Don't become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You'll learn something from everyone. Follow what you feel in your heart. Yuri Kochiyama (Japanese-American human Rights Activist)
Dr. John Mauremootoo
Life-long student & consultant with over 20 years of experience in diverse aspects of international development including the following:
My Spiral Pathway
I've tried to summarise much of my professional and personal life in the pictures below. If you want more you can download my more traditional CV.
Why InSpiral Pathways?
The SPIRituAL Path
Early one sunny Sunday morning in June 2012, my wife Julie and I were listening to an interview with German author and personal development teacher Sabrina Fox about how to treat our bodies with kindness (“Body Blessing”). As somebody who has suffered numerous sports injuries this is a subject very close to my heart!! The interviewer, Allegria publisher Michael Görden kept referring to the importance of following the “spiral path”. Only after he had said “spiral path” quite a few times did it finally register that he was actually saying “spiritual path”. It was early morning after all and my brain was not fully awake! By the time the penny dropped the phrase “Spiral Path” was firmly implanted in my head.
I am sure that it wasn't Görden’s intention but, for me, the spiral perfectly describes the way we progress in our personal, professional and spiritual lives in this complex uncertain world we are part of. Progress is not linear, progress is not circular, progress is a spiral … and it has no end!
Over the years I have become increasingly concerned that the prevailing linear “logical” project planning frameworks paint a grossly oversimplified picture of the way in which the real world works. Under such frameworks, progress is displayed as a linear pathway moving from inputs through activities to produce outputs which lead to outcomes and eventually impact. For example, money, a venue, teaching materials, trainers, and some refreshments (inputs) are combined to produce a training workshop to teach 30 farmers how to farm using less pesticide (activity). An output of this training is that 30 farmers have been trained to use less pesticide. With this knowledge, the 30 farmers, and possibly some of their friends, change their behaviour to farm in a more environmentally sensitive way (outcome). This in turn has long term environmental and health benefits such as biodiversity conservation and cleaner water (impacts). This model does not correspond with how people lead their lives which does involves planning but within a very adaptive framework.
There are many reasons why things do not always work out as planned. Perhaps the plan was inadequately carried out (implementation failure). In such cases the remedy might be to implement the plan more effectively (“do things right”). But in many cases it is the planners’ model of the world itself that is flawed (theory failure). In such cases the remedy might be to come up with a better plan to “do the right things”. But as long as a linear model is maintained the project will still be vulnerable to a third “crossed line” – unpredictability. Unpredictability is not a minor inconvenience - it is a given. And we tend to over-estimate our ability to predict the future. This can help to make bookies very rich, punters very poor and project managers very frustrated!
From the Circle Line to the Spiral Pathway
So when lines get crossed and things don’t go according to plan (which happens in all but the simplest of activities) how do project implementers’ respond? The “Margaret Thatcher” response, aka TINA (“there is no alternative”) – sticking to the plan come what may, is one course of action. The more thoughtful manager is likely to respond with some form of “adaptive management”. The concept of Action Learning is one way to ensure that adaptive management is undertaken systematically and is not a euphemism for making things up as you go along.
In the Action Learning Cycle we first plan, then implement, monitor the results of implementation, reflect on these results, learn from these reflections and then replan. The Action learning framework has been traditionally portrayed as a circle but in fact is more like a spiral as the circle of planning, monitoring, reflection, learning, and replanning and is never closed. The spiral analogy makes explicit that we can never actually return to the same point. Which is just as well as going in circles is never pleasurable. As Heraclitus of Ephesus put it “No man ever steps in the same river twice", although a poorly planned and facilitated “Action Learning Meeting” can give you that groundhog day feeling.
Putting the “Inspire” into “In Spiral” – a PME epiphany
On 13 May 2010 in the CABI Africa office in Nairobi I had my PME epiphany. It was the day that CABI Africa’s K4D Global Director Dannie Romney (re)introduced me to Outcome Mapping. I had come across the approach in 2005 but had slept on it (“when the student is ready the master will appear”!). OM is a participatory PME approach that explicitly acknowledges the fact that any intervention is embedded in a complex reality comprising of multiple actors and factors, only some of which are under the control of the project or programme. “OM puts people and learning at the centre of development and accepts unanticipated changes as potential for innovation.” (OM Learning Community FAQ #1 - "What is Outcome Mapping").
OM’s focus is on a project or programme's direct partners -those in its sphere of influence (individuals or organisations with which the programme interacts directly and anticipates opportunities for change) as opposed to its spheres of control (those who work full-time for the programme), and concern (stakeholders, who are still of interest to the programme but are beyond its direct influence). This focus brings to mind the first three lines of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer made famous through its use in Alcoholics Anonymous:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Grounding vision in reality in spiral pathways
Coincidently (or not??) OM also comprises of 12 steps. Not all these steps are obligatory but the first step – Vision is absolutely essential. A clear compelling vision is of the future that you want to contribute towards generates motivation. It functions as a beacon – something to guide movement and a star – something big to reach towards. The Bible says, 'Where there is no vision, the people perish.' It is vision that puts the Inspire into InSpiral.
An inspirational vision gives you something to reach towards. But just as a plant that grows towards the sun needs to be firmly rooted, vision must be grounded in our current reality to inform the actions we take. This grounding comes from action and consistent monitoring that help inform us of our progress in pursuit of our desired goals. As Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and former Czech president Václav Havel put it so eloquently “Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up to the step; we must step up the stairs…”
So there you have it: InSpiral Pathways: The continuous cycle of action, monitoring, reflection, learning, and replanning motivated by a guiding vision grounded in reality - an image that represents projects, programmes, organisations and individuals who seek to work consciously and conscientiously towards a stated purpose.
Michael Görden, thank you so much for the inspiration!
Michael Görden, thank you so much for the inspiration!