Guiding Principles for Effective Capacity Building Help 2-of-4

Principle 2:  Capitalize on “learning moments”

Excerpts from Helping Neighborhood Groups and Leaders Grow Stronger by David M. Scheie.

There are two parts to this principle.

First, would-be assistance providers should stay in touch with the groups and leaders they would help.  They should become knowledgeable and stay up-to-date about the group’s situation, its story, its culture and characters.  They should establish themselves as friendly listeners, as people who take an interest without throwing their weight around.  This means regular check-ins, the regular expression of friendly curiosity.

Staying in touch means the would-be helper is informed, with an accurate understanding of the group and its circumstances.  And it means one is credible as a friend – not a know-it-all whose primary interest is in being able to prove his point or demonstrate his own intelligence, but someone whose heart is in the right place.  This means that when one does offer advice or commentary, it is more likely to be taken in.  Third, staying in touch means one is accessible, likely to be on hand when help is needed.

The second part of the principle is about timing.  The key is to be responsive, and alert to “learning moments” – the developmental opportunities that arise in the course of a group doing its work and pursuing its agenda.

Help that comes at the right time is most efficient and has greatest impact.  Typical moments of greatest learning – and problem solving – include (1) when a group faces a crisis, (b) when a group is stuck in pursuit of a goal, (c) when a group is getting started on a new project or campaign, and (d) when people are moving into new roles.

Change is not comfortable.  Resistance to change is overcome when frustration with the current situation grows sufficiently intense, or the anticipated benefits of changing are sufficiently obvious.  Recognizing when these triggering thresholds have been reached depends on understanding an organization’s current situation and enough of its history to recognize how the current situation is being perceived by group members.


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