Update

Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

one x one

I have been a quite off schedule on the blog lately. I am very sorry about that. I have been doing a bit of other work and that has taken me away. And I just am not sure what to say about literacy these days. I think it has to do with the fact that some of us, because of funding cuts, are not sure what the future holds and when we talk about literacy in general or our own work we always come back to that question. Many who work in literacy -- or in any publicly funded community development work -- spend a good bit of our working lives in this space. Planning for things that may or may not happen. Trying to figure out how to make things happen with no money. Trying to figure out how to make a living and do literacy work at the same time.

In thinking through some of these things, not very effectively so far I will admit, I keep going back to an article by Umair Hague: Obama's Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators.

The seven lessons are:

1. Have a self-organization design.

2. Seek elasticity of resilience.

3. Minimize strategy.

4. Maximize purpose.

5. Broaden unity.

6. Thicken power.

7. Remember that there is nothing more asymmetrical than an ideal.


Right now I am thinking a lot about number 3.


"Obama's campaign took a scalpel to strategy - because they realized that strategy, too often, kills a deeply-lived sense of purpose, destroys credibility, and corrupts meaning."

More and more, literacy programs and organizations are being expected to or are asking to engage in strategic planning processes. We think of it as a way of finding answers to how to move forward in uncertain times. We hire consultants and post the result of our 3-day planning retreats on our websites. And then what? How do we do long term planning when we know that will probably never have the resources to carry out the plans? Or that circumstances change almost daily and the plan that made so much sense just a few months ago seems quite irrelevant to the purpose of today? And what about the heartbreak of engaging in these processes with partners to find the results of our work, the hard won compromises and recommendations shelved and soon to be forgotten?

Many literacy workers choose literacy because they want to live their lives with "a deeply-lived sense of purpose" and what Hague seems to be saying is in order to achieve number 4, maximize purpose, we must do number 3, minimize strategy. Perhaps number 3 also gets us more easily to number 2, the elasticity of resilience that would help us sustain our purpose in the face of changing governments and each administrations' strategic planning and ensuing policy whims. Do we respond to the barrage of strategies with little strategy of our own but with deep purpose and resilience? What if instead of speaking back to policy with strategies and recommendations of our own, we broadened our unity and thickened power of the whole field?

Some would say that many already do. I agree. I see it and I hear about it all the time but I see it happening program by program. I wonder how we could do this as a field and what would happen if we tried.

4 comments:

Nancy Friday said...

Heh there,

I feel what you are saying for sure.

I have been boosting my spirit of late by reading the works of Dr. Cornel West. Lots of wisdom to soak up from him.

Check out this clip on Knowledge.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1qc8r_cornel-west-on-knowledge_events

I miss working with you Tracey. Hang in there.

Nancy F :)

Wendell said...

"... we always come back to that question. Many who work in literacy -- or in any publicly funded community development work -- spend a good bit of our working lives ... [planning] for things that may or may not happen. Trying to figure out how to make things happen with no money. Trying to figure out how to make a living and do literacy work at the same time."

The other hard part, for me, is that there seems to be energy and money out there for (repackaged) research and promotion. Yet, though both these regularly miss the point.

I'm not sure what a "field" would look like. I'm growing wary of that "unity", "professional" language that seems so often to be followed by co-option. If there's a future in adult literacy work (and I'm not sure there is) I think it's local and small-scale.

Wendell said...

Of course, if we had Obama's fundraising chops, the seven "lessons" might seem a lot more relevant.

literacies publisher said...

Thanks for the good link Nancy. And the good learning juice.

Wendell I could not agree more. In the midst of middle age, I am working to get my head around the fact that I work in a field that is getting so narrow and restrictive that to do the work we want, that students need, we have to hide in the corners of libraries and if anyone sees what we are doing we have to construct some elaborate justification based on outcomes and GDP. Perhaps it has always been like this.

I am also thinking about the not-for-profit sector and how in order to sustain the work we have to sustain the people that do the work but that means a) we have to take money from pipers that have their own agendas and b) sustaining the workers (ourselves) moves up in the list of priorities. And then we are faced with how to sustain the work within a huge range of competing priorities. But then my thinking power runs out. I cannot think my way through the question of how to sustain the work without all the baggage. I think the answer may be in your idea of keeping the work local and small-scale -- an idea I have been resisting. I want it to be local *and* global, small scale *and* wide ranging.

Anyway ... I cannot write in this tiny box anymore ... literally and figuratively :) I need to learn more.

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