Thursday, July 9, 2009

From clients to citizens - a paradigm shift

From Clients to Citizens
Day two of the workshop. I’m starting to gain a better appreciation for what ABCD means. It’s yet another approach with another set of terminologies and paradigm shifts. The subtle differences between asset based citizen-led development and participatory approaches (PRA) and appreciative inquire (AI) have yet to really hit me. The most significant difference seems to be the network which gathers around these various acronyms.
All of them emphasize the difference between solving problems and appreciating the positive. The positive (asset based) approach has been practiced in communities for hundreds of years – it can be seen in First Nation Reserves, it can be seen in villages in Northern Ghana. Unfortunately these communities have developed a dependency towards outsider support due to years of outsiders coming to them and asking ‘what are your challenges?’ ‘what do you need?’. We’re lucky that in society we are treated as the haves, people see us as able, not dis-abled, gifted, not poor, this view can have a lot of impact on how a person sees themselves and acts in the world.
If asset-based and community driven development is a good thing, then what is the role of the outsider?
A couple of lively conversations ensured today around the role of a field worker, a non-government organisation, the government. The discussion began with a reflection around the term outsider. Some figured the term visitor is more appropriate to the role. Implying that being invited into a community is key. Others figured the role is non-outsider, facilitating between the community and other institutions. The role brings with it inherent challenges and opportunities but in the end we agreed that it’s necessary to be honest about the value one brings as an outsider and to be clear about that to the community. In doing this, you remove the outsider/insider dichotomy and become a contributor.
A major benefit to being an outsider is that critical perspective you bring. Sometimes it can be under the guise of ignorance that allows you to ask the ‘unaskable question’ such as: why are only some members of the community at this meeting? This role is important and should not be discounted for the sake of chasing after a romantic idea that an outsider does not intervene in community activities. In some ways I have been an outsider during this conference, not really feeling like I’m part of the ABCD community I’ve asked some risky and controversial questions. I don’t often end up mustering up the courage to ask my question.
A couple of good readings that I’ve been skimming between breaks at this conference:

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