Strength-based approaches and citizen-led water supply
Congratulations to ISF postgraduate student Ian Cunningham on describing his research to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes with no props, no electronic media and only one static PowerPoint slide and winning 3rd place in the UTS Three Minute Thesis completion.
This is Ian’s inspiring description of his research journey.
Eight years ago, I was given one of those important life lessons in the power of hope. And the man who gave it to me was the head of a village water supply project in Indonesia. In talking about the project he said:
“This is our story, we need to be involved right from the beginning so we know from where we have come from and where we are going”
The experience really impacted me and was part of the reason I moved from traditional engineering into a career, and now research, in international development in the discipline of aid.
In subsequent years working, and now researching, in development I actually found that the sort of attitudes he held were rare. It was more common to see defeatedness and dependence. And I wanted to know how did we actually arrive at this point? And how might things look different?
To explore those questions together with you I want to conduct a very short human experiment. Take a look at the words on the left-hand side and note how they make you feel.
When you read it you feel the mood in the room go down. Conflicted community, poor water supply, poor management, no money….
This is a condensed version of a needs map, the usual starting point for, say, an NGO when they define people and place for a project.
You can imagine what it is like to be repeatedly defined like this. It is a really hard place to think and dream about the future. I've read it many times and it still impacts me.
OK, now take a look at the image on the other side, a strengths map – vibrant culture, energetic youth, beautiful river, enthusiastic local leadership, regular rainfall, eco tourism potential…
By contrast, this is uplifting, a much easier place to think about, dream and ideally move towards a desired future.
These two maps are of the same place.
My research asks the question - what if we started with the story on the right first? How would change look different?
In particular I am researching the role of strength-based approaches - approaches that tip the balance from a focus on problems to possibility by shining a light on what people care about, what has worked in the past and how citizens can apply that to change.
And my focus within development in particular is water supply. Research shows it is ripe for an alternative approach. It is common to find over 50% of rural water systems failing which has huge impacts on well-being and poverty.
Over the next three years I will conduct action research in the Asia-Pacific to understand how strength-based approaches - starting with this story on the right, might bring creativity, possibility and alternative approaches to improve water supply and reduce poverty.
If you want to join our award-winning postgraduate program, read about how to start your application process at our web site. Applications from domestic students wishing to commence in 2017 close on 7th October. (Applications for January 2017 commencement by international students have closed).