Grounded changes: one overriding goal, radical changes

The primary goal of Grounded Changes is to achieve lasting and endogenous changes, in peculiar in the way land and resources have been collectively used, regulated and managed. In the heart of every territory, there are women and men living off their land, while jointly building upon their practical experience and who have common aspirations to together deal with increasingly uncertain and unfair situations. Today, facing such huge ecological, economic, but also perhaps predominantly political challenges, which model of society do they, and we, aspire to?

Our method merely provides supports to make local people prove, for themselves and the others, that they have at least as much legitimacy and abilities as others to make societal choices, and from that to shape reasonable and operational rules. Of course, this support helps people to beef up their proposals to better face central powers and knowledge, but most importantly, it gives them the abilities and skills to reproduce by their own the TerriStories® game, and thus launch exchanges everywhere (between different people, different places, different territories..) that pushes to build upon a diversity of points of view and local experiences. From these exchanges a ‘horizontally’ shared vision of society can arise, as well as new ideas about how to actually make it happen.

From TerriStories to Grounded Changes

Interview of M. Ba

Some potentially radical outcomes

The following are the type of collective resolutions which can be reached by participants, and fro which, thanks to the simulation game, they design operational implementations.

Land is not a resource.

‘Resource’ invariably suggests something that can be exploited. And ownership rights exist to organize this. But another point of view envisions land as a common element, like air, that cannot be owned…even if it is to share it. Within this perspective, rules for land accesses and uses are intended to allow every person to live on land while preserving it for the future. In Senegal, the TerriStories® game has been used by farmers with this perspective in mind, to craft the operational rules and rights that establish this view in the field…and to assist them in their fight for their vision of the future and of their land. Wider take up of their counter-proposal outside the country is now hoped.

A new practice of deliberative democracy?

TerriStories® game participants, when crafting and then playing rules for cohabitation, are developing new forms of collective decision-making that suggests to sociologists new forms of deliberative democracy: keeping a diversity of points of view while at the same time tackling issues and implementing values. The game helps to reveal and unpack fruitless oppositions and to facilitate the co-existence of individual as well shared stakes. Indeed, the game helps them in reaching agreements on great shared aspirations (” where do we want to go ?”) while keeping in mind a diversity of positions, as game scenarios that can always be added, tested.

From a rule-of-law State to rule-of-laws State.

The wider scope of vision which is facilitated by the multi-level board game (bringing together several scales of territories) is encouraging people to imagine new balances between central and local decision processes: local communities collectively set the priority values and choices for the future, which will then frame policies, while the central State supports these exchanges and coordination between local territories in a way that facilitates common values and complementarity….but no longer establishes the choice of future (and the background values) for everybody…A legal expert called this radical bottom-up proposal that a rule-of-laws State!

Land issues in Senegal: a different vision of the relationship to land

Lobbying at national level

Interview of C. Richebourg

Grounded changes : an action framework for change

Yet, a strategic approach is crucial to achieve such deep, long term and large scale changes. Firstly, we create a participatory support setting which really lets people craft their own changes (TerriStories®: the game). However, the game alone is not enough: it needs to be implemented within an overall strategic framework painstakingly designed to lift the different social and institutional constraints which may jeopardize the intended changes (Grounded Changes: a specific frame for change). The objective is both to initiate change in the institutional context and to develop the capacities of key local stakeholders, so that local people lead the change making initiatives, by autonomously improving their knowledge, developing themselves their collective activities and conducting their own social lobbying. In the perspective of so deep, bottom-up and lasting changes, a specific philosophy has been gradually built based on twenty years of-experience, which is underpinned by three pillar principles

  • Only serve a local commitment
  • First mobilize local knowledge
  • Think small, do big

From TerriStories to Grounded Changes

Grounded Changes: firstly, only serve a local commitment

Whatever the domain, it is of crucial importance to first clearly identify and rank local stakeholders’ top priorities and current concerns. Will their priorities differ from what you expected? Through their learning-by-doing process stakeholders will progressively have to deal with the major elements, interactions and constraints. Consequently, whatever their entry point they will eventually come around to addressing what you identified as top concerns… that is if the issues you identified are real concerns in the given context.

The first principle of Grounded Changes is thus first serve local top priorities, and gives to stakeholders the abilities to progress on their own through local commitment, towards ways to manage increasingly complex issues. As a result, the prior step must focus on adapting then enclosing our approach, methods, and tools within existing local concerns, collective action and institutional dynamics. A specific framework has been designed to help to adaptation and contextualization: the strong>Rainbow Spiral framework.

Grounded Changes: a second principle, first mobilize local expertise

Whatever the domain, it is also a key to start by mobilizing local knowledge, experience and practices before introducing new information. Scientific knowledge or policy assumptions should rarely be required at the beginning of the process, when local resources are enough to launch a collective exchange and commitment. Moreover, this is the sole way to mitigate the strong influence of our knowledge and ‘truths’ on the process. In fact, ‘external’ knowledge will be mobilized only if and when stakeholders require it during the process to enrich their collective simulations (see Science ‘after’ development).

However, mobilizing local knowledge and experience is a huge challenge: this cannot be properly expressed within writing, map, and even paper drawing. …Even if they have achieved by stakeholders, these tools and frameworks had been designed to render knowledge, whereas the practical and social experience it concerns is lived and practiced, but cannot be properly reduced to writing or drawing. But at the same time, giving to people foreign (scientific) knowledge, which cannot be properly expressed within local frameworks, is also crucial. Consequently, the ideal facilitation tool would provide a dialog interface flexible enough to allow free forms of expression (oral and non-structured debates, body expression…: see Towards a common language?), while preserving the logical structuring of a scientific knowledge …in other words, a game.

Grounded Changes: a third principle, think small, do big

Achieving deep, bottom-up, lasting change (“do big”) is such an ambitious challenge that it can only succeed if it is pragmatic and measured (“think small”).

Think small: only seek pragmatic and achievable step-by-step progress, not to immediately reach the final goal but to soundly set the first necessary changes towards this final goal… and thereby set in motion an endogenous momentum towards change.

Do big: regarding this modest objective of only the first steps, implement every possible action (regardless its nature and the scale at which it is located) required to affect every key stakeholders (regardless of her/his position) directly involved in the chain of changes that are required to achieve lasting results for this first pragmatic step…Easier said than implemented! That is why a specific participatory framework (see paragraph below) has been designed in order to help facilitator AND participants to co-develop a more finely-tune and pragmatic strategy.

Grounded Changes in the field:
The Rainbow Spiral framework

Given the context, what hurdles need to be overcome, and how, to achieve a minimum but much-needed first empowerment progress? Which key people and institutions will need to be changed first? Which knowledge is really essential to start first exchanges and actions? This apparently obvious questioning requires a particular process, which we call ‘spiral questioning”, to obtain a sufficiently precise operational strategy. “Spiral questioning’ means deeper repeated probing of each question after progress has been made by answering the follow-on questions, until the answers no longer evolve. Several questioning loops are usually needed to define a sufficiently precise and pragmatic strategy. This progressive highlighting process often ends up accepting factors that were originally identified as simple preconditions or external pitfalls as new central targets.

Furthermore, this eliciting process often reveals that the earlier empowerment or participatory objectives conceal in fact very dissimilar challenges…and consequently requires different methods or tools. Thus, the Grounded Changes approach is not based on a supposedly perfect participatory or empowerment method which has to be used regardless of contexts and issues. The assumption is that the relevant combination of methods and tools can only be deduced from a previous contextualization of the key empowerment issues. For example, if information transfer turns out not to be necessary to launch the empowering process, tools presenting new (scientific) knowledge will be not used at the first steps of the process (see Science and Society page).

The Rainbow Spiral method