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How to research and design a programme cleanly


In 2020, I decided I wanted to design and deliver a programme to keep women safe from unwanted sexual advances. Many things led to that decision including the international headlines around sexual predators, and a client’s traumatic experience.

I wanted my programme to be well researched so that it would reflect the recurring themes in women’s strategies that had kept them safe. It seemed to me that these strategies weren’t adequately available to more women, and I wanted to do something about it.

I also wanted to create a space where women feel inspired to remember and consider what they or others have done that had kept them safe, and for participants to learn from each other.

And finally, I wanted a programme in which the participants, and not the facilitator, would be the experts. In my opinion, this is what would inspire more capability in participants so that they could live out what they had learned after the programme ended.

So, these were my criteria for the programme I wanted. What I needed was a structure and methodology for getting that done.

Designing from the bottom up

That structure was something that Caitlin Walker and Marian Way introduced in late 2021 in a Structures for Living bootcamp. I followed these Structures for Living design steps in order to design my programme:

1. Decide on a theme
My theme was women keeping safe from sexual harassment.

2. Interview six people
I facilitated three focus groups of women at Clean Language events between 2020 and 2021. Additionally, I Interviewed five women individually, and asked a colleague to interview me on my own experiences of keeping safe. A key part of this second step is the ability to conduct clean interviews. Doing a clean interview ensures that all the information gathered is sourced in the interviewee’s experience, and not influenced by the interviewer. See more below on how I used clean interviewing for this purpose.

3. Uncover sub-themes that are important from the data
I transcribed all the interviews and coded them for sub-themes. The sub-themes that emerged were:

  • Knowing when you’re not safe
  • Behaviours and actions
  • Beliefs, attitudes and state
  • Stories
  • Allies

4. Use sub-themes to design programme
The sub-themes provided me with my programme structure, to which I added a final sub-theme as a way to end the programme:

  • What would you like to have happen next?

The programme was originally named Keeping Safe from Unwanted Sexual Advances, and because it was launched during the pandemic, it was designed as six 1.5 hour online sessions. However, the modular nature of the six sessions meant that the programme could be delivered over any number of sessions and over different kinds of duration. It could also be trimmed down to just one session with a couple of sub-themes, which was what happened for a corporate client in Kuala Lumpur because that was the only time they had.

5. Market and deliver the programme. Iterate where appropriate.
The pilot was marketed and delivered in late 2022 as a public programme and had participants from Asia, the UK and America. It was then delivered to a corporate client in early 2023. Since then, it has been renamed Making It Safe: Inspiring Strategies Against Sexual Harassment. And based on feedback, an idea I am working on now is around spinning off a separate programme on the sub-theme of allies that could include men.

Clean Language Interviewing for developing a programme

A clean interview needs a clear purpose, an invitation, a frame, and a starting question to get going:

1. My purpose is to enable women to learn what to do to keep safe when they are feeling uncertain, scared or frozen while they were being harassed.

2. That purpose was contained in my invitation to women who might be interested in being interviewed.

The purpose of doing this interview is for me to find out, what are some strategies or conditions that have kept women safe from unwanted sexual advances. The intention is to develop a programme for women about effective strategies that have kept women safe before, and that is based on women’s lived experiences, and that may not always be fully in our consciousness.

3. This purpose was repeated in my frame when I was face-to-face with my interviewees before we began the interview. This served as a reminder of what we were doing the interview for. It also contained other information about the interview process.

So, what I’m interested in is your experiences of keeping safe from unwanted sexual advances. I’d like to find out what, or who, supported you in keeping safe.
All the information you share with me will then be used to design a programme so that women can have even more conscious strategies for keeping safe.
Your contribution will be anonymised, and if at any point in time, you would like to stop the interview or withdraw your participation, you will be able to do that.
The interview will take about 60 minutes, and not more than 90 minutes.
Do you have any questions for me before we begin?

4. All interviews need to get started with a question. My starting question was an invitation:

Tell me about your experience, or experiences, of keeping safe.

Why use Clean Language Interviewing?

  • I wanted to be certain of the authorship of the data in my research. The stories originated from the women’s lived experiences. They were not influenced by mine, as I was only repeating back their words and then asking them clean or contextually clean questions about their experiences.
  • The interviews provided a reflection space for the women to model the emotions, beliefs, stories and behaviours that had kept them safe, in ways they might not have considered before. Repeating back someone’s exact words and then asking them clean questions very often has this effect.
  • Clean Interviewing allowed me to accept whatever a woman said about her experience, and to invite her to extend what she had said so we could learn more together. In one interview, in answer to my starting question, a woman responded: “Actually, it’s not about keeping safe. It’s about being unsafe!” After a few seconds, she declared, “I was not kept safe by anyone.” I stayed clean by accepting what she said, and only asked her clean or contextually clean questions, and she was able to recount a story she had never shared before. She discovered that even as a child, she had effectively acted to keep safe. Hence, even though she started the interview thinking nothing and nobody kept her safe, she left the interview recognising the strategies she actually had, including from other women in her life.

Much more still needs to be done to put this programme out in the world so that more people are enabled to make it safe for themselves and others. And there are also no guarantees I will be able to make the programme sustainable. While all of that is true, I know that I have a programme that is well thought out and that is achieving its purpose. How do I know? Because of the testimonials from women who have already participated in this programme:

“I have been taking action to be safe that I wasn’t aware of before.”

“I want to get really strong so I can move freely through the world. I’m signing up for martial arts classes.”

“I feel more confident and open about having these conversations.”

“I feel validated.”

Related blog posts


What is Clean Interviewing?

7th Sep 2017

By Jacqueline Ann Surin


Clean Language Interviewing

6th Feb 2022

By Caitlin Walker

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About Jacqueline Ann Surin

Jacqueline Ann Surin's avatar

Jacqueline Ann Surin is a Level 1 Clean Facilitator, the first Master Level Systemic Modeller in Asia, and is qualified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the ICF. She is an associate of Clean Learning and Training Attention in the UK, and a specialist-partner of the Singapore-based BeInClarity. She was previously an award-winning journalist and has a published chapter in Clean Language Interviewing: Principles and applications for researchers and practitioners.

She can be found on LinkedIn.

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