One of the Key Stages for SPEC Projects is Ensuring an Effective Transformation Team. A change agent must take on different roles as needed, summarized by the 8-value I VALUE-IT model. The acronym stands for these important roles:
- Inclusive host
- Asset seeker
- Listener and sense maker
- Unique solution finder
Descriptions are taken generally from Community Psychology: In Pursuit of Liberation and Well-Being by Geoff Nelson and Isaac Prilleltensky (Palgrave, 2010).
The role of inclusive host calls for the creation of a welcoming atmosphere. In such a climate people feel safe to explore sources of oppression, avenues for empowerment, vulnerabilities, as well as personal and social privilege. An inclusive host makes space for all guests to feel at home. In a non-judgemental atmosphere people begin to consider aspects of their lives they didn't feel comfortable to explore before. This is the case in individual and small group interventions alike, although it is somewhat harder to achieve in the latter because of the gaze of multiple spectators.
An inclusive host strives to make all members of the group as accepting as possible. This requires a 'reading' of where people are at during the conversation. Skilful facilitators have a finger on the pulse of the group at all times. This is quite a sophisticated ability, as it requires identification of people's moods as individuals and as a group. Some of the questions inclusive hosts ask themselves are:
- Is everyone feeling comfortable?
- Is someone dominating the discussion in the group?
- Are there some people who feel afraid to speak?
- Have I made an effort to hear from all the people in the group?
- Are people leaving the meeting enthusiastic or disappointed?
Once people feel comfortable and ready to do some individual or group work, it is important to help them envision a better, yet realistic, state of affairs. When people grow up in violent homes sometimes they come to believe that this is the way things are supposed to be. Their world of possibilities may be constrained by multiple factors including socialization, family experiences, community narratives and deprecating messages about one's group or personal abilities.
It is the role of the visionary to expand the realm of possibilities, and establish values and principles to guide the work. Hence, in our role as visionaries we fulfil the dual task of aspiring to a better state of affairs and creating norms that will help us work together at the same time. In short, we envision the end and the means to achieve it. But we don't envision it by ourselves. We most definitely include the group and our associates in making the decision. Hence, we need to become visionaries of a good process and a good outcome, as seen in the tables.
In individual work there are only two people making decisions about personal growth, coping strategies or social activism. In group situations, the process of crafting a vision and choosing values that guide the collaboration can be fairly involved. Some questions a visionary can ask him or herself at this stage include:
- Have all people expressed their aspirations?
- Are we able to think of alternative ways of being?
- Have we established a process that is democratic and inclusive?
- Have we had time to think about the norms that we all want to follow?
- Is there collective ownership for the values and vision we have created?
As asset seekers it is our job to identify sources of resilience, strength and ingenuity in the people we work with (Prilleltensky & Prilleltensky, 2006). In individual encounters it is important to validate what the person in front of us is already doing well to cope with a problem or to fight injustice. Disenfranchised community members are used to hearing about their deficits, when in fact many of them have remarkable talent in coping with adverse circumstances. Within group settings it is vital not to leave anyone behind in our search for assets and strengths. People have experiential or academic knowledge they wish to have validated. To make sure we are effective in our search for assets we can ask the following questions:
- Have I asked people how they cope with this difficult situation?
- Have we discussed what each of us can contribute to the process?
- Are we able to combine our strengths in a synergistic way?
- Have I offered my input as an equal member of the group?
- Have we explored different types of knowledge and wisdom that can help us in our collaborative work?
Listener and Sense Maker
A listener's main job is to attend carefully to what people are saying about their lives, challenges, struggles and aspirations. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of letting people speak and explain on their own terms what they are experiencing and hoping and feeling. It is not uncommon for eager helpers to rush to give advice before they have listened carefully. Each of us brings to the table multiple assumptions that can lead to unwarranted conclusions about other people's lives. It is best not to presume anything about people's lives or views before we check it out with them (Green, 2007; O. Prilleltensky, in press).
Once we have a good grasp of the issues and challenges ahead, we begin to conceptualize the problem and isolate the main factors causing and perpetuating suffering, injustice and oppression in personal, communal and social lives. As community psychologists we always have our antenna up for signals of oppression and exclusion. Power differentials and inequality figure prominently in the lives of people we work with (; Lewis et al., 2003; Quiñones Rosado, 2007; Vera & Speight, 2007). Unlike other professionals in the helping fields, we do not necessarily concentrate on intrapsychic dynamics, although they may be an important part of the puzzle. For us, internal psychological processes are just one more element to consider. Ecologically speaking, we conceptualize problems in terms of micro, meso and macro spheres. As noted in Chapter 2, holism is the perfect antidote against reductionism in the formulation of problems.
As we come to our own conclusions about a problem in living or a challenge to work on, we have to recognize that our views may differ from the group or the individual we are working with. We have to consider the possibility that our conceptualization may be wrong or that it may take more dialogue for people to reach consensus on causes and possible solutions. Conflict is expected and unavoidable. The very way we deal with that may be therapeutic and growth enhancing.
To remind ourselves of the various tasks involved in being a good listener and sense maker, we can use the following prompts:
- Have I listened without interruptions to what people have to say about their issues?
- Have I thought about it in ecological terms?
- Have I expressed disagreement or alternative conceptualizations in a respectful way?
- Have I thought about the influence of power inequality in this person's life?
- Has the group agreed on the definition of the problem and possible solutions?
Unique Solution Finder
Based on the vision, the assets and the particular circumstances affecting a person or group, we craft together with them unique solutions. We call upon our previous knowledge, research, and experience to inform decisions uniquely suited to the plight of this person or collective. If a group wishes to use a confrontational technique with city hall, and you know that this strategy will alienate potential allies, as a unique solution finder you want to discuss the merits of other options. If a victim of spousal abuse wishes to return to the marriage, and you know from her past experience and other research that this will probably not work out, as a unique solution finder you want to raise the possibility that this may not be the best way to proceed. In either case, our alternatives have to be accepted by the people we work with. There is no point in forcing our views upon others who are not ready to listen.
Our ability to identify transformational actions while keeping everyone effectively engaged at the same time is essential. Questions that sharpen our skills as unique solution finders include:
- Have I considered with the group the risks and benefits of every course of action?
- Have I consulted colleagues and the literature on the merits of various alternatives?
- Is our work balancing attention to process with attention to outcomes?
- Is the preferred action in accord with our values?
- Do we have a contingency plan in case this strategy doesn't work?
As seen in the Tables , we need to evaluate previous, current, and future efforts. Empowerment-based evaluations and appreciate-inquiry methods make it safe for individuals and groups to explore what is going well, what needs changing, and what can be done better in the future. To be an effective evaluator we have to build on the previous roles of listener and asset seeker. We need to celebrate prior achievements, however small, and make it safe for people to reflect critically on their own actions. Evaluating our actions is part of becoming a reflective practitioner and a learning organization. Some questions we find useful for the evaluator role are:
- Have we created a space to reflect on how we're feeling about our work together?
- What have we done to evaluate our intervention?
- Are people feeling safe enough to express disapproval?
- Am I open to challenges and criticism?
- Have we practiced how to give feedback in respectful and useful ways?
The main role of the implementer is to synthesize all the previous roles and to create structures that enable the adoption of new behaviours, policies and practices. It is not enough to hope that individuals will stick to a plan. Incentives, supports, and rewards are required to sustain efforts at change. A skilful implementer takes the pulse of the individual or group often and decides what the best course of action is and how this decision will affect future accomplishments. In a sense, we are integrating all the skills when we assume the role of implementer. This is the meta role community psychologists assume. Prilleltensky and Prilleltensky (2006, p. 93) propose the following questions as a guide to becoming a proficient implementer and integrator of skills:
- Have I tried to be an inclusive host, asset seeker, good listener, and solution finder?
- Have I tried to identify with my partners the most suitable solution for the long term?
- Have I made a mental list of the important considerations at play?
- Have I considered the power differentials at play that might interfere with our goals?
- Have I considered enabling and inhibiting factors that will impact our plan of action?
Perhaps the toughest part of the job is to make changes last, both in our personal and institutional lives. This is why we have to pay particular attention to our role as trend setters. To achieve a change is admirable, but to make it into a new trend is even more remarkable (Mayer & Davidson, 2000; Prochaska et al., 1994). This role supports maintenance and follow-up. When starting new programs in the community so much effort goes into project development, recruitment and evaluation that sustainability is often not a priority. By the time funding runs out in a few years, there are rarely plans for the continuation of the initiative.
Long-term planning applies to individual, group or community change alike. The first priority is to institutionalize the innovation at the personal and local levels. Once that has been accomplished, it's important to take the message to other communities and groups (Mayer & Davidson, 2000). In Chapter 16 of Nelson & Prilleltensky (2010) we can see how indigenous groups in New Zealand, in collaboration with treaty workers, strive to educate the entire population about Maori rights. Treaty workers have a systematic way of working with organizations so that education and affirmative actions may be institutionalized in government and private settings alike. It is not enough to raise the consciousness of a few people about the rights of aboriginal people - their plan of action includes a strategy for disseminating knowledge about past wrongs and possible ways of addressing them. This is an example of trend setting. The essence of trend setting is going beyond the initial goal. Remember: one swallow does not a summer make.
- What can be done to make trend setting a priority? Some questions community psychologists can ask include:
- What have we done to make sure that the changes we plan for are maintained?
- How do we change the system, not just perceptions, in order to institutionalize innovations?
- What group norms can we establish to help members sustain new behaviours?
- How can we disseminate knowledge gained in one setting to others?
- What do we know from the literature about institutionalizing innovations?
Trend setting is not only very challenging, it is also very exciting. Community members like being part of something new and transformative. Motivation increases when people realize that their contributions may transcend the local level. Think of environmental trends such as recycling and composting and you can appreciate how much rarer they were twenty or thirty years ago than they are today. At first environmentalists encountered much more opposition than they face today when trying to institute earth-friendly policies and practices. The same may be said of civil rights activists who fought an uphill battle to obtain basic human rights. While their struggle is far from over, new trends, such as affirmative action and disability rights legislation, make it easier for people of colour and people with disabilities to participate in society.