Decision-Making Exercises

Objectives: To understand and learn about teenage girls / boys and how they can have a say in the important decisions that affect them.

Materials/Preparation: Flipchart, idea cards, markers, tape, crayons

Participants: Teenaged boys or girls, in gender-separated groups. In Mozambique and South Africa, the exercises took place in a workshop with adolescent girls.


Phase I: Life Stories/Storyboard

Identify key negative/positive points in girls' / boys' lives, and who are people making decisions on behalf of adolescents.

  • The facilitator starts by introducing the exercise, aimed at creating a comfortable and open environment. This is to help girls (and boys) to participate through talking or drawing.
  • The facilitator then gives each girl/boy up to 6 idea cards to draw important events or turning points in her/his life that involved a decision (e.g. the decision to visit and stay with an aunt, decision to leave school, etc.)
  • Once finished, each participate describes her/his story board.
  • Each girl/boy is the asked to sequence these cards on a large flipchart.

Alternatively, if children are not comfortable with drawing, the facilitator may also lead a discussion on:

  • Starting from a baby and then growing up, when did a major change take place in your life?
  • What changed? Who made decisions because of this change?


Phase II: Power and Decision-Making

  • The facilitator introduces silhouettes of 1) a big girl and a small girl; 2) a big adult and a small girl. (for boys this would be a big boy and small boy; a big adult and a small boy).
  • The facilitator then uses the storyboards from Phase I to discuss decision-making in the scenarios: Who has power in the decision. The scenarios given should include one adult scenario, and one children scenario.
  • The facilitator then asks for each story:
    • Place big and small silhouettes for each decision
    • Who usually makes the decisions, adults or girls (boys)? Which type of decisions do adults and girls (boys) make?
    • Which ones do you think that adults should make and why? Which ones should girls (boys) make?
    • Are there any situations where a girl (boy) might feel really small?

Note: If participants are not comfortable in using images, then it may be easier for the facilitator to discuss these questions rather than use silhouettes.


Phase III: Planning for the Futures

  • The facilitator then asks participants to draw one more picture, imagining a picture for 2014. Participants then draw: "Where would I like to be in 4 years?"


Phase IV: Mapping

  • Using Social Maps, the facilitator then probes into:
    • Where are decisions made and actions taken on behalf of or against girls?
    • Where do big/small girls feel safe (where do you like to be) and where do they feel at risk (where do you not like to be)?
    • Why do you feel safe / unsafe (comfortable/uncomfortable) in each place identified?
    • What can be done to feel more safe in the unsafe places?
    • Which other places would you like to feel safe (comfortable)? Probe on education, health elements.
    • Who else can make these places safer?
  • The facilitator then presents silhouettes of big and small boys.*
    • Where is their situation the same as girls, where is it different?
    • Why might this be: Possible reasons for this, and solutions?

*For boy participants, start with mapping on boys. For girls, start with mapping on girls.

The exercise then closes with a summary of positive ideas girls have given and how they would like others in the community to hear this. The facilitation team also discusses with participants when and how feedback from the study shall be provided back to the group.

Variation - Decisions affecting your life, who decides?

Phase I: Important things in your lives

  • Following introductions and objectives, the facilitator introduces that we will talk about how things happened in girls' (boys') lives - good and bad.
  • The facilitator also explains that the exercise would like to explore what 'power' girls (boys) have over these decisions, as well as how girls (boys) feel that they can have more say over important decisions that affect them.
  • The facilitator then asks girls to draw:
    1. Something that you love about your family
    2. Something that is not good for me
    3. Some rules within the household that I don’t approve because I’m forced to do
    4. One place or person that important to me outside my home
  • After girls make these drawings, the group discusses each and organizes drawings into groups.


Phase II: Decisions - Me or someone else

  • The facilitator posts signs on 3 corners of the room that read:
    • Corner 1: "I make this decision"
    • Corner 2: "Someone close to me makes this decision (e.g. mother)"
    • Corner 3: "Someone who is not close to me makes this decision (e.g. teacher)"
  • The facilitator then reads one of the following statements below. After each statement, participants walk to the corner they think is true in their own lives. The facilitator then asks
    • Discuss why did you choose that corner of the room? Facilitate a discussion.
    • If they all agree, do you think others may have different decisions?
    • Would it be different if you were a boy (girl)?


  1. What is your bed time?
  2. Which soapies (telenovelas, soap operas, television shows) can you watch?
  3. When you have to move house, who decides where?
  4. Who decides what to do at home?
  5. Who decides if you have to cook the meal or not in the evening?
  6. Who decides when you can play?
  7. Who decides where you can play?
  8. Who chooses your friends?
  9. Who chooses/will choose your boyfriend?
  10. Who decides whether you go to school or not? What subjects do you choose to study at school?
  11. What clothing can you wear?
  12. If parents are separated (father traveled, father brings second wife, etc.), who decides where you will be?
  13. If a friend tells you that they are being abused by their uncle, how do you decide how to help the friend

Phase III: Mapping (see above)


Variation - Sexual decision-making (River of Risk)

This exercise was developed to explore the different types of sexual decisions that individuals, different partners and couples make; and to explore the power dynamics and roles of men and women in making these decisions.
  • Materials: flip chart, crayons of 12 different colors, stones or other objects for counting

The steps in this exercise include:

  1. Identify different sexual partners that women (or men, in a separate discussion) have in the community. Assign a different color to each. Draw a large wheel on a flip chart and divide it into as many sections as there are partners.
    • Label each segment of the circle with the corresponding color to represent the type of partner
    • Ask the group to indicate the extent to which condoms are used with each different type of partner e.g. for each partner shade in the section of the segment on the wheel to indicate the extent of condom use practiced by this partner. Start shading from the center of the wheel and move outwards. For very occasional condom use only shade a small section of the segment; for regular/habitual condom use, shade in the entire segment etc.
      Note: It is not necessary to be exact, encourage the group to agree on the general level of condom use for each partner.
    • Discuss the reasons behind the level of condom use shown in each case
    • Once completed, discuss the results of the diagram and what it shows.
  2. Discuss what factors influencing sexual decision-making between different partners. Using the wheel, ask participants to choose two high condom use relationships and two low condom use relationships.
    • Identify one of these partners and create the following decision-making matrix:
A chart broken out into different segments, which are labelled: Regular customers, relatives, clients, lovers, husband, and temporary husband.

Partner involved

To have sex or not

Type of sex

Condom Use

Location of sexual activity


Partner #1 (e.g. regular client)

Sex Worker


    • Give the participants ten objects. Ask them to use the stones to indicate the extent of power and influence that the man and woman has in making each decision. Go through each decision one at a time. Use the stones to indicate who has more or less power in each sexual decision.
    • Probe responses to understand the power dynamics in each decision and reasons why one person has more or less power than the other in each instance.
    • On the matrix, recorde the number of votes for each decision.
    • Create a new matrix and repeat the exercise for each of the four selected partners.


Partner involved

To have sex or not

Type of sex

Condom Use

Location of sexual activity


Partner #1 (e.g. regular client)

7 7 8 4 2

Sex Worker

3 3 2 6 8


  1. Discussion - once various matricies have been completed, discuss:
    • Overall, who appears to have the most power in decision-making? Why?
    • Women do appear to have some power in decision-making – how do they exert their
      influence when making decisions?
    • In which decisions do they have the most power and why?
    • Which decisions would you like to have more influence in making?
    • What strategies can women use to have more control of the sexual decision-making?
    • From your own experience, which strategies are most effective and why?
  2. To conclude, ask the group:
    • What have you learned from this exercise?
    • How will you use this information in your own lives?
    • Explain what the project hopes to do with this information e.g. to inform a new project activities.

Variation - Negotiating condom use (River of Risk)

To explore dynamics of power, control, love and trust within a sexual relationship and how these affect condom use, this exercise discusses factors that influence women's vulnerability in different types of relationships. Following introductions, this exercise walks through:

  1. Discussion on key partner types:
    • The group identifies the kinds of sexual relationships that women have and the different types of sexual relationships.
    • From these, the group discusses a key type of partner that women have difficulty negotiating condom use with – use this information to clarify the type/nature of the “risky relationship” (likely to be an intimate or regular partner, but may be others, as well).
    • The facilitator should clarify what this type of relationship is called and the characteristics of this relationship.
  2. The facilitator asks a volunteer to draw two pictures: showing the people involved in the relationship (can draw just faces – or whole bodies).
    1. The facilitator explains that these people are involved in the relationship described above. Be specific, and continue to remind the group, that they are, for example, a woman and her lover (e.g. not simply "woman" or "man").
    2. The facilitator asks what holds the couple together (e.g. “their love for each other”) and ask a volunteer to draw a symbol for that “glue” on the flipchart, between the individuals in this relationship.
  3. Identify barriers to condom use
    • The facilitator reminds the group that, as discussed earlier, the woman has difficulty negotiating condom use, and asks what motivates the sexual partner to refuse/ hesitate using condoms.
    • For each idea mentioned, participants are asked to draw a symbol next to or around the picture of the resistant sexual partner.
    • After getting a few responses for the resistant sexual partner, switch to the picture of the woman and ask the group to identify why the woman may – or may not – want to use a condom.
    • Participants what the factors are that block her from using a condom (e.g. “she wants to have a baby,” “she wants to be seen as trustworthy”).
    • Ask participants to draw symbols representing each factor.
    • Continue identifying factors and drawing symbols until people feel the picture is complete. Note: During the discussion probe for economic, cultural, social and emotional factors.
  4. Identify areas that need change: Once the picture is complete, the facilitator asks participants:
    • What would need to change – about the relationship, about the man, and/or about the woman – in order for them to have safer sex and use a condom?
    • As suggestions are made, probe for factors related to changes in the relationship, changes in the people (including self image, economic factors etc). Do not stop at knowledge.
    • Ask participants to draw symbols on cards for each different change.
    • Continue to look at the influences and discuss the potential changes until all ideas are exhausted. If participants are stuck, discuss each factor/barrier e.g. what would need to change about her, him to address this barrier.
  5. Determine the potential for change: For the changes surfaced in the previous step, the facilitators asks:
    • Are all the changes the same? Are some changes harder or easier to implement? Would some changes have a bigger impact than others – and be more important to make?
    • The facilitator explains that each change will now be analysed in terms of ease/difficulty of change and then, later, the extent of impact/importance.
    • The facilitator starts by analyzing the ease with which change can be made. It is important to ground the discussion in as much reality as possible, and so will be important to remind participants of the kind of people and relationship that is being discussed.
      • Participants identify a change which they think is important.
      • The facilitator draws a line on the flipchart and asks where in this line (how easy/difficult change is) this change is to happen.
      • The facilitator picks up the card representing the change, and place on the line, corresponding with the level of ease/difficulty. If participants struggle with placing the cards in a continuum, the facilitator can sort cards in 3 or 4 piles of relative difficulty (very easy, easy, difficult, very difficult – for example).
      • The observer /note-taker records in detail the reasons that some changes are easy or difficult. The facilitator should continue to remind the group of the characteristics of the people and relationship, to keep focus
      • This step is repeated for all cards. Once the cards are sorted, participants agree on ways to mark them according to their degree of difficulty.
A line graph labeled "Very easy" on the left, to "Very difficult" on the right. A listed example for "very easy" is "stop drinking alcohol." A listed example for "very difficult" is "take clients who always use condoms."
    • The facilitator then asks if they all carry the same importance or impact – “which ones will make the biggest changes for the couple?” Again, participants sort the cards in 3 – 4 piles of relative impact or along a continuum.
    • The observer/note-taker records in detail the reasons that some changes have more or less impact than others.
    • The facilitator should continue to remind the group of the characteristics of the people and relationship, to keep focus.
  1. Discussion: Once the rating of the cards has been completed, the facilitator asks participants the following questions:
    • Do some of these changes lead to/enable other? If yes, which ones?
    • Which if these changes would be a priority and why?
    • Who needs to be involved in the changes? E.g. men, women, other actors?
    • What support is needed to make these changes? Use the discussion to draw out potential strategies and actions
  2. Conclusion: To conclude the exercise, the facilitator asks the group the following questions:
    • What have you learned from this exercise?
    • How will you use this information?
    • The facilitator explain what the project hopes to do with this information e.g. to inform a new project activities.



  • S Long (February 2011). Adolescent Girls and Governance in South Africa: Draft Report for CARE South Africa.
  • S Long (February 2011). Adolescent Girls and Governance in Mozambique: Draft Report for CARE Mozambique.
  • S Long (December 2010). Draft Assessment Tools.
  • CARE, with Mutengo Consulting (2009). River of Risk Toolkit.