Therapist couch for development: Let me state the obvious

Originally posted on Voices from Eurasia.

therapy in session

When you go to a therapist, one of the first questions you hear is:  What brings you here? And it is very likely that you will keep answering this question for weeks or even months to come, until you get to the root of the problem.

And when you finally get there, the healing process will actually be well underway. The same mechanism should apply to our work.

I recently ran a workshop (one of a series) for young people working in regional institutions supporting social entrepreneurship in some of the most struggling areas in Poland. (The workshops are part of our efforts to support the social economy in Poland, and participants were chosen from among social innovation summer school students.)

The main idea behind these workshops was to walk the participants through the entire process of problem solving – from defining the issue, through looking for solutions, designing a prototype, testing to scaling; to present them with some tools from the social innovation toolkit and get them to test a few along the way.

We met for the second time at the beginning of January this year (and I’ve been walking with this blog post in my mind ever since).

The topic of the workshop: defining the problem or need.

I started off by asking participants about their methods of defining the core problem they were going to solve or the need they wanted to address.

Their answers were in no way surprising, and at the same time they took me down a peg or two… or three.

The process they described went along these lines (and yes, I’m being a bit dramatic, but you’ll see the point):

  1. You check what funding is available.

  2. You browse priorities for a chosen funding opportunity and pick the one that is the closest to your area of practice.

  3. You internalize the problem definition given by the funding institution and plan a list of activities that are most frequently used to address the issue.

  4. Kabum-kabum… Done!

Now, please, don’t get me wrong! This isn’t about these young people – they actually are a beacon of hope, as they are more than willing to unlearn all of that and start working differently.

This is about a process, which I guess we have all observed in more NGOs and development institutions than it is possible to count. In Poland, we even have a name for it – “grantoza.”

We are prone to assume that problems are already well defined and that the challenge is to find a proper solution.

To some point, I think we are hardwired to jump into searching for ways to solve a problem as soon as we spot one.

Unfortunately, this most likely is not the way we should go about solving some of the most pressing issues.

There is no revolutionary message behind this blog post. All I wanted was to say:

“Let’s stop looking for solutions for a moment. Let’s sit with the problems for a little longer.”

Soon we’ll realize that some interesting solutions are already sprouting, and the healing process is well underway.

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