Blog Post

Educating for a Change - a manual for community development and innovation

By: Marco Campana
January 16, 2022

When I started working in the Immigrant and Refugee-serving sector many decades ago, one of the things I was trained on was Paulo Freire's Popular Education approach. In particular, the idea "that people bring their own knowledge and experience into the process." This ethos and approach has been useful in my work around digital transformation and digital strategy. The idea that these days people don't bring knowledge and experience of technology and pedagogy into their work couldn't be further from the truth. And yet that's how folks in the nonprofit world are treated when it comes to technology.

Part of my introduction was Educating for a Change. It became our guide for community development. For running workshops within our sector as well as with others. And how we approach our work with Newcomers and the communities we served.

As you'll see below and in the manual, the authors reference the ascendance of the political right, austerity, and the polarization of our politics. Not long after they published it, Mike Harris' Ontario pushed us even further in that direction.

Today, as I write this, we've slid down even further into political and social polarization. Paulo Freire's approach and ethos has been commercialized and professionalized into domains such as social innovation, design thinking, social R&D, human centred design, and so on. Language is used to exclude and create power structures, where you’re not innovative if you don’t use the right lingo. We may be talking about the same things. Centring newcomers in our work. But addressing power imbalances, racism, oppression, etc., isn't always on the table in these models. That doesn’t mean the models are not useful. When we take some of these models of innovation and digital competencies and incorporate them into our sector, we can use them.When we get past the lingo, we discover that we might actually be talking about addressing Social justice, using Popular education and Community engagement techniques to address power, inequity, and oppression. 

But, we should not forget the roots and values of our sector.

I reference Educating for a Change in my training today, in particular the Spiral Model as an example of this:

Spiral model

"This model suggests that:

  1. learning begins with the experience or knowledge of participants;
  2. after participants have shared their experience, they look for patterns or analyse that experience (what are the commonalities and what are the differences?);
  3. to avoid being limited by the knowledge and experience of people in the room, we also collectively add or create new information or theory;
  4. participants need to try on what they've learned: to practise new skills, to make strategies and plan for action;
  5. afterwards, back in their organizations and daily work, participants apply in action what they've learned in the workshop."

If you read service design at al approaches, you see the parallels and connections. But Educating for a Change reminds us that we work in a number of contexts, including power and oppression. And we can't forget, ignore, or erase them from our work.

The best explanation of the why and how of the manual comes from the introduction:

"This is a book for all educator sand anyone else interested in how education works who agree that the time for fuzzy platitudes and top-down practices is over.

In Educating for a Change the issue of power is central. Running through the book are two important threads. The first is that education must empower all people to act for change. The second is that this education must be based on a democratic practice: by which we mean creating the conditions for full and equal participation in discussion, debate, and decision-making. In the following pages we explore the political dimension of learning, and the learning dimension of politics. We hope that this book will help unmask - and not cover up - the power relations in our society.

In taking this stance we assume some shared social and political values with those of you who are reading from the vantage point of educators/activists challenging the status quo. As authors we are writing in Southern Ontario at the start of the 1990s, having like most people suffered through a lean and mean decade under the spell of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. These politicians maybe gone hut they've left their heavy mark on countries such as Canada, where business and political leaders continue to push a similar line while claiming things are now kinder and gentler.

The book emerges from a process, a set of requests, and a political responsibility. The process is the many meetings and workshops we have conducted over the years, each time promising ourselves and one another that one day our sketchy notes from the event would be drawn together in book form. The requests have been largely from participants in our workshops, who wanted us to demystify the steps in our own work. The political responsibility is to those col-leagues and mentors who have helped us along the road, and who now can take back in organized form some of what they have given.

How it's organized

  • Chapter one is about strategy: factors to consider before getting involved in an educational program. We discuss the importance of putting ourselves as educators into the picture-and the importance of analysing the broader social context in which our work takes place.
  • Chapter two draws from our experience in designing educational events so they meet the objectives people bring to them.
  • Chapter three focuses on educational activities with examples of some we have found useful in the past.
  • Chapter four is about facing the challenges of facilitating a group, making the most of who we are and working through conflicting agendas.
  • Chapter five looks back at some of the things we have learned from our past experiences.
  • Chapter six looks forward to some of the challenges that we believe await us in the 1990s.
  • The Postscript includes two conversations that would be quite out of place in a more formal, technical manual. The first is from a discussion that the five of us had as we neared the end of the writing process. The second is made up of comments from colleagues who read the manuscript along the way."

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