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Chapter 7 -- Where do we stand now? Assessing and starting over.

This is where the spiral of popular education takes shape. You did the preparation work, shared information and built trust, analyzed problems, got and shared new information, planned strategy and people took action. Now what?

Well, assuming you have a group that continues working together, you start all over again: getting people together, sharing information, building trust. But you start in a different place. Now you have a group that has been through a learning process together and taken action to solve problems.

So, the first step in a new spiral includes assessing and evaluating the work done so far. How successful were your actions? Did you reach your goals? What were the strengths and weaknesses of your plan and how you carried it out? How well did you work together? Who did what? Where do you stand now?

Because you always want to provide a way in for new people, you have to go back to square one in some ways, building a dialogue that includes their experiences, concerns, and goals as it opens a new round of inquiry and action. The value of reinventing the wheel is often underestimated. It is an important part of building an authentic participatory process and a kind of test of the continuing relevance of your strategy -- if you can't regenerate your strategy then maybe the strategy no longer fits the situation. (Union reform itself is largely about reinventing the wheel, isn't it?)

Activities in this chapter:

The activities I included here are designed to help an already functioning group look back on their work and prepare a new planning process. They should also provide new people a way to learn about the group's history as they become part of the group.

In the first activity, Where have we been and what have we done? a group of activists who work on separate projects within a common organization share their work in the past period and develop a common picture of the organization's work as a whole. Simply reconstructing work done, in sufficient detail, can be a powerful stimulus to strategic thinking. It can also lay a solid -- and shared -- foundation for discussions of the future, thus helping people collaborate across their differences. (This activity and the third were originally designed and conducted in Spanish.)

In the second activity, Our Power Line, and Theirs, activists in a long-standing union reform group look at how their strength has grown or diminished over several years, and compare it to the strength/weakness of their opponents over the same period. This is a unique activity, a good example of how a simple tool like the power line can be extended and deepened.

The third activity, The Mission and the World, can also be done as a goal setting activity early on in a group's work. I have found though, that the issue of goals becomes clearer after a group has formed and started working. In the work, differences of opinion or approach begin to emerge that can be traced back to basic differences in priorities or goals. This activity can be used to help the group raise, clarify and discuss those issues at the proper level -- that is, as questions of the group's mission and its purposes -- without needlessly polarizing the discussion.

I developed the first and third activities for use by the staff of The Workplace Project/Centro Pro Derechos Laborales, a community-based independent immigrant workers center in Long Island, in an organizational retreat. The activities were the result of a discussion with the activists involved who also facilitated them.

The second activity was part of a retreat by members of the New Directions caucus in TWU Local 100.

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