I thought I would write to you and share my most recent experience with action learning. A client of mine asked me to work with one of their groups – a developing board of a non-profit company. They have one full time employee, who is the director of their programs and a part time ED. Their vision is literally to change the world but they were having trouble taking action. I wondered how many “D” quadrant thinkers (possibilities and ideas) there were in this group. They didn’t seem to be on the same page about anything. So Action Learning seemed to be a good place to start.
I was excited because it was really the first time I could combine my way of working with the AL process. My contact with each participant prior to the session told me there was blame and many different ideas about the cause of the problem.
With 10 participants it seemed two AL groups were needed. But I believed the first round of answers needed to be heard by all the participants. That worked well because between the tears and blame, everyone gained new insights into the real problems. People seemed shocked about what they were learning from each other. I know the AL process does this every time but it is so refreshing to see it happen and put new light on the problems at hand.
Using the preferred type of gift as an indicator of their learning style preference, I divided them into two groups for “Generating Ideas”, “Testing Ideas” and “Making a Decision” before I brought them back together to finish going through the AL process. Would you guess that out of ten people, 7 had an action oriented preference, 1 had a theoretical preference and 2 were pragmatists? Much to my surprise, they were relatively patient with the process.
Once they came back together, the two actions that they decided they needed to take immediately were support for each other and celebrating the work already done. Each person wanted to make a personal commitment toward each of these tasks. (If you are thinking that is too many actions to start with, just wait.) The first commitment towards support was a young man offering to clean the program director’s house. Another’s commitment was to have a dinner at his house with no business agenda, just a social occasion. The commitments made towards celebrating their accomplishments were to interview each other and highlight their accomplishments at their AGM in September. Another commitment was to recognize accomplishments on-line using their website, Facebook and Twitter.
It was hard for them to realize that small steps would have huge impact. I guess that is natural when you are used to changing the whole world. In the end, my recommendation was for them to continue to learn about themselves and their relationships with each other via Systems Thinking and Reflexive Practice.
Enabling YOU to make a difference in OUR world …
Recognizing the Impact of Community Volunteers in East Africa
Kajo Keji, South Sudan, 17-18 January, 2012
In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the Sudanese ruling National Congress Party in the North and the former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the South. The signing of the CPA brought an end to Africa’s longest-running civil war, which killed over 2 million people and displaced countless others.
Kajo Keji is a county in southern South Sudan, just south of the capital Juba and close to the international border with Uganda to the south. It is home to the Kuku people.
Why is community mobilization so important?
“If you give aid – when it runs out, that’s it. But if you help people through a process of self-directed change, they will continue and teach others” Bishop Poggo.
Visiting mobilized communities
The Episcopal Church of Sudan is facilitating change in local communities with the support of Tearfund, using an action learning process called ‘Church and Community Mobilization’ (or CCMP).
The CCMP process uses five stages to enable the local church and its community to achieve greater self-reliance. It involves a self-directed holistic learning journey that closely mirrors GULL’s philosophy and approach to community development.
Since 2001, CCMP has been applied in hundreds of churches and communities in more than 14 African countries. GULL’s professional Bachelor pathway is inter-linked with CCMP so that the outcomes can be recognized and certified at three levels as the related CCMP stages are successfully completed.
CCMP is a remarkable catalyst for change – the process enables the church to impact its immediate community in such a way that action is taken to enable on-going sustainable development. To illustrate, here is the story of retired church pastor Revd. Timayo Mogga Lodu. Timayo and his wife are now in their 70s and after retiring, they struggled financially. His son Ezbon became the local CCMP co-ordinator and he introduced his father to the action learning process.
Recognition ceremony, Wednesday 18 Jan
The CCMP-GULL recognition ceremony took place at the Episcopal Church of Sudan’s (ECS) Cannon Benaiah Poggo College, Diocese of Kajo Keji. CCMP facilitators travelled from the far North of Sudan and from Khartoum to join with CCMP-GULL graduands from South Sudan. It was the first time that these groups had had the opportunity to meet.
A very special day! CCMP facilitators from North and South Sudan celebrate the award of GULL professional Bachelor pathway level 2 Certificates (‘Church Awakening’ stage), level 3 Diplomas (‘Church & Community Mobilization’ stage) and Bachelor of Professional Studies (Church & Community Mobilization) awards to those who have fully implemented CCMP and trained co-facilitators.
Soroti, Uganda, 20-22 January, 2012
Community mobilization is a participatory process for change that can greatly benefit poor communities. Among other factors, communities are held back by lack of formal organization, the mis-perception that politicians and others will alleviate their problems for them and a shortage of available resources to facilitate collaborative action.
The objective of the participatory evaluation process (PEP) is to bring about change in local churches and communities. PEP uses an action learning approach to assist participants to begin by reviewing and adjusting their own mindset – often the biggest barrier to change. PEP facilitator training is phased over a 2-3 year period so that participants are able to apply the process and gradually cascade their own learning to co-facilitators and others in the local church and community.
Omagoro Community, A mobilized community …
The Church has played a pivotal role in enabling Omagoro community to maximize the use of its available resources and this has transformed the community’s standard of living. For example, the participatory evaluation process has enabled the community to secure its own water supply (via the construction of five wells with pumps that provide clean and reliable water for all); initiate an array of food security projects (the community has its own supply of freshwater fish from its own fish pools and numerous fruit, vegetable and livestock farms) and construct permanent brick buildings (the community makes its own bricks and constructs its own buildings).
A mighty celebration! Soroti town centre, Sat 21 Jan
On Saturday morning 21 January, probably the largest procession ever seen in Soroti assembled in the town centre. More than 1,200 PEP-GULL graduands – led by a brass band – marched for 2 miles to the grounds of the Soroti hotel for their GULL recognition ceremony. The procession brought the town to a halt as hundreds of curious people lined the route!
Tanzania, 24-25 January, 2012
The Africa Inland Church in Tanzania (AICT) uses the church and community mobilization process (CCMP) to enable the local church to serve its community. The objective is to broaden engagement so that the whole community begins a journey towards greater self-reliance. Since the introduction of CCMP to Tanzania in 1998, a great many communities have initiated on-going projects that are led by the communities themselves. In so doing, the Church is playing a pivotal role in integral mission as it facilitates both spiritual and physical development.
Summary: In East Africa, GULL is helping to:
Professionalize the process of community mobilization:
‘The Global University for Lifelong Learning is helping us to professionalize the process of community mobilization. As I observed the graduates, I could see that they were excited. They have realized that the whole process is recognized which means that it is valued locally and internationally.’ Bishop Dr Anthony Dangasuk Poggo, Episcopal Church of Sudan, Diocese of Kajo Keji, South Sudan
Recognize the efforts of those who are leading transformation:
‘The church and community mobilization process (CCMP) tells us that we are the only remedy to our situation – we can find a solution to our situation. GULL strengthens this – you struggle all these days, facilitating the community, the church and individuals and the certificates from GULL have encouraged the facilitators. It is also inspiring them to continue in the process so that they go higher and higher – to diploma, degree and onwards. So that’s why all the facilitators are going to commit themselves to practice and to facilitate the CCMP process in the Diocese of Kajo Keji.’ Wudu Ezbon, CCMP Co-ordinator, Kajo Keji, South Sudan
Encourage the church, its leaders and facilitators as they seek to address poverty:
‘The GULL recognition ceremony (January, 2012) brought with it refreshing challenges for our ministry. At this event, more than a 1,000 people were recognized by GULL for the mobilization process outcomes they have secured in the communities they represent. As I reflect on this remarkable achievement and look ahead, I know that we can anticipate a growing movement of people who are able to transform their communities and facilitate improvements in the economic, social and spiritual life of the nation.’ Revd Dr Simon Peter Emiau, General Superintendent, Pentecostal Assemblies of God Uganda
‘After graduating yesterday, I received a lot of responses from people who came for the graduation … they felt it was a unique occasion and it had encouraged them. It was a way of recognizing what they have done. Most of the people we have trained in church and community mobilization have had a major impact in their communities … they are so happy that they have been recognized and awarded certificates – this recognizes their efforts as they help people to overcome both physical and spiritual poverty … it was a wonderful time together.’ Jane Achaloi, CCMP Co-ordinator, Uganda
Bringing hope and lifelong learning opportunities to the poorest:
‘The media were talking about the graduation and they were of great assistance in sharing the message – I heard people in the streets talking about church and community mobilization and the empowerment of people and they understood that we were celebrating the achievements of those who are helping their communities. The media also reported the significant testimonies given by our graduates – stories of changed lives and communities.’ Revd Emmanuel Isaya, CCMP Co-ordinator, Tanzania
About the Global University for Lifelong Learning:
GULL is a non-profit public benefit corporation registered in California, USA. GULL’s mandate to confer professional awards is based on a statement of recognition offered in perpetuity and signed by the Head of State and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea on 10 April 2007. GULL is also endorsed by other Governments, Leaders and Institutions. Web: www.gullonline.org
Dr Richard Teare is President, Global University for Lifelong Learning. In 2010, Richard was initiated as an honorary Chief by the Masi sub-Clan, Lihir Islands, Papua New Guinea, received the Royal Award of the King of Surakata, Indonesia and was awarded the honorary Title of Gaurawacharya (Teacher of Honour) by the South Asian Academy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka. In 2012, he received a Knighthood from the Royal Order of the Noor of Buayan, Sultanate of Buayan, Philippines in recognition of GULL’s work with communities around the world.
We all know that old saying, ‘nothing is certain in life but death and taxes.’ But why do we find that certainty so hard to accept? And you know I’m not talking about taxes.
I have no way of knowing what it is like to receive a death sentence. To be sitting in a doctor’s office when bad news is delivered, when you are given some apparent certainty about what is otherwise uncertain. As I’m sure many others have before me, I’ve wondered whether it is better to go suddenly, or to be forewarned, and have time to say goodbye and tie up loose ends. But the question I find even more compelling is why things shift so dramatically for people when they are given news of some incurable disease that will ultimately kill them. Because, after all, death is certain for all of us, and the only part uncertain is when, and how.
I can imagine that along with the death sentence comes more questions. When some certainty is offered, I think it is natural to want more detail, more specifics about how long and what will happen. But it strikes me that this is all an illusion. We all know stories of people who outlive the predictions, or equally, are taken suddenly and without warning from some other cause. I wonder if it is how the doctors deliver the news that creates this illusion of certainty. Perhaps they should answer more questions with “maybe” rather than the most statistically likely outcome. And here, I think, lies a good part of the problem. Most of us, myself included, do not keep our limited knowledge of statistics in mind in these situations. We don’t focus on the fact that the discrete death sentence seemingly delivered with such certainty is by no means discrete or certain.
This struggle with uncertainty has reared its head in my work life as well. Of late I have been working on climate change adaptation planning. Climate change is a complex phenomenon where the actions of the past and present will have a significant but highly uncertain impact on the distant future. It is very easy in climate change adaptation planning to become fixated on predicting what will happen. We spend lots of time and money understanding the potential impacts of climate change so we can appropriately adapt. We want to know how high the sea level will rise, and what buildings will be engulfed. How much hotter and drier the summers will be, and which crops will be ruined. How much more rain we’ll get in the winter, which rivers will overflow their banks. How many more hurricanes, tornadoes and ice storms there will be each year. It is easy to focus on “knowing” precisely what will happen before we do any planning. But adaptation planning is different. Instead of planning for a particular outcome, or planning for the purposes of controlling future outcomes, adaptation planning is about building our capacity to adapt to uncertain outcomes. It is about community resiliency, support structures, emergency response and assembling resources.
I was at a funeral recently for a man that I had volunteered with who had passed away very suddenly. There was a noticeable state of shock in community centre, packed with 400 or so people who had come to celebrate his life. The minister spoke about plans being interrupted, and one thing he said that stuck with me was that we have a choice about how we respond to these interruptions, these unexpected events that take us off the course we had imagined for our lives. It made me think about resiliency of community and resiliency of spirit. Perhaps if we kept the uncertainty of life and death closer to our consciousness, we would be better able to adapt to a death sentence. Because, in fact, a death sentence is just another imagined possible future made more tangible by its delivery from the lips of a medical professional. But no doctor or climate scientist can really predict the future.
I still struggle to imagine how I would react, if and when I’m given that sentence. In this moment I have absolutely no desire to know when and how I will die. I take a large amount of comfort in that uncertainty. But why? Is it because it permits me to avoid thinking of my own death? Is it because I like to believe that I will live to watch my grandchildren grow up? Or is it really because it keeps me from acknowledging the certain impossibility of living forever?
I had lunch with a friend of mine the other day, who is struggling to get her nine- month-old son into a sleeping routine at night. As I was empathizing with her plight, I was reminded of my own struggles as a new mother with my eldest son, and how in retrospect I was able to use Reflexive Practice to help me to understand why it seemed I was caught in a loop and unable to make any progress.
I was educated as an engineer and had spent much of my career in various project management roles. So I must admit that I approached motherhood as a project and was quite confident that I would be able to strategize, organize and manage all aspects of this new role in my life. I was unprepared for the emotional side of motherhood, and my effectiveness was severely handicapped by lack of sleep. I’ve written in other blog postings about my birth experience, and the trouble that Ollie had afterwards (Trust
At the time I felt like I was trying everything. But I found it challenging to be consistent – when he was teething, we were travelling, or I was just too tired to do anything else, I would succumb and nurse him, knowing that this was reinforcing the very behavior I wanted to stop because as his mother I wanted to soothe and nurture him. I found the situation difficult on so many levels – my rational and emotional selves were not aligned, I found it difficult to communicate the decisions I made in the wee hours of the morning effectively to my (very supportive, but frustrated and sleep-deprived) husband, and I was desperate for sleep. I believed that I was somehow failing to solve this problem, when it seemed like every other mother in the world had it beat.
It’s funny how, looking back, I don’t actually remember exactly how it all turned out. I weaned Ollie when he was 12 months old and I know that by the time my second son, William, was born, Ollie was 22 months old and sleeping all night long every night. But I remember clearly the intensity of the frustration as I descended into the depths of despair each time I realized I was cycling both Ollie and I through behaviours that were not serving either of us, or our relationship.
When I look at the situation retrospectively, with my Reflexive Practice lens, I can clearly see how we were in a strange loop. Each time I put increasing pressure on myself to “solve the problem” either by making rules for myself or finding some new tactic to try, I would react to setbacks in a very closed way – being unkind to myself and to Ollie by feeling like I had failed to implement solutions that should work, or that had worked for others. I would push expectations on my son that I couldn’t effectively communicate to him. When we failed, I would revert back to old habits and then stop trying, just feeling like I was never going to solve the problem. Then, I would see some kind of change in Ollie – he would sleep a little longer, or fall asleep on his own, without nursing, and all of a sudden I would be hopeful again. I would design more rules or research new methods, and enter the cycle all over again.
What I didn’t understand at the time is that Ollie was not a problem to be solved. I had to start thinking about him, and his sleeping patterns, as a mystery to be explored. Relationships are complex and it was my role to try to understand and explore why he was behaving the way he was, not to compare him with other babies or push expectations onto him based on what I read in a book. Just that shift in perspective allows me now to see the situation completely differently. When I treat my children as opportunities to learn, instead of problems to be solved, my feelings about the situation or the “problem” shift. It was not wrong to design rules, or try different things I read in books, but it was wrong to place expectations on his response to these things, and feel like a failure when he didn’t live up to those expectations. I was telling a story about us both where we were failures. Instead, when I was able to openly observe and learn from how he responded, I could give us both grace, and stay out of the strange loop.
Can strategic practice be used within a family to help improve relationships? I had recently received some feedback from one of the participants who had just taken the course on Learning and Corporate Culture. He mentioned how he used the Cultural System Matrix to find common ground to help improve the relationship with his teenage boys.
He went through the exercise to determine each of their ideologies, including his own. They discovered that the boys were coming from a different cultural stance than the father. The father was coming from Level 3, the cooperative stance, and the boys were coming from Level 2, the competitive stance. This helped the father and boys to understand why, at times, they were frustrated with each other.
Recall that the Cultural System Matrix shows three levels that drive the behaviour and thinking of people operating from that level:
- Level 1 (L1) is seen as con~forming, because people follow established ideas and practice: con~form; to form the same shape together. However, at Level 1, people are often conforming by doing what they are being told to do, rather than working together to form the same shape together.
- Level 2 (L2) is seen as com~peting, because people are trying to do better ¾ better than themselves at present, and also better than others. However, at Level 2, people are often competing for resources and against others, even though the Latin form of com~pete means to strive together, not against.
- Level 3 (L3) is seen as co~operating, because there are multiple, diverse stakeholders who cooperate, understand each other’s points of view, and strive to help each other achieve various aspirations: co~operate; to operate, to do things together. However, at Level 3, people are often cooperating by forcing consensus, rather than co~operating by understanding each other’s points of view, and striving to help each other achieve various aspirations.
The boys, coming from Level 2, were competing with each other for the father’s attention, and the father, coming from Level 3, was trying to build consensus amongst all three of them. The boys were not interested in “doing things together”, whereas the father was.
The father and teenage boys went one step further. They did a Cultural Patterns Analysis to determine if there were any cultural patterns that all three of them shared.
Recall that each of the three cultural stances has associated patterns of learning:
- Three patterns of learning found within the con~forming stance (L1): adhering (1), adapting (2), and relating (3)
- Two patterns of learning found within the com~peting stance (L2): experiencing (4) and experimenting (5)
- Two patterns of learning found within the co~operating stance (L3): connecting (6) and dedicating (7)
The father and boys discovered that all three shared experiencing (4) and experimenting (5). Knowing this, they planned activities that allowed them to experience what they liked to do together, such as going to the fair, and to experiment, such as working on an engine. This created a conversation about doing these experiences together. The father reported that this exercise of using strategic practice to understand family dynamics transformed his relationship with his boys. He would have never considered trying this before taking the course.