Yesterday I had lunch with Michael Barth, founder and CEO of upublic, an education consultancy with international focus and in our brief conversation something came up, that I have been thinking about for a while and I seem to be observing a very subtle shift of thinking – at least amongst some of my colleagues.
What I am thinking about is the realization that we (in the developed world) could learn from them (the developing world). That can happen on a very personal and direct level: My Ghanaian colleagues for example taught me that closed questions (“Should we do A or B to solve the problem?”) only give you answers you already know (A of B) while open questions (“I have been struggling with this and that lately, what do you think about it?”) can provide you with a completely new definition of the problem which might need answers you never could have thought of (because you didn’t really understand nature of the problem to begin with) and allows your colleague to actively get involved in solving the problem.
Michael told me that from projects aimed at improving the education situation abroad, he draws lessons to apply within the US system. Interesting that I have that conversation just after talking with Soumountha Keophilavong of the Carnegie Trust in the UK about Net-Map. She is collecting tools that are used by development practitioners to improve public participation – her goal is to figure out which of these tools could be useful for improving political processes and civic engagement at home.