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"If the dream is not relevant within the boundaries of the project, why should we invest in it???"

This morning I was asked by someone, "How can we make sure the dream is relevant to the project? If it is not within the boundaries of the project, why would we invest in it?".

Hmmmm. Naturally I want to reply: "if it is the community's dream, then it is worth investing in it!". But I have to be sensitive to their agenda, and the various pressures they face to keep project activities directed towards a specific and defined set of outcomes. Of course those outcomes are defined by others, and not the community. Whilst we hope this will change in time, we are working within this context, for now. 

My experience on other occasions has been to frame a community dream within the issue or topic that the project, or programme, relates to. For example, if it is an HIV/AIDS project, we ask "what is our community's dream for HIV/AIDS in 1 year?" In a WASH project, we ask "what is our community's dream for water, sanitation and hygeine in a year from now?". In Zambia, where the communities are dependent on aquatic agricultural systems for their livelihoods, we asked "What is our dream for our  future, as a community dependent on Aquatic Agricultural Systems?"

However, this morning's conversation was in reference to a programme which is multi-faceted and very complex. It aims to address issues of Conflict, Gender, Health, Education, Protection and WASH in 50 communities. Of course, we know that all these issues are implicit in all community responses. They are interconnected - they should not really be separated. Nevertheless, if we are to work well with organisational partners, and build their trust, we first need to understand their context, meet them in the middle, and then take them on a journey.

Here's my question for you. As facilitators, how do we frame Dream Building around a broad set of issues? 

Do you have experience with this? Please share!

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Perhaps we should ask "What is the scale of our dream?" rather than "How do we reduce the overhead?". Listen to this outstanding TED talk by Dan Pallotta. 

thanks for sharing, dear Olivia, great to hear from your experience! my first thought is to reverse the question: 'how can we make sure that the project is relevant to the dream? and why should we invest in a project which is not supported/ sustained by a dream?' isn't it a bit of the essence of the Constellation approach?

Here are some responses from India civil Society

  • Anita Rego Historically, we had projects which were based on what communities wanted and looked at what they would want to see as progress. Overtime, we had sophisticated projects coming up based on what an external organisation perceived it as important. Many a times it led to targets to be followed and the outreach teams more focused on filling in the sheets. Unless the facilitator is able to twine the dream and project, the dream remains a dream and the project in the hands of those who conceptualized it.
    • Ranjani Murthy Project planners have got into the mode of "we know it all-we have worked on the ground in the past". Just as our lives are changing rapidly so are that of margianlised. There is a need to constantly visit the field, to be in touch and follow participatory methods and processes of planning which take into account power relations.
    • Anand Chaudhuri For those who care, much can be learnt from the book " Everybody loves a good drought" by P Sainath, as to what disasters could result from non adherence to the participatory process or non-incoporation of local wisdom, vision and capacity in developmental planning. The end (on paper) may be seen to be gooda but the means are very important as is the " journey" of life and the role of 'good parenting".


Great that you raise this  question. We should all do it more often! 

"Of course those outcomes are defined by others, and not the community. Whilst we hope this will change in time, we are working within this context, for now."

Well, do  we really wish to work with partners who define outcomes for which they are not responsible? if the project reduces people agency, why would we seek to  collaborate?

 "what is our community's dream for HIV/AIDS in 1 year?"

Would we not rather ask for the vision in 25 years, so that people let their fundamental aspirations guide them?

 As facilitators, how do we frame Dream Building around a broad set of issues? 

I would invite people to formulate their dream in broad terms. Then, they will address the issues as the hurdles they need to overcome to fulfill their  dream.


Dear friends,

Thank you for these quick and very deep responses. I feel very challenged by this.

JL, you asked "Well, do  we really wish to work with partners who define outcomes for which they are not responsible? if the project reduces people agency, why would we seek to  collaborate?". Yes we do! The best champions are often the ones who were cynical at first. I remember a certain Global Support Team member who told me that the first time she heard about SALT she thought it was rubbish. Now she is a true model of it. She has dedicated her life to it! The Constellation has collaborated with over 40 organisations. Nearly 60% of them have asked us back for a second collaboration. We know from experience that not all of the decision-makers in the those organisations really supported participatory, strengths-based approaches at the start. There were nay-sayers in those organisations. In my UNFPA days  in Indonesia, I watched staff members change their mindsets when they saw the power of SALT during a SALT visit. One of those staff members, who was very suspicious of our approach at first, is now using it daily in her work!. Last year in Zambia I watched a research programme evolve from very traditional to highly participatory. We were there. The Constellation was there.

None of these transitions happen if our coaches and community members aren't there in the first place, sharing our way of working.

We work by invitation, not by imposition. I worry that if we are too "evangelical" in our approach, it will alienate people. However, if we display SALT in our approach to Transfer (formal transfer to organisations) then we will be able to generate the kind of invitations which enable us to take the "experts" on a journey to becoming "facilitators". Isnt' that part of the Constellation's dream???

I believe that there is a way to work with traditional mindsets without compromising our principles. It is not easy, but I believe we need to explore how we can do it better.

As for the question I was asked the other morning - I will use it as my opportunity to share our approach and model SALT.   Who know's, perhaps one day he will be a champion of CLCP!

More comments welcome!


Geoff - I'll check out the Ted Talk. Many thanks.

Thanks for the response, Liv.

For sure, we work with organisations which decide on behalf of the people.

What is then "our line in the sand?" 

I suggest that in keeping with our logical framework, we are careful to collaborate on projects that enhance people's agency, by enabling people to decide on matters for which they are primarily responsible. 

For instance, we are not accepting to "deliver" x % of people washing their hands, or using latrines. What we can guarantee is that through community life competence a community will make substantial progress, and that it will be able to document its progress in an objectively verifiable manner.

Over to you :)




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