Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots

It is easy to work in silos and think in boxes – we live in a defined world and we like to know where things stand to be able to understand them better.

In an interview on a new podcast I found last week, the brilliant Jan Fook spoke about critical reflection and the importance of bringing worlds together in our practice. We are often trained to tackle an issue from one perspective which can create deep knowledge in one area, however it can fail to take into account wider contextual issues which have an important role or impact on the outcomes. Jan Fook used the example of psychology, social work, and sociology: Psychology is the study of the internal mind; Social work is the study of the personal; Sociology is the study of the societal structures. Each are incredibly important and contribute a view of a situation, but we need them all together to be able to create real change for society and the individual. We need to connect the dots and put it all together.

When it comes to my own work with  young people, I might just be planning an afternoon activity, but it is important to consider the different aspects between the internal, personal and communal issues so that each child can develop to the best of their abilities, at least during the time that they are with me. I have to look beyond how the young person is right now in front of me, to see their family, school, community, their past, present and possible future. Without this, my efforts will almost never land right or have the intended impact.

Maybe you don’t work with young people. Maybe you work on environmental issues, on gender issues, or on education issues, or on something completely different. Ask yourself, are you stuck in a silo, or are you thinking about the wider picture? Are you taking into account all of the pieces of the puzzle, so that you can make real headway?

Here are four little exercises that you can use to help you join the dots to go deeper and be more effective in your work:

  • Ask the 5 whys: Why is this happening? Answer. Then question why is that happening? And answer. And ask why is that happening? And again two more times to drill down further into the issue. This will probably give you a bit of a tree-like form of what impacts on your issue.
  • The tree of influences. Who is someone that you respect on this issue? Investigate who influenced them and take a look at their work. Are there any interesting issues or connections that come up? Who influenced them? Take a look at their work. Keep going further and further back into the influencers at each level. This is a great tool to expand your understanding and see how different fields of work influence each other.
  • Ask yourself, who else cares about this issue? Who is impacted by this issue, either positively or negatively? Who else could be working on this issue that I haven’t considered yet? Who has power in this issue? Who doesn’t?
  • Think about the different levels of society and the different interactions that each level has with the issue – individual, family, community, nation, global. Maybe there are extra levels, such as parents, partners, neighbours, organisations, and companies, that also have some interaction or involvement in the issue. How does the issue affect them and how do they impact on the issue?

Going deeper into the issues makes things more complicated, but that’s life! Understanding the wider context might take extra time, but it means you will be closer to figuring out better ways of working that are more effective, sustainable and long-lasting. Are there any other questions you think we should be asking? Email me and I will add them in!