Imagine you and another trainer got together and could dream up your perfect training centre. What are some of the things that you would avoid, that have driven you crazy in the past, in various hotels and conference centres around the world? Heavy or fixed furniture, poorly lit rooms, carpeted walls, struggles getting one more flipchart at 11pm, getting internet connections for speakers – you name it. What trainers and facilitators want more than anything is flexibility. How might you design a centre for maximum flexibility?
This morning I had the pleasure to visit just such a training venue outside of Geneva called Ecogia. It is the main training centre for the International Committee of the Red Cross. And in fact, it is the manifestation of the vision of two trainers, Christiane Amici Raboud, now the Director of Ecogia, and one of her ICRC colleagues, also a trainer at the time. They seemed to think of everything and built up a delightful learning environment for both their peers, and the participants who spend time at Ecogia.
Each meeting room is the ultimate in flexibility. Everything is on wheels, the tables, the chairs, the projectors – there are even mobile units that people can wheel around after them to hold their materials and documentation (with handles at the front and perfect height for humans as opposed to smaller mammals). Each of these items has a very small overall footprint and weight – the tables quickly fold up into slim objects that look like flipcharts, the chairs are very light, the projector is in a trolley (and the cables are in the floor) so you can use any wall as a projection screen.
Even the lighting is flexible. In the main room, the projector is linked to automatic blinds and dimmers, so when you are ready to go, you push the button and the lights immediately go off and the blinds down; when the off switch is pressed, everything lights up again. No fumbling around in the dark looking for blinds and switches.
There are plenty of break out spaces, and to make it easy for groups to move around with their work, many walls are magnetic, and flipchart headers with strong magnets on them, filled with paper, are easy to take off one magnetic wall and into another room. Meeting rooms which have wall paper (the Centre was originally an 18th century orphanage, with modern additions, and has kept its charm), there are full length magnetic strips or clip in strips for flipcharts.
Of course there are many great training centres in the world, frequently very expensive and exclusive, often the domain of private sector clients. However, Ecogia, which has the majority of its clientele with the ICRC, also rents its meeting rooms and sleeping rooms to other organizations, all at compassionate cost-recovery rates, in keeping with the ICRC’s community values. It also offers simplicity in both reservation, and an all-inclusive equipment etc. package. No negotiating late in the night with a junior manager who doesn’t want to part with that additional flipchart or projector because it is not on the reservation. Also surprisingly included – all the bedrooms and many small meeting rooms have internet-accessible computers, are connected to printers and have free phones!
I must say, I was impressed. And I could clearly see, as Christiane kindly showed me around, the care and thought that had gone into every aspect of the centre. I love the idea that some trainers got together and tapped their learning about what works in training spaces, and then used it to make an innovative new place that uses learning for learning.