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Blog #9 – people, projects and feeling ‘free to fail’

One of the things that I have been noticing in my own community development practice in recent weeks is the instrumental pressure for a ‘project to work’. For example, in my work at Hummingbird House, we know we are gathering some people based on the issues and concerns that they themselves have raised (the 'generative themes' Paulo Freire talks about). Then people agree to gather, and I am feeling the pressure (within myself) for people to make agreements and get projects going. It’s an intriguing pressure to feel. Where does it come from?

For me it raises two big issues:

1. People as primary vs projects as secondary: sometimes we can get so focused on the projects (those structured activities ‘we’ want to see happen) that we lose sight of what matters – the people, the relationships, their stories, their connections, their transformations – what I have previously called the ‘soul of the work’ (the real depths). The projects that might emerge from the gatherings, analysis and agreements of ‘the people’ do matter (because they can make change), but they’re secondary. What primarily matters are the quality of storytelling, connecting, making of community.

2. ‘Feeling free to fail’: therefore, I’ve always carried the mantra that to avoid ‘pushing’ or ‘manipulating’ people to make a project happen it’s wise to live with the freedom for projects to fail. If we feel this freedom for projects to fail, we can focus on the people and relationships, those qualities previously mentioned.

As such, making people and relationships primary and projects secondary, and ‘feeling free to fail’ gives us a way of avoiding that instrumental pressure (from within ourselves and outside – aka impact measures, compliance, reporting, audit culture) to manipulate or push people.

Instead, our role as a facilitator is to provide gentle guidance, to nudge, ask questions, illicit ideas – but not push, not pressure, and certainly not manipulate.

A couple of questions to think about are:

· In what ways do you feel that instrumental pressure to ‘make projects happen’?

· What is helpful for your practice to work against this pressure so you can focus on the people?

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