Idealism?

I’ve taken a variety of community development classes at college, many of which include failures of previous development work and lessons to be learned for the future. This field addresses the causes of problems, and potential solutions, that are relevant to entire communities, not just individuals. To summarize what I’ve learned to be true of strong, socially responsible development in three years of these classes thus far:

  • Good intentions do not equate to good outcomes. If anything, good intentions can be blinding in the quest to achieve good outcomes.
  • All stakeholders of a project are important, regardless of their status on society’s totem pole. All voices need to be heard for everyone to benefit.
  • Technical projects and outcomes are meaningless without considering necessary cultural and social changes and adaptations.

These points might sound simple and intuitive, but they are much harder to adhere to in real life. I’ve been thinking of these concepts over the last week or so, as the work that I’m doing feels like a small-scale version of the projects I learn about in these community development classes. There’s a problem, help is called on, resources flow to address the problem, and then a solution is implemented. In this situation, the problem of data organization and communication led to this fellowship being created, with 10 weeks of my work flowing into creating a solution to this problem.

Equipped with this knowledge, have I followed through on these concepts for the data management tool that I’ve created? I’ve been reflecting on this over the past few weeks, as I continue to learn how much I didn’t know, and realize how much is yet to be done for this project. I’ve learned that it’s hard to get every person to sit down and give me the time to solicit input, when the value of this tool is not the highest of immediate priorities. Our staff go above and beyond in the energy that they put into their jobs, and there simply isn’t enough capacity to achieve the seemingly endless tasks that need to get done. This tool is useful only in theory, unless there is guidance and consideration in moving past the initially steep learning curve. Without strategic implementation, it is more than likely that this tool would collect dust on its digital shelf. Finally, supporting the mission of Local Matters is the end objective of my work – but there is no way for me to guarantee this cause and effect relationship to be true.

Am I considering every stakeholder? Am I being considerate of every social aspect of the organization that this tool might touch? There is no perfect example of community development, nor Is there a perfect example of project development. So, to answer my question from the last paragraph, I don’t think I’ve been able to completely follow through on these idealistic principles. Rather than seeing this as failure, I’m learning how to discern between idealism and pragmatism. This lesson has been a source of struggle for me, as I have previously felt that not achieving my ideals is a betrayal of my values. However, I’m beginning to understand the importance of doing my best with my given resources and environment, and that everyone around me is trying to do the same. This understanding has lead me to look back to my classes on community development with an additional layer of insight, and look to my professional future with more realistic expectations of myself and others.

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