Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Monday, 30 April 2007

Learning: the missing link?

In her response to my first posting, Gillian rightly points at the black box between knowledge and action. She and her team propose learning as the missing link. I agree, but there is more. Knowledge based learning not always produces action. Sometimes change triggered by marketing precedes learning. Sometimes we only learn the hard way. We know for instance that no matter how much health education, to stop smoking is often only achieved after serious health problems. Here is a biodiversity example from my "blog-avant-la-lettre" from 1999. It was called the Art of Learning towards Sustainable Development and I stopped it, as it met with a deadly silence among my colleages. As I have little time today I just copy and paste:

It is a lesson I learned once during a conference on environmental education in New Delhi in 1990. I attended a presentation from an Indian Women's Association. They told us about various projects to combat deforestation. The way they tackled the issue, immediately hit me as a very sophisticated marketing communication approach.

They would go to a village and focus not on all the villagers, but just on the women. The ones in the households who would go for cutting firewood for their daily cooking and walk every month longer distances. They would get them together in regular meetings and discuss health and social issues. Answer questions and give advice. They would bring up the question of eye disease. And how this sometimes was related to smoke from the type of wood they used in their open fires at home. They would show them which type of wood was less harmfull than others.

They would discuss other aspects of being so long busy above this open fire. Burning red eyes, eye diseases, rimples in the face, you name it. And the consequences. Husbands slowly paying less attention to the beauty of their wives. Forgetting them. Maltreating them. Taking a younger wife. Realities in these communities. Then they would bring up the alternative way of cooking. The 'chula' or clay stove. A practical device to cook, with almost no smoke and a consumption of only a fraction of the wood you need for an open fire. Less to carry. Less to cut. Less to suffer. They would provide soft loans to buy the new stove. They would teach the most eager ones the trade of producing and repairing the chulas, so they could make a small profit for themselves.

Only after the change of starting to cook on the chula, they would go into learning about about the forest and biodiversity. They would discuss a nursery closeby to grow their own firewood. And then slowly they would start talking about larger ambitions like combatting erosion and floods by planting the hills again with trees.

What impressed me was how well they were aware how their targetgroup related to the issue of deforestation. What their primary and personal concerns were: health, firewood, familybonds. How they communicated in realistic steps the essential changes and assisted each step with supporting means: loans, the technique of the chula etc. This way triggering behaviour change. A change that resulted in less pressure on the forests, and in some cases even to reforestation. I did not ask where they had learned their communication techniques. I am sure they would have answered me: "what are communication techniques? We just used our common sense." Actually that is what communication is all about: be simple and personal.

For me the missing link is both communication and learning. Two sides of the same coin. Key elements for positive change. Niten, as Musashi would say: Two Heavens, or a sword in each hand. To handle both is the art the Indian women had naturally mastered.

P.S. As it is so long ago, is there anyone who can tell me which organization I may have listened to in this Delhi conference? Just click on comments in the line below.

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