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Chapter 3 -- Digging in: analyzing problems

Another term for popular education is problem-posing education. We are getting people together to identify, analyze and figure out how to solve problems.

Many questions come up: Which problems (most people have a few)? What are the most important problems for us as individuals and as a group? Do we agree about exactly what the problems are (people may not see them the same way)? Are we attacking the symptom but leaving the cause intact? Is this problem short-term or long-term? Do we agree on what it means to solve the problem, what we want to see in its place? Do we know all we need to know? What information is missing? How do we get it?

In the previous stage, people shared experiences and began building a common discussion around issues of concern. So, we should have a sense of what they think the problems are, and what the priorities are.

What needs to be done next is to describe the problems more closely, to make sure we have a clear understanding of what we are trying to change, and to figure out what makes these problems occur. What are the causes and conditions that give rise to these problems?

The role of the facilitator here is helping people flesh out their own definition of the problems they face and pushing them to explain how it is that these problems occur. You need to find ways to get people to be much more descriptive than we all usually are, and you need to introduce a methodical approach to analyzing the sources of the problems people face. We are helping people develop the collective capacity for strategic action -- important if we hope to get away from staff-centered organizing.

Activities in this chapter:

The first activity, The Problem Tree is the most direct and clear tool for collectively analyzing problems that I have seen.

Interviewing the Activist takes off from a common practice -- talking with someone about workplace problems -- and uses a range of tools and resources to create a discussion that is educational and directly useful to the person whose experience is being looked at.

The third activity, Reinventing the Grievance Procedure is designed to problematize one part of union practice: the grievance procedure.

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