by Dr. Robert C. Linthicum
The major problem assessment tool, obviously, is the individual meeting. When we do an individual meeting, we will ask questions that will tend to lead to more penetrating questions and to more profound answers.
For example, if I’ve not met the person before, I will start off asking a question like, “How long have you lived within this community?” There are only two ways the person can answer that question: “I’ve lived here a short time” or “I’ve lived here a long time”.
If the answer is “a short time”, I’ll follow it up with a question like, “What caused you to select this neighborhood to move into?” If it’s a long time, I’ll ask “How have you seen this community change over the years?” Their response to either question will give me a sense of their priorities. I will then begin to hone in on those priorities to discover the issues that most agitate and disturb them.
If, for example, their answer has to do with education (e.g., for “a short time”, “I selected this community because it has such a high reputation for the quality of its schools”), I will follow up with questions that will evoke answers that will give me a sense of how that person actually feels about that community’s public education. The same discernment will be followed for “long time” answers.
I will then move to getting this person to tell stories. I’ll ask questions like, “Can you give me an example of how your children have responded to the education provided here?” or “Would you share an incident when you felt your children were treated unfairly in school?”
What I am after is not simply getting into the “head” of this person, but into her “heart” and “soul” as well – to find out what makes her tick, what is really important to her, and what will agitate her into action.
I am seeking to build a relationship with this person – not simply gather data about her – and that means being willing to call forth her pain, her joy, her victories and her defeats.
It also means a willingness to share myself with that person – to connect with her, to identify with her concerns, to tell stories about myself, to share with her my pain, my joy, my victories and my defeats. What I am seeking to do is to build a relationship – not to conduct an interview!
If I feel there is real leadership potential in this person, I will likely have a series of meetings with her – meetings that will disclose to me her history, her passion, her relationships with others, whom she identifies as gatekeepers, caretakers, flak-catchers and brokers in the community, and whether she has a “fire in her belly” for reform and justice.
All those indices will tell me if this is a person who can provide solid leadership to this organizing effort, and whether this is a person with whom I want to build a public relationship!
(Taken from: Response by Dr. Robert Linthicum To Questions Posed by Stephanie Scott. The Campolo School for Social Change, Eastern University, Philadelphia, PA.)
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