The Approach


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.

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 Terr 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!

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

Firs principle : serve a local commitment

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.

Second principle : mobilize local expertise above all else

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.
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…), while preserving the logical structuring of a scientific knowledge …in other words, a game.

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.

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).

Science & Society

Science for development: for a radical shift

Introducing scientific knowledge is always a delicate task. As Grounded Changes effectiveness relies on ‘inside’ diagnosis and solutions, it is by no means straightforward to introduce ‘external’ points of view (such as scientific one), without affecting the efficiency and relevance of the whole process.

‘External’ here means ‘knowledge’, or a ‘diagnosis’ (which are considered, in the Grounded Changes valuing of each stakeholder’s position, as a ‘point of view’), that have not yet been adopted by at least of one participant..

Of course, introducing some ‘external’ knowledge can be accomplished by introducing a new player who advocates for this knowledge (see TerriStories® rules). However, scientists are often reluctant to translate their knowledge in simple qualitative rules (of the game). They are uncomfortable and unskilled when using the mode of idea synthesis this task entails. Some progress has been made (e.g. Companion Modelling), but reluctance still remains. Beyond this methodological issue, some of the stakeholders (especially scientists and high-level decision makers) experience difficulties when having to consider their ‘objectivity’ and ‘universality’ as only one viewpoint among a diversity of other relevant knowledge and values frames. Progress still needs to be made here.

Relativism? No, but replacing truth with refutable

Valuing everyone’s experience, knowledge, and even points of view (e.g. about common values, choice of future…) does not mean having to acknowledge misguided ones. Instead, the process of valuing diversity helps give a logical and structured shape to each opinion …Simply by inciting people to introduce in this form, via the game, their opinions: indeed, a game rule must be expressed in a way that the other players are able to assess the rationale, even if it is not their own opinion.

Consequently, this simple game rule process offers the opportunity to put opinions and experiences on an equal but rigorous footing, which values sound ones while excluding those not sufficiently demonstrated…whether they emanate from local stakeholders, scholars or decision-makers. …The scientific rigor instead of the scientists’ truth.

A science ‘after’ development?

The effective establishment of local and endogenous commitment does imply the exclusion of ‘external’ scientific knowledge as long as participants not require them to improve their on-going and autonomous diagnosis. Furthermore, it also implies that scientific actions and supports are finalized only once their needs have been demonstrated by participants during the ‘inside’ learning-by-doing process.

During the Grounded Changes process (i.e. game sessions then autonomous implementations in the field), participants are sharpening, testing, and developing their ideas and are improving their action. At certain steps of this process, they will feel they have insufficient knowledge. This knowledge may alread be available and provided, and if not it could become the objective of new scientific activities.

As regards Research for Development, that would mean to begin every program by setting first a local commitment process before any definition of research activities, and so accept to postpone the definition of precise scientific goals and programs until after the beginning of the project…This indeed something that remains difficult to insert into usual research programs frameworks, but, it is, however, the only relevant way to develop a Research for Development.

Towards a shared language between each society position?

The ultimate purpose of the TerriStories, and beyond of the Grounded Changes approach, is to provide communication ingredients that are sufficiently generic to enable everyone, whatever his or her culture and way of thinking, to express his or her reasoned visions about the workings of society, and to understand and acknowledge those from the others.
The ideal dialog tool will bring together the different worldwide forms of expression about knowledge and points of view about the world: oral expression in all its forms, non-verbal and visual (colors, shapes) language, and the logical structure of science…in other words, a game.…Getting players from diverse places in the world to share and strengthen their positions about what world would work.