Tuesday, May 4, 2010

working from the wrong assumptions

Today I was at a behaviour change + sustainability conference that worked on the open space format.* At the very last minute (literally, the facilitator said "I think this is our last one" and then I dashed past him to write one up) I put up a poorly articulated question that sounded like:

how can we work for/with people from disadvantaged groups in terms of behaviour change and other issues?

I wasn't sure if this would get much interest. Of the thirty to forty panels that went up, only mine and another even touched at all on social issues, so as the time I had assigned neared, I became increasingly concerned.

In the end, about 20 people turned up. Which was exciting!

I really wanted to talk about this topic because in the space in which I work (I don't mean my company, I mean the industry/area), I find that a lot of organisations and learnings are coming from a place of middle class assumptions. There's this basic assumption that when organisations (or me, on behalf of client organisations) do environmental/sustainability work in the community, that community has an equal level on which it stands.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is exactly what it sounds like, and at the bottom of the pyramid are physiological things like breathing, food, water, and sleep. The second level of the hierarchy looks at safety, like having shelter, being employed, having health, your family being okay. I find that a lot of programs, especially top down programs, assume that everyone is well above this level - that is, everyone has a job (or is supported), everyone is healthy, it is all things equal.

The reality is, that this assumption means that there are groups who don't fall into these sections, and they are completely unaddressed by most generic community sustainability programs in Australia. There are a few targeted programs, but not that many.

Anyway, here are my notes from today's session:

  • middle class attitudes to sustainability
  • inability and disinterest do not have a correlation (no greater than in any other group) - more that (low socio-economic) groups want to change but have many barriers
  • access - go out to groups, don't expect them to come to you (e.g. rural farms)
  • organisational flexibility is very important
  • ask them what works for them / what they are able to achieve (esp. if you give them assistance)
  • make consequences clear, work together
  • should we place greater emphasis on social change at a societal level?
  • social norms
  • people who are vulnerable want to make themselves and their kids/family feel not not-normal
  • many orgs are setting aspirational images that are unrealistic (eg marketing brochures of happy white families in clean houses)
  • the community often has the answer <--this also promotes engagement

* there's no timetabled talks. you sit in a big room and people get a piece of paper and write on it something they want to talk about, or a question, and then they assign it to a time slot, and hope that people turn up.

1 comment:

  1. this sounds like a really useful and interesting discussion. go you!