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An Effective Path Towards Strengthening Communities, Families and Organizations

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Core Document in the Module

Training for organizing or re-organizing; not only skill transfer


Management training as an element of community mobilizing is aimed at poverty reduction, the strengthening of low income communities in the planning and management of human settlements communal facilities and services, their construction, operation and maintenance.

This is training for action, not just for skill transfer or for giving information to individuals.

It can not be emphasized too much that training, as a method for strengthening low income communities, for poverty reduction, for promoting community participation, for practical support to democratization and decentralization, ie for mobilizing, is far from being only the transfer of information and skills to the trainees.

This is non orthodox training. Formalization and institutionalization of this kind of training brings with it the danger of emasculating the training, of emphasising the skill transfer over the encouragement, mobilization and organizing aspects.

Management training in this sense was developed for strengthening the effectiveness of top and middle management in profit making corporations.

It has been modified here, and integrated with techniques of trade union organizing, for the purposes of mobilizing and strengthening the capacity of low income communities to come together and help themselves, and engage in developmental social change.

The Four Essential Questions:

If we look at all decision making which varies from context to context, we can distil all to four essential questions. Answering these questions is the basic management planning process.

These four questions are: "1. What do we want? 2. What do we have? 3. How can we use what we have to get what we want? 4. What will happen when we get it?" If you look carefully, they are the four questions included, and perhaps disguised by elaboration, in any project planning document and in brainstorming.

The "What do we want?" question covers the description of the problem, it's reversal to define the general goal, and its refinement to make it into specific objectives, outputs and other finer definitions of that goal. In community management training the "What do we want?" question must be answered by the community as a whole, not just the men, not just the educated, not just the civil servants, not just the friends of the agency, but by all of the community, by consensus.

The "What do we have?" question is the identification of resources or potential inputs that can be used to reach the chosen goal. In community management training, this identification is best done in meetings where the quiet people are encouraged to participate, because there are many resources in every community, including the poorest, that are hidden or perhaps not so obvious. A skilled mobilizer draws out of a community meeting, by facilitation, the identification of many otherwise hidden or disguised resources. The resources can include available labour and expertise (the human energy ready to be employed in the activity), land or space on which to carry out the activity, cash (through charges, sales, donations and other sources). capital (reusable equipment or tools) needed to carry out the activity, and human mental resources (wisdom, information, skills, experience, analytic capacity, creativity) that are often the hidden contributions of old or retired people, and often found in those who may be physically disabled or socially ostracized. Many are so obvious that they are otherwise overlooked.

The "How do we get what we want with what we have?" question is the strategy part of the craft of management. There are always several different ways to combine the available resources, and the collective mental resources of the community (as mentioned above) should be used to identify several strategies, and select the most appropriate one.

The "What will happen when we get it?" question covers the prediction of the impact of the activity. It can be expanded to ask how the activity is expected to affect the community and its (social and physical) environs, and leads to plans for monitoring and evaluation.

These four questions should be used by the field worker as a framework for organizing, or reorganizing, a group. Similarly they are used by a management trainer for organizing or reorganizing a management team. A coordinator can use them for organizing a team of field workers. Together, they are the framework for building management capacity and strength of any group of participants.

In community management training, these essential four questions need to be raised when the whole community is meeting to decide priorities. They should be used again when the executive committee of the CBO meets on behalf of the whole community to work out details. If you look carefully, you will see these four questions, in the order presented, hidden in two of this document's appendices, the brainstorming process and guidelines for project design.

Whether they are asked when organizing a trade union, or in a management meeting of senior executives of a wealthy corporation (or, in this context, during the empowerment and capacity building of a low income community). they constitute the essential or core decisions in management.

Other Principles in Management Training:

Once the four essential or core questions are recognized as at the centre of community management training, several other management principles can be identified. The extent to which these are included in community management training may vary according to what is needed: how much and what kind of training is appropriate at each session. The following is an open-ended list, and does not have to be presented in the following order.

  1. We (the community group) need vision. The community must decide, as a whole, what it wants to do. There are many possible goals, but the community must be unified and choose what it wants to do. Trainers can use a quotation from Alice in Wonderland to illustrate this. "If we do not know where we are going, then any road will do," (Lewis Caroll). Without a vision for where the community wants to go, it might as well stay where it is or how it is (with its apathy, poverty, disease and discomfort) at present.

  2. Once a goal and a direction are chosen, it is necessary to make some planning decisions as to how to reach or get closer to that end. This can be illustrated during training by a catchy phrase: "If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail." If success or winning can be defined as reaching the goal, then it is necessary to plan in order to reach that goal. (of course the goal, or how it is interpreted, may change during the process of reaching it, and certainly after it is reached).

  3. The trainer can remind the group that planning means the series of thought processes that will lead the group for where (or in what condition) it is now, to where (or in what condition) is envisaged when the goal is reached. those though process must be logical and consistent, and lead from the present actuality to the future desired result. The trainer can point out that: "We plan backwards in time (start with the end and end with the start.)" Start planning by identifying where we want to go, then ask what steps are needed in order to get there. Every step from the current situation must logically link with the next until the desired end is reached.

  4. When selecting strategies, the group is encouraged to make the most efficient and effective use of what they have to get what they want. Efficiency must not be rejected, although it can be interpreted in many ways. Efficiency can be defined as being able to "Get more output for less input (maximize our efficiency)." One catchy phrase that may illustrate this is, "Do not work hard; get results."
    Here the admired value of "hard work" (the means or input) is shown to be less important than the result of that work (the end or output). It is not intended as an encouragement to be lazy, but as an encouragement to use resources (including one's own labour) wisely, and therefore (in this context) efficiently.

  5. Participatory and inclusive decision-making can tap hidden resources that would otherwise be lost by a dictatorial decision-making style. The trainer teaches to, "involve everybody in decisions." One (imperfect) human, even if boss or chief, has less information, experience, wisdom, than the whole concerned group, including the quiet or humble ones.
    In terms of democratization, it is the right of every community member to participate; in terms of maximizing the strength of a community, identifying its resources, and finding creative and previously overlooked strategies, involving all makes good management sense.

  6. The trainer must remind the community that it must aim to "stand on its own feet." Dependency, and reliance on outsiders' help, resources, and even direction, is simply not sustainable (the outsiders leave after some time), as well as a weakness and vulnerability. Encourage self reliance; it is an obligation or duty as well as a right.
    Another catchy phrase can be used here: "If you blame others, you give up your power to change," (Ray Anthony). The trainer must never be duped by the dependent plea, "We are too poor and we need outside help." Every (every) group or community, no matter how poor, if it is composed of live humans, has resources it can tap, most of which are hidden. The real poverty is in the lack of knowing what they are, not in their absence.

  7. There is no free lunch. Volunteer labour and public donations must be paid for, even if not in purely monetary currency. That payment is in the form of public recognition, encouragement, praise and acknowledgement.
    Management trainers in corporations have pointed out that even paid labour does not participate fully or produce the most just on the basis of salaries or wages; recognition, praise and encouragement go a long way to get the best output from both volunteers and paid labour. Recognize contributions, praise honestly, emphasize the positive, ignore the negative, do not criticize.

  8. We cannot stand still. If we are not going forward, then we will slip backward. Human society is dynamic, it is always changing. It is impossible to solve any problem, "once and for all," (that is a fallacy) . What may be today a solution to a problem, if continued, may tomorrow become the problem.
    Of course there are many other lessons in management training. This document cannot describe all. You, as a community mobilizer, should look for more principles, share experiences with other mobilizers, management trainers, coordinators, and write your own set of principles in your journal.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.02.27

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