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Blog #8: “hold your analysis lightly”

Blog #8 Practitioner analysis versus community analysis

Most community development practitioners will have an analysis of a social or community issue. For example, if a practitioner is in conversation with people talking about their housing challenges/distress, the practitioner will often hold an analysis of how housing becomes a problem in capitalist societies where shelter/housing isn’t a social right. Or if people are in a group discussing unemployment the practitioner will probably have an analysis of how this society needs unemployment. I call this the ‘practitioner analysis’: it’s what the practitioner thinks about the issue.

Usually, such analysis comes out of a fair bit of study, reading policy analysis, doing sociology or public policy courses. Such a practitioner might feel their analysis is accurate.

But, this analysis – I suggest – needs to be held lightly when working with groups in community. Not let go of, not thrown into the garbage bin. But simply held lightly.

Why? For a few reasons. Firstly, to allow the practitioner space to really hear and absorb the lived experience of people facing homelessness or unemployment (or whatever ‘issue’ is being discussed). While the practitioner may have an analysis or theory about the concept of homelessness (that may also be valid), this should not be seen as more important than people’s real life experiences and their understanding of the issues (and even their potential solutions). As R. Tagore espoused, “see what the people see”. This requires time and deep listening from the practitioner.

Secondly, a group or community also needs time and space to work out their analysis – what I call a ‘community analysis’. A process which can be facilitated by the practitioner.

Now this is a delicate process and consists of a subtle relationship between practitioner and community. Many questions arise. For example, what if a group of people experiencing long term unemployment sit around and come up with a ‘community analysis’ that they’re unemployed because they’re stupid - reminding me of Schumacher’s maxim, ‘to be poor is to be convinced of your own ignorance’ (Note, Schumacher doesn’t say, ‘to be poor is to be ignorant’ – but to be convinced). Well, as a practitioner we’re likely to be convinced that this group’s analysis is inadequate/inaccurate even. So our delicate work becomes creating the conditions for dialogue, curiosity and openness to exploring different analyses.

In my experience a good way forward is to:

- hold our own analysis lightly, being truly open to other ideas/perspectives and ‘see what the people see’

- support a process where groups of people move from their hasty analysis to ‘we don’t really know, we need to learn more’;

- which creates space to invite other people/other ideas into the space.

In the example given this might mean the group inviting some people in to talk about:

- how unemployment can be understood in the context of hyper-capitalist societies and possible ways forward;

- how alternative social economies work for those on the margins.

Finally, think of a time that you’ve imposed your analysis on a group, or not given time for a group to ‘work out an analysis’ (with input from others). What do you think you could do differently next time?

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