Thursday, August 12, 2010

What we have versus what we don't!

Dear Colleagues

I came across the following message within my LinkedIn community. It was posted by Hildy Gottlieb who is engaged in "Making visionary community change practical" ... something that resonates with me and my efforts with "value analytics"
Hildy posted:

Building on Strength and Aspiration
This month my guest on Making Change is Brett McNaught, VP of International Programs for buildOn. (If you missed the podcast, it is at the Chronicle's website here: or downloadable at iTunes here: )

In answer to the question, “What creates social change?” Brett talked about the importance of identifying and building upon what individuals and communities HAVE vs. what they lack.

Of all the examples Brett shared - including the story of Abdul - the example that stood out for me was the way he talked about working within corrupt local power structures. When you listen, you won’t hear Brett lamenting this situation as a problem. What you will hear is him identifying people’s ability to work within such a system is an ASSET!

This approach is almost diametrically opposed to the approach of “needs assessments” and “environmental scans” and “SWOT analyses” - staring at the problem until it feels almost insurmountable.

The approach instead shows the huge difference it makes when we focus not only on strengths and assets, but when the goal moves beyond problem-solving, and instead aims at a positive, affirmative future. (Re-listen to Brett’s stories. You will be hard-pressed to hear him talk about the “problems buildOn solves.” What you will hear instead is the aspiration towards universal literacy.)

So let’s start this discussion by considering the work you do in your community.

What might change in the way you do your work if you no longer used reactive tools such as needs assessments and problem-solving? What would change if your work instead focused on the proactive vision of what the community wants for itself - its highest dreams and aspirations?

And if you have seen stories of folks creating change by building on strength and aiming at what’s possible, please share those stories!!
I liked the subject and I joined in a conversation about similar matters and posted the following:
Dear Colleagues

Sorry I am joining in late ... maybe better late than never!

The whole analysis framework that dominates modern society makes it very difficult to have decisions made that are going to be good for society ... in the end profits are going to disappear, governments will go bankrupt and the planet will overheat. Simple because, even though we have amazing science and technology the wrong decisions are going to get made by those with decision making responsibility.

I like the idea of Brett McNaught ... the importance of identifying and building upon what individuals and communities HAVE vs. what they lack.

This is exactly the basic starting point we have used for Community Analytics (CA) value accounting ... socio-economic progress is when the value related to quality of life and the resources of the community increase over a period. This is a very simple idea and in a small community quite easy to understand.

The metric for performance is how much resource is consumed to get the progress ... and this analysis suggests that when local human resources are put at the center of activities to make progress, there is highly productive progress.

Every community has different resources ... the people are different with different aspirations and skill sets ... the natural resources are different ... the developed infrastructure is different ... the organizations are different. The activities that get done in the community need to be those that build on what is available in the community.

While individuals and communities HAVE some resources ... they also have NEEDS which should not be ignored. The best outcome is to get what a community HAS to satisfy what people NEED in the most efficient way.

Of course this is not the "mindset" of most relief and development experts and practitioners ... and especially those with responsibility in donor organizations. The typical analysis is about how the money will be disbursed and what results will be obtained with virtually no consideration of what might be achieved simply by some redirect of locally available resources.

As I see it, the only way to change the way decision makers operate is to have metrics that show how decisions work out ... and show how some activities using local resources are getting a great outcome, and activities purely based on external resources are struggling and really doing "not very much" at a high cost!

I don't know how quickly a practical value based system will deploy ... but the pieces exist, and maybe it will be quite soon. Stay tuned.

Peter Burgess
This text goes back several weeks ... but the theme reflected in these notes does not change very much. It is becoming more and more critical that the big decisions being made start to get done using a value metric that is as heavily weighted as the profit metric. I am somewhat optimistic that there are many thoughtful people who have done good work in this area, but it is also very clear that the mainstream of analysis that gets paid for does not have much of a value perspective.

In spite of everything ... I remain very optimistic!

Peter Burgess

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