A Technique for Exploring Social Change Possibilities

Activism, nonprofit management, entrepreneurship and pretty much everything else in life involves the facing of challenges. Some of those challenges are problems and others are opportunities. Seeing the problems is often easier than seeing the opportunities, but that is an issue for another time.

This post is about using a simple tool to explore the nature of a challenge. The example here might come from environmental activism, but the logic will (I hope!) be clear enough that you can translate it to other domains.

The easiest way to explore a challenge is to ask some questions. Start by stating the challenge in concrete but concise form: “I want to convince the District (of Columbia government) to buy only alternative-fuel vehicles.” Ask yourself why you want to address that challenge. Ask again and again until you run out of good answers. Then, you have at least found some alternative ways of looking at your challenge. One of the alternative perspectives you generated could lead to a good idea.

Back to that alternative fuels example: Why do I want to get the District government to buy only alternative-fuel vehicles? To help combat global climate change? Why do I want to do this to fight global climate change? Because alternative fuels produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. OK, so this series of questions didn’t lead us to far. How about this set of questions:

Why do I want the District government to ue only alternative-fuel vehicles?
Because that’s the responsible thing for the District government to do.
Why is that the responsible thing to do?
We have to stop global warming and reduce our dependence on oil imports.
Why do you want to do those things?
To protect people from the impacts of global warming, mainly.

Hmm, are there other, more-realistic projects that we could undertake in the District to protect people from the impacts of global warming? Maybe we could focus on getting the District to use buses that rely on natural gas. Maybe soy-based diesel is a good choice. Maybe we need to think harder about the alternative fuels that make the most sense considering convenient sources, technology, vehicle costs, safety, and operating costs.

I just came up with those thoughts as I was writing. Maybe your own use of questions on your own challenge(s) will yield a few creative insights.

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~ by chetdavis on September 25, 2007.

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