What do we actually do?


You make a plan. Your plan will include what you actually would like to do. It may be as detailed as an agenda for a meeting (something you will want to create for all of your project meetings with your advisors) or as comprehensive as a project plan for building a community center over several weeks. In all likelihood, you will make many plans of differing levels of detail.

In order to plan, the first question you ask is about your vision, your intentions. What are your purposes, your mission, your goals, and your aims? In short, what are you trying to accomplish at the deepest level. The second question is one of strategy. What is the best way within your context of achieving your intentions? For example, if your intention is to improve sanitation facilities in an informal settlement, what is the best way to go about doing that? You could build more toilets or you could talk with the people who live in the informal settlement about their needs or you could lobby government officials. All three would be strategies based on the same intention. Your decision about which strategy to pursue is based upon your understanding of the context and how you have connected to the community. Once you have decided upon a strategy, you move to the third question, which is about actions. What are the specific things you will do, what are the behaviors, patterns of activity, words, and deeds that you will do? This may be as specific as planning what words you will say or it may be somewhat more general. You will probably plan (and rehearse) the first presentation you will make to your sponsor down to the level of words you want to say. Other plans may be less detailed, such as “we’re going to work on the drainage in Zwelitsha this morning.”

Plans should draw upon your knowledge of the context as well as your knowledge of various methodologies for inquiry. The primary reason to create a plan is to go through the process of thinking about what you want to do and what the various alternatives are. Without prior thought, without a plan, we often simply act in whatever happens to be the most convenient way. And there are often unintended results that we could have avoided with a bit of planning. When I have the opportunity to interview an important stakeholder I am more likely to ask all of the questions I really need answers to if I have made a plan for how to conduct the interview and created a list of questions to ask.

Of course, just because you’ve made a plan doesn’t mean you will follow it exactly. Often unexpected events occur and plans need to be changed. It may even be part of your planning to create multiple plans that are contingent upon factors you aren’t sure about. For example, “if the truck is available we’ll shift those rocks.” And remember, you can’t change plans unless you have a plan in the first place.