Connecting local responses around the world
I have a great privilege to be part of a wonderful coaching team for the Aquatic Agricultural System (AAS) Competence in Bangladesh, Solomon Islands and Zambia. Last week, I’ve learned so much from the team (i.e. Bobby from India, Olivia from UK, Onesmus from Kenya and Wiwin from Indonesia) on how to explain the differences between ‘concern’ and ‘problem’ and why the Constellation chooses to emphasize on ‘concerns’. Here are what we have put our thoughts together.
1. What is a concern?
Concerns can be defined as a combination of factors, that the person or group of people are aware about and care for. A concern is synonymous to worry; it can be thoughts, vision, emotions of a positive or negative nature - and can be experienced as anxiety or even fear about a real life encounter or imagined issue. However, unlike problems, the anxiety or fear is coupled with a sense of hope.
Concerns are usually about things we care for. Examples from AAS could be spoiled fish produce, access to market, product low prices, low yield, unstable input prices, poor breeds, weeds, poor feeds etc. We are concerned about issues that affect us personally, or they affect our family, our loved ones, our group and our community. Of course we can also be concerned for the plight of others whom we don’t know personally but this is generally because we identify with them or their situation in some way. In other words, the issue is meaningful and important to us.
2. Facilitative approach:
If we believe that a group of people or community can own the issues/challenges that they are concerned about, and that they have the capacity to address those challenges, our work is thus to facilitate community to see how the particular challenge relates to them, their family and their community. Further, our work is to stimulate them to reveal what they can do to prevent or to address that challenge. By doing this, communities have ownership of the issues and will find ways to address them.
In the spirit of this definition, we seek to use appreciative yet, strategic questions to help reveal concerns and to ensure ownership and involvement. Examples could be: e.g what really worries you most as a farmer dependent on this river, OR as a person working with AAS dependent communities/hub? Beyond the concerns, it is the conversations by the group members which are paramount as they help elicit common understanding. So, for example, we would follow the previous question with some discussion of WHY this is a concern. Such discussions also trigger solidarity, provoking people to envision and to act together towards a shared vision. Further, through these conversations, people make a realisation of their own strengths to address some of the challenges (i.e. they can act without necessarily looking for external support). Eyes are further opened during the self assessment (deeper analysis).
Our experience is that most individuals, groups and communities experience short-lived periods of worry in their lives that drive them to act and adapt together (e.g. preserving fish to counteract spoilage, value addition for increased product market value, formation of group federation etc.). Our role as facilitators is simply to stimulate this, and support it when we are invited to do so.
3. The difference between concerns and problems:
Unlike problems - which are complaints or annoyances- concerns come from a place of love and care of something related to our life and our community. This is an important distinction because it helps us to identify what is important to us, that is, what drives us to face and solve these challenges. Concerns come with the stimulation of capacity, and the identification of hope.
Therefore, whether it is a concern or a problem depends on what lens we use to identify them and how we articulate them. Therefore, we feel much more related to an issue when it is expressed as a concern. On the other hand, we may not feel as personally connected to that issue (or its solution) when we talk of it as a problem.
Please share your thoughts to enhance our learning.
Thank you so much. I am ever ready to look at new approaches. In fact I have had a long chat with him a day back shared with him how these seemingly linear flow (but it is actually not -it is a result of dealing with dynamic complexities -more systemic) when tested with group of unemployed youths transform into the stages I mentioned dwindles between rational and emotional individuality or begins with strong emotions -becomes objective and ends up in emotional commitment and ownerships. I know many of those well known methods have failed us. The key to all, as you said, is the ownership of one's own life concerns which primarily comes from the concerns induced by hopes. The rests are always there or ordinary or not so difficult for normal person to see them.
Participatory M&E for DR Congo.
Thank you Kunchok for all these helpful reflections. The "PRA" Tool is interesting because it's like a breakdown of the Community Life Competence Process but with some extra consideration for hopes, challenges and concerns. I'm also really interested that you mentioned M&E because this is, of course, something so important for communities to be taking charge of, and if their action draws from their concerns and hopes, as you have outlined, then we can hope and expect that this ownership will extend to M&E. Gaston has been working with the Congolese facilitators and UNICEF to build a participatory M&E framework. If you'd like to check it out, you'll find it on this site, under Gaston's Blog. It would be wondeful to hear your thoughts from your experience !
To sum up, I would like to include all what has been said and present it as a kind of "PRA" TOOL for understanding and action planning "LOCAL RESPONSE". First step 1: Articulating HOPE (s), 2nd identification of CHALLENGE(s), 3rd: understanding CONCERN (s) while differentiating/negating (worry (s); 4th: Revisiting HOPEs for visioning (longer term picture), missioning (stocktaking current situation) & valuation (commitments), 4th: Articulation of DFS (desired future state) which will automatically initiate Action planning, operationalisation & M&E of activities.
I value your comments. After Gaston's comment, we can now say that concern is always positive while worry is negative. All concern never encounter its logical ends. Concerns do vary by degrees or depths depending on how much or what kind of hope we have for an issue but all hope do not encounter thier logical ends unless - a hope culminates into DFS (desired future state). DFS show that the concern also has a solution in sight that can take it thorough a processes or cycle to resolve it . Does that make any sense?
Hi Kunchok, thanks for sharing your great comments. I agree with your thoughts and like the way you expressed it so well and nicely.
And story telling is the best way to fathom integrated picture and to understand interdependentness of dynamic complexities. Unfortunately our education and so called development has deprived story telling techniques and has become mechanical and "experts" of highly dissected or segregated partial world views. This is the gap and disconnect that lead to failure of popular governmental programmes.
And how the hopes are actually shared hopes.
It was indeed great to see your field experiences that connect with my experiences as developmental worker. It is profound learning that can well determine success and failures between interventions. An intervention without concerns will not bring active and committed participation but it is not a tangible object that everybody can see at outset. Only valid search and experiences can bring about. Having said that I must comment that one should not confused concern with hopes. What you have sorted out in the list are in fact hopes generated by concerns that helped initiating community mobilization by somebody. Whether everybody turn up and actually clean the canal properly one time and maintain it for years will depends how strong or widespread that concerns are across the society.
Hi Kunchok! Great to meet you. I like what you said about the importance of HOPE, and how you have logically summarised it as a cycle / path.
This idea of emotion and hope has reminded me of something. Recently I was facilitating a CLCP learning event with community facilitators in Zambia. These facilitators are also members of the community there - subsistence farmers and fishermen themselves. They'll be mobilising their own communities to respond to issues of flooding and livelihoods. It was interesting when we asked them about concerns. We did it immediately after a session on identity - identifying ourselves based on our common humanity, rather than our official title or status. So, instead of taking a "technocratic" point of view, these people returned to their primary view of the world - as mothers, fathers, farmers and fishermen. Therefore, their concerns came from a deeply personal point of view - it was about their own children, their own farms, their own homes..... It was profound. The concerns (hopes) they identified were things like:
- We have enough food,
- Our crop yields are strong, and we have transport links for accessing markets,
- Our people take responsibility to clear canals
and so on....
What rang through to me was the link between the personal and the community. Whilst these are essentially "community" concerns that they identified, each had a personal experience which related them to it.
By the 5th day of our learning event, one of the facilitators was saying:
"On Monday, I am going to mobilize my own family and neighbours to start slashing the grass so we can clear our own piece of the canal." He was taking personal action, before starting the facilitation of the process at community level.
It was very inspiring to see this personal level of responsibility and self relience, and I now realise that this is a key factor in making a concern lead to action....
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