Analyse and Plan according to Audience and Purpose

Can you think of anything that can’t be analysed according to its audience and purpose?  Can you think of anything that shouldn’t be planned from the starting point of its audience and purpose?

In planning, every decision should flow from what the audience is and what the purpose of the thing is.  What characterises the audience?  Why would they be interested?  What would they want or need?  Then, what is the purpose of the thing?  Broadly, it’s to cater for the audience, but what is the aim of the thing beyond this?  What is it for?  What is it to do?  The more specific you can be about these things, the better.  And the more focussed on these things, the more likely you will be successful.

In analysing the success or otherwise of something, you analyse it on its own merits: how well did it achieve its purpose? How well did it cater for its intended audience?  (Of course, you can then go on to analyse it against broader considerations…)

I learnt this in English Literature at school, but it seems to apply across the board; posters, events, organisations, websites, campaigns…

In Community Development, it would be a crucial tool to use, and a crucial skill to help the community to learn.

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Motivation: manipulating it for good

Companies are motivated to make profit.  I don’t believe, in and of itself, that this is bad.  We just have to find ways to make this motivation work for good means and ends.  Regulation is one such way.

As David Mitchell said in his Observer column (1st August 2010):

“we can only properly harness the power and wealth of oil companies for developing sustainable energy sources by creating a business environment in which that activity is as profitable, or looks like it will become as profitable, as drilling for oil.”

David Mitchell | Give me Ryanair’s brazen villainy over the bogus compassion of BP | Comment is free | The Observer.

I think the same principle can be applied to other agents – other organisations, groups, and individuals.  And when working with people, this can be empowering: finding what someone is motivated by, then creating the environment in which their motivation will lead to good things.  It’s manipulative but without the negative connotation IF they know about and agree to it, and if it leads to good things for themselves (and doesn’t benefit the manipulator).

Conflict resolution

In a group/meeting, the techniques of conflict resolution look the same as the techniques of Community Development. In the process (beyond just one meeting) of trying to agree on a decision, conflict resolution is still similar; however I guess conflict resolution has a definable start point and end point, whereas Community Development is continual. Plus, Community Development is concerned with how the decision is identified well before it becomes a matter for disagreement: conflict resolution requires a conflict/decision to be “in play” before it can start.

Public Meetings

Mention “consultation” and most local government officers think questionnaires and public meetings. The type of public meeting that traditionally takes place is where the MP, Councillors, and town planner sit at the top table in front of rows of chairs in a community centre; they then tell the members of public who happen to turn up, what they are proposing. Then those attendees with the loudest voices shout questions and comments to the speakers and each other – this often ends up with personal insults being exchanged. I’ll leave for another time the question of whether the proposal ever changes as a result of a public meeting.

There are many more alternative techniques for consultations: flipcharts, maps, models, focus groups, citizen juries, films etc. The key is the overall strategy to a consultation, so that any one public meeting or event targets a particular part of the community and is conducted in a way that is attractive and accessible to them. You then have to have many different events and meetings and exercises, targeting all possible groups and so conducted in many different ways. Through this, you get the involvement of many more people and a much more representative sample of the community; you also enthuse and engage them all much more – this has a positive effect all of its own. And as long as it’s clear that their contributions matter and are acted upon, you engender ownership of the project in the community who will be affected. They are then much more likely to use it/look after it/get involved with it etc.

The recent debate about blogs and online discussion draws comparisons with the traditional public meeting. My point would be that, even if the “blog with comments” is a better form of public meeting, it is still only one format for debate: many formats are needed so that there is something appropriate for each group in society.