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Chapter 5 -- Planning and Preparing for Action

In the previous step, Adding New Information, the need to share new information raised a danger of slipping back into traditional approaches to education and the assumptions about expertise and knowledge that they reflect. By using participatory techniques and sticking with the underlying democratic and egalitarian method, that danger can be overcome.

In this step -- Planning Action -- we come to another danger: this time it is not a traditional top-down teaching approach that threatens to derail or distort the popular education process, but a traditional approach to organizing that is top-down and anti-democratic.

As the authors of Tecnicas Participativas Para La Educacion Popular put it:

    "These techniques...should be used as tools within a process that helps strengthen popular organizations and raise political and social awareness (concientizacion). Failing to grasp this...many groups and institutions use the techniques without contributing to this goal. But a greater danger is posed by those who use the techniques with the express purpose of subverting the goal, disguising their objectives with a kind of pseudo-participation." (Advertencia!!! Volume 2)

Planning action is the place in the spiral where the stakes are felt. Up to now, we have been sharing, exploring, adding information and building capacity. But when we start to move from reflection to action, we see that the learning process has direct consequences for the participants, the institutions or groups and the educators. For educators, this step presumes a political choice: are we building democracy and self-organization or subverting it?

The pressing question for those who choose the democratic course, whose priority is to help workers organize and build their collective understanding and capacity for action is what educational tools can we use to help participants move from learning to action?

What does it mean to prepare for action, while still in the education process? How can educational activities help people get ready for action? How can participatory education help people work together democratically and collaboratively? How does the facilitator's role change as you move toward action?

Activities in this Chapter:

Each of the activities below aims to make the process of planning action collective, participatory, transparent, and democratic -- to get away from the reliance on experts that flows from lack of collective capacity.

In The mosh pit (also known as the fishbowl) participants work out problems or conflicts that stand in the way of taking action. This activity is a simple but powerful tool that gets people to participate on an equal footing, communicating freely, with little or no intervention from the facilitator. The whole group often has a capacity for problem-solving that eludes the people most wrapped up in a dispute; this activity draws on the "wisdom of the crowd."

The second activity, El camino logico (the logical way), tackles another problem that comes up when planning action: what to do first? Participants organize the basic questions that come up in planning an action -- the who, what, when, why, how, with what -- in order to answer them in a logical and coordinated way.

In the third activity, Organizing options, participants analyze and debate potential strategies that have emerged from their previous discussions and actions. The purpose of the activity is to help people clarify their goals by considering several options and making tentative decisions. The activity encourages free and honest debate; the options are real and open-ended.

Acting it out, the fourth activity, brings us to the brink of action. Participants use an improvised role play to go from thinking about a possible action to rehearsing it: how will it work in reality? What will we say and do? How will the employers react? What will we do then? The example that accompanies this activity shows how education can help prepare action and follow up afterwards: where workers rehearsed an action they might take on the job, used the action a few days later, and then reported back and reflected on what they had done.

The fifth activity The worker-to-worker network, also involves rehearsing action, this time by setting up and test-driving a simplified worker-to-worker network in the context of an educational event. This activity also forms a kind of bridge into action as the participants move from learning about the worker-to-worker network into a working session in which they begin adapting the network for use in their organization. The example for this activity involves an activist group whose core activists wanted to change their organizational model from one based on the efforts of a small staff, to one based on the participation of a larger circle of key activists.

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