This latest blog looks outwards to explore what strategies ‘Meadian’ networks (and the individuals who make them up) employ to achieve positive social change. ‘Strategy’ – a noun – sometimes suggests a sense of concreteness and precise definition. I prefer the verbal form (in this case, present participle) strategising to convey the idea that rather, this is a continuing, creative process within these networks and strategy is always emerging as members seek to take and learn from action in the complex world of local communities.
I identify here what I call three windows on strategising which networks use to make sense of this environment and shape action within it. These windows are interdependent and each highlights particular aspects of the processes involved. In order to illuminate these connections, this blog focuses on the red inclusiva and their priority of seeking to advance inclusive education in Bucaramanga.
Window I: The consider – act – learn cycle
The diagram below captures as simply as I can the underlying logic of the continuing cycle of considering, acting and learning through which networks like the red inclusiva engage with each other and the external environment – in this example, especially the education system, including education policy, schools and the communities they serve – to advance their purpose.
(1) Members come together, (2) to share views on what is currently working and not working in their field of interest, informed by their own direct experience whether as students, parents or teachers, and (3) to clarify their vision of what would be better.
The gap between vision and reality provides the motivation for (4) searching for possible actions to reduce this gap (using the approaches described in Windows II and III).
In considering these options further, the network looks ‘inside’ to identify who among its members might best lead promising initiatives and ‘outside’ (5) to identify who might become allies in this work.
(6) Members individually or in small clusters, perhaps with allies, take action, small and large, to make progress and (7) use this experience to draw lessons for the next cycle, perhaps also attracting more people to the network who have been allies in this phase.
THE CONSIDER – ACT – LEARN CYCLE
Through this ‘action learning’ process, the network also develops its capacity for future strategising through reflecting on the assets and alliances they bring to their mission, identifying more doors which open the way to promising opportunities and seeing ‘what works’ in specific interventions (for example, to widen student diversity in the classroom).
Window II: Linking assets, opportunities and tactics
To put this last point more succinctly, the action part of this cycle involves networks in identifying external opportunities for change where they have the assets to make a positive difference through intelligent tactics. The most useful account I have come across of how social movements make the links between assets, opportunities and tactics is in Marshall Ganz’s book Why David Sometimes Wins (2009).
As this title suggests, Ganz writes very much in the spirit of Margaret Mead. In the biblical story, the boy David successfully defeats the apparently much more powerful Goliath in mortal combat. David is a shepherd, not a soldier. But one of his assets is that he knows how to throw stones. (Some would say that he also had God on his side.) Wisely, his winning tactic was to change the nature of this conflict by deploying this asset before any exchange of blows. His opportunity was that Goliath wasn’t expecting this!
The red inclusiva is not likely to resort to violence. Three small stories illustrate how it is linking assets, opportunities and tactics:
• Gloria is both an excellent teacher and a charismatic woman. There is a national ‘best teacher’ competition in Colombia and Gloria entered in the ‘inclusive education’ category. She was the only teacher who reached the finals from her region. This news was strongly reported in the main Floridablanca newspaper. Gloria didn’t win but the experience greatly increased both her profile and that of inclusive education locally and subsequently made it easier for the red inclusiva to gain access to the Department of Education in this municipality.
• Elia is a very energetic volunteer for the Guanella Foundation which provides support to her son Santi. (Saint Luigi Guanella was an Italian priest who was canonised in 2011: perhaps we too have God on our side.) Supported by the red inclusiva, she has found her way – as a Guanella nominee – into the municipal disability reference group, also in Floridablanca.
• Sonia is another charismatic young woman with a severe visual impairment. Sonia has found a part-time job as personal assistant to the first disabled student accepted at an elite private school in the city: a teenager with an even more severe visual impairment. As an ‘expert by experience’, Sonia is both supporting this student and helping the school make the reasonable adjustments required for the student’s full participation. Together they are at least implicitly raising the question of why an elite school professing Christian virtue has only one disabled student.
There are many more stories like this involving all the red inclusiva members. Despite its small membership, it has a rich variety of assets and these are growing with the mature experience of working together. It has a strong narrative about its purpose, captured in its chosen identity. Its members are highly motivated and resilient. Through their multiple and different roles, members are well connected to potential allies and well-informed about what’s going on. Their inclusive way of working means that these assets are shared and they learn from each other’s experience. In particular, they are learning all the time about good tactics for opening doors to influence and making effective contributions, once ‘inside’.
Window III: Seeing the bigger picture
Over time, the red inclusiva aspires to bring together multiple interventions like those described above to promote a larger-scale shift towards inclusive education (and indeed more inclusive communities) in Bucaramanga. Learning by reflecting on their own experience but also by drawing on the international experience of advancing inclusive education, they appreciate that the whole system change required (i.e. in the culture of education, policies and practices) cannot be delivered by government alone, teachers alone or indeed students and their families alone. ‘Top down’ action i.e. to reform legislation, policies, resource allocation etc. cannot deliver radical changes in classroom experience without the positive participation of competent teachers and their students. Equally, ‘bottom up’ action, starting in the schools is unlikely to prove sustainable unless there is a receptive policy context – although more autonomous schools like Aldebarán can go a long way towards providing a model of inclusive classroom practice. And thinking more ‘laterally’, schools are embedded in the communities they serve so school innovation has to be based on partnership between teachers, students, parents and the wider networks of which they are a part.
To make sense of this complexity, ‘Meadian’ networks need at least a simple (and always evolving) ‘theory of change’ to inform and structure their strategising. I try to represent the framework being used by the red inclusiva very simply in the diagram below. (This framework is developed and illustrated in a pamphlet Heidy Araque and I prepared as a report on our journey through four countries of Latin America studying innovations in education in 2011 Advancing Inclusive Education for an Inclusive Society available at http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/ )
THREE PATHWAYS TO EDUCATIONAL CHANGE
The diagram highlights three inter-related pathways to educational change. Working locally, the red inclusiva has tried to raise community expectations for inclusive education, for example by:
Supporting individuals, like Miguel Jr., to advance their claims to be included in the mainstream, in this example, at the University level.
Fostering mutual aid and self-confidence among families, e.g. through the work of Fundown with children with Down’s Syndrome, so that they demand school admission.
Raising public awareness e.g. through the press and T.V. and cultural events like those organised regularly by Aldebarán.
It has invested a lot in the professional development of teachers and school administrations, for example, by:
Demonstrating more inclusive practice by what teachers like Gloria and Adriana do in their own classrooms and spreading good practice through teacher training at the University level.
Helping schools prepare for the admission of individual students e.g. in the work Fundown does to ensure that its pre-school children with Down’s Syndrome ‘graduate’ into local primary schools.
Leading professional development programmes (e.g. currently in the whole school district of Floridablanca) designed to equip teachers to lead the process of school transformation.
And it has contributed to policy reform, for example, by:
Gaining representative roles in municipal disability reference groups (e.g. in Bucaramanga and Floridablanca).
Including Department of Education officials in the district-wide professional development programmes.
Joining in wider alliances (like the Red Santander) engaged in public policy advocacy.
Using this framework, the red inclusiva seeks to focus its efforts sufficiently intensively to make a real difference, for example in the life of one individual (e.g. Miguel Jr.) one classroom (e.g. Gloria’s) and one school (e.g. Aldebarán). But as a ‘Meadian’ network, it also faces the challenge of trying to achieve more extensive local change, without spreading its efforts ‘too thinly’. The next blog will explore what is involved in linking the intensive to the extensive.