Working in small groups to discuss the problem situation can be very effective, but open discussion of a critical incident in a large group setting can also be useful to participants. In a large group setting, facilitation skills are important to encourage participation of as many people as possible.
"You cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot give energy if you're not on fire on the inside."
• To provide Trainees an opportunity to develop analytical and problem solving skills.
• Trainees will have learned to use critical incident as a technique to assess a problem situation.
1. Begin by reviewing basic knowledge concerning guinea worm disease. (Trainees should have read the fact sheet on guinea worm by now.) Lead a brief discussion about what causes the disease, how it is prevented and how it is treated.
2. Explain briefly the idea of critical incident as a tool for analyzing and problem solving. Generally there is no clear cut answer to the problem presented, so you want to encourage all participants to have input according to their personal reactions. Explain to participants that in this exercise they will use a critical incident to examine some of the complexities of working in a guinea worm eradication program. The incident chosen presents a hypothetical situation to illustrate important considerations that any intervention as Peace Corps Volunteers will demand.
Distribute copies of the sample incident to all Trainees and ask them to read it carefully.
Ask a Volunteer to briefly summarize the main points of the incident so that you have general agreement by the large group on what actually happened in the incident.
3. Divide Trainees into small groups of four or five people. Give each group a sheet of flip chart paper and marker to write their responses to key questions found at the bottom of the critical incident handout.
Ask members of small groups to try to reach consensus before writing their response and to make note of the differing views that are expressed.
4. After small groups have completed their tasks, take just a minute or two to get general reactions from the large group. Next, have representatives from all the small groups come to the front of the room to present their responses. If possible, post the flip chart paper of all groups side by side or have the spokesperson hold the page up when it is her or his turn to speak. Take each question one at a time, getting responses from all small groups before proceeding to the next question. Allow a few minutes of discussion between questions.
5. Summarize the results of the small group work and reinforce the idea that there is probably no one right answer.
Ask Trainees how they feel about what happened in the incident.
Encourage them, as Peace Corps Volunteers, to approach each day with an open mind and with flexibility for the specifics of each incident. They should also look for other situations that they can incorporate into new critical incident exercises.
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