Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pragmatism and social change

Is there a Weight Watchers of development?

Ok, that came out all wrong. I didn’t mean to suggest that what the developing world needs right now is a diet plan! It’s just a thought I had when I stumbled onto an article in the NY Times about body image and dieting.

In it, the woman being interviewed berates programs like Weight Watchers saying that we should “give up dieting and learn to recognize hunger and appetite and respond to them. Dieting…cause[s] compulsive eating and destabilizes our relationship to food.”

I think most people would agree with this, what she’s saying is self-evident. But if it were as easy to change people’s eating habits as she suggests, then problems like obesity and eating disorders wouldn’t be as pervasive as they currently are.

I often think about what it takes to get people to change. The goal is usually a simple one: To eat less and healthier. Or for rural villages in Zambia, to buy soap and wash hands after using the latrine, or to plan out farming activities in advance of the season. Now, how do you get there?

I think it’s pretty complicated. These things are influenced by a bajillion different factors including touchy ones like politics, emotions, and culture. I think people usually get why they need to fundamentally change, but if simply getting it isn’t enough to change behaviours, what is?

Bam! Pow! Bang! Pop! Jenga! (Jenga?) Yes we can!

Holy social change Batman!

If you ever find yourself working in a field that is focused on creating social change*, you’ll come across a variety of approaches.

(* There is no universal definition for ‘international development’ but if nothing else, it is about change, about people changing and changing people…which is where it gets confusing, but I digress.)

Like the woman in the article, there are those who espouse the importance of “changing the paradigm”. These people can be down right militant about it; from their perspective, everything needs to change before anything can start to change. “Blow it up!” they say, then build it back up from a place that is grounded.

There are others who champion a more strategic approach. If you focus your efforts on the right “leverage points”, you can make even the most rigid system change in time. Like a game of Jenga, you have to be patient and have steady hands, but eventually, the blocks tumble down.

Many prefer a more inclusive approach based on the principles of awareness, participation, freedom, choice, and democracy. This approach sees a groundswell of people making a bunch of individual choices to create a better end. Yes, we certainly can.

There are many more approaches to creating social change and while I don’t disagree with many of them, I wonder what the best approach is. Is blowing up the system a realistic strategy? Provocative but not very practical. Is incremental change from within the way to go? Patience is definitely a virtue. Is it really just about getting people together? Sounds like fun, but it could also be like herding cats.

People are people are people.

People are not like cats. People are people. But though we like to think ourselves rational, it’s important to recognize what we are is beautifully and fallibly human. I’m finding that if I approach things from this perspective, they get a bit, though not entirely, easier to deal with.

The article about dieting started off a chain of thoughts in my head about what works, what gets the change process started in the short term. I’m not promoting Weight Watchers, but I think programs like it are onto something.

What they do is help people navigate the difficult process of personal change. It gives them simple tools (like a point system), a safe environment (like group meetings), and incentives (like avoiding shame during public weigh-ins) that allow people to not only take the first step but to take ownership over the change process.

Some would argue that programs like this address symptoms of the problem and not the root causes. Some would say that they’re just money makers that prey on and even exacerbate unfounded insecurities. I’m not in denial of these things, but I do see value in this as a practical approach. What’s more is that people seem to like it and are willing to pay for it. That says something, something important about people.

Maybe I’m stretching things here, but I wonder what a Weight Watchers-esque behaviour change program would look like for rural farmers in Zambia? Certainly numerous things need to be happening in concert, but it’s the pragmatist in me that wants to know what it would take for them to really own the change.

I don't know much, but I do know some things.

Hey, maybe I'm just on crack. But it doesn't stop me from thinking.

And in all this thinking, I’m constantly searching for truths that help me make sense of the complexities involved with creating change, that anchor me to the ground and help guide me through what is a very foggy process. I’ve landed on a few:

People are people.
Good things happen through hard work.
Change takes time.
Change happens within first.

So the question I should really be asking myself is what would it take for me to change?

Yup, that’s likely the first step. Now, if only I had something to help me take it…

t ;)

10 comments:

Heather said...

Interesting post Thul, you got me thinking about Michael Jackson's song, Man in the Mirror. Also thinking about how great weight watchers worked for me until my summer in Zambia with all of the sweet potatoes...and another one coming up!

Ummm, so I don't know why, but this post didn't come with an e-mail from you, I just happened to be checking. Is there a way of getting automatically notified? I'd like that very much:)

xo
Head

Kate Bowers said...

Hey Thulasy, just skimmed this and it reminder me of a great quote:

"Things do not change, we change"
- Thoreau

I completely agree with the notion of considering what it would take for you to change. That kind of approach can provide a lot of insight into recognizing the complexity of the things people do and avoiding simplistic generalizations like "people do not work hard enough" which we all know isn't true. I also like this quote for the support it gives for 'being' the change' - we can't just talk about approaches and values - we have to act them out.

Take care,
~Kate~

Alanna said...

I think your point about thinking so much you get trapped in theory and lose track of the work is important.

Janelle Murray said...

Hey Thul,

This particular paragraph of yours hit home for me:

"What they do is help people navigate the difficult process of personal change. It gives them simple tools (like a point system), a safe environment (like group meetings), and incentives (like avoiding shame during public weigh-ins) that allow people to not only take the first step but to take ownership over the change process.

This is exactly what I saw the monitoring and evaluation system doing in some of the project villages I visited when I was in Malawi. The M&E system was functioning like the weight watchers program. Although until now, I hadn't thought of it as a weight watchers program, I thought of it as an implementation tool.

The village health and water committee comprised of community volunteers were charged with promoting sanitary infrastructure and sanitary behaviour changes within their own village. This committee was set up by the project. The committee would take a monthly survey of households to see what sanitary facilities had been constructed since the last monthly survey was done. The household would get a monthly 'pat on the back' for having built a latrine, hand-washing facility or refuse pit for example. The household would either feel pride (or shame I guess) depending on what they had accomplished over the month. The committee would feel encouraged by taking the survey as they could see the change they were creating in their own village. The M&E system, while collecting information about project implementation, was a mutually encouraging tool for both the committee and the people in the village.

Like weight watchers, it doesn't work in all cases, but there are good instances of positive impact. And yet another reason why M&E is valuable!

all the best
Janelle

Janelle Murray said...

Hey Thul,

This particular paragraph of yours hit home for me:

"What they do is help people navigate the difficult process of personal change. It gives them simple tools (like a point system), a safe environment (like group meetings), and incentives (like avoiding shame during public weigh-ins) that allow people to not only take the first step but to take ownership over the change process.

This is exactly what I saw the monitoring and evaluation system doing in some of the project villages I visited when I was in Malawi. The M&E system was functioning like the weight watchers program. Although until now, I hadn't thought of it as a weight watchers program, I thought of it as an implementation tool.

The village health and water committee comprised of community volunteers were charged with promoting sanitary infrastructure and sanitary behaviour changes within their own village. This committee was set up by the project. The committee would take a monthly survey of households to see what sanitary facilities had been constructed since the last monthly survey was done. The household would get a monthly 'pat on the back' for having built a latrine, hand-washing facility or refuse pit for example. The household would either feel pride (or shame I guess) depending on what they had accomplished over the month. The committee would feel encouraged by taking the survey as they could see the change they were creating in their own village. The M&E system, while collecting information about project implementation, was a mutually encouraging tool for both the committee and the people in the village.

Like weight watchers, it doesn't work in all cases, but there are good instances of positive impact. And yet another reason why M&E is valuable!

all the best
Janelle

Anonymous said...

Sites that I Like :


Buy Generic Viagra


Generic Cialis Pharmacy


Stanford

Anonymous said...

I just got an ipod touch, and my girlfriend loves the games on them, so she wants an iphone. What are some good girly games that she might like. She has a cooking game and Sally's Salon, but they stress her out because they are too strategic. What are some good easy-going girly games she might like?



________________
[url=http://unlockiphone22.com]unlock iphone[/url]

Anonymous said...

Do You interesting of [b]Viagra 100mg dosage[/b]? You can find below...
[size=10]>>>[url=http://listita.info/go.php?sid=1][b]Viagra 100mg dosage[/b][/url]<<<[/size]

[URL=http://imgwebsearch.com/30269/link/buy%20viagra/1_valentine3.html][IMG]http://imgwebsearch.com/30269/img0/buy%20viagra/1_valentine3.png[/IMG][/URL]
[URL=http://imgwebsearch.com/30269/link/buy%20viagra/3_headsex1.html][IMG]http://imgwebsearch.com/30269/img0/buy%20viagra/3_headsex1.png[/IMG][/URL]
[b]Bonus Policy[/b]
Order 3 or more products and get free Regular Airmail shipping!
Free Regular Airmail shipping for orders starting with $200.00!

Free insurance (guaranteed reshipment if delivery failed) for orders starting with $300.00!
[b]Description[/b]

Generic Viagra (sildenafil citrate; brand names include: Aphrodil / Edegra / Erasmo / Penegra / Revatio / Supra / Zwagra) is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction regardless of the cause or duration of the problem or the age of the patient.
Sildenafil Citrate is the active ingredient used to treat erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men. It can help men who have erectile dysfunction get and sustain an erection when they are sexually excited.
Generic Viagra is manufactured in accordance with World Health Organization standards and guidelines (WHO-GMP). Also you can find on our sites.
Generic Viagra is made with thorough reverse engineering for the sildenafil citrate molecule - a totally different process of making sildenafil and its reaction. That is why it takes effect in 15 minutes compared to other drugs which take 30-40 minutes to take effect.
[b][/b]
Even in the most sexually liberated and self-satisfied of nations, many people still yearn to burn more, to feel ready for bedding no matter what the clock says and to desire their partner of 23 years as much as they did when their love was brand new.
The market is saturated with books on how to revive a flagging libido or spice up monotonous sex, and sex therapists say “lack of desire” is one of the most common complaints they hear from patients, particularly women.

Anonymous said...

http://hermeshandbags.finniwolf.com cost powder lorry follow bee dictation uranium agree reply o'clock hermes handbag ENT African reject neat louis vuitton mens shoes Swiss glasses oneself model sort http://meconect.com.br/icnlkj96/blog/998947/
http://ycjwc.yntvu.edu.cn/bbs/viewthread.php?tid=1846213&extra=
http://hcste.com/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=2272234
http://farmersmutualemmetsburg.com/node/5256
http://obykagxf.meblog.biz/article/15671408.html
http://www.hntouch.info/plus/view.php?aid=203152

generator equeipment said...

this post provide many info . it's very helpful .