Traveling in Europe last month, introducing my baby to the family meant: I was traveling in the real world, meeting bakers, nurses, administrators and car mechanics. The people who make the world go round and have never heard the word facilitator or thought about things being participatory. If you ask them what their job is, they name a profession and everyone has a more or less clear idea: The baker bakes bread, the nurse takes care of the sick…
My professional community on the other hand consists of people who do not bake bread or repair cars but… What? “Confuse people for money?” “Kick ass with a smile?” Sometimes, when I don’t want to explain, I say I’m a social scientist. They still don’t know what it is I’m doing but it intimidates or bores them enough, that they won’t ask any more questions.
If I really want them to understand what I’m doing, I share concrete stories about projects that I have done: I help a research institute understand how their research can have a greater impact on Nigerian politics. I hope to work on a project that tries to use personal networks to reduce obesity among Latinos. In a number of African countries we looked at the communication around avian flu outbreaks, how does the information about suspicious chicken deaths reach the authorities and how do they react?
These are things that people understand. And after thinking about these concrete cases they wonder what they have in common, why one person would be qualified to work in such different fields. Well, it’s all about how people work together (or against each other) – while there are chicken experts and nutrition experts out there, I’m in the team as the people expert.
That reminded me of a TED talk that I would love to listen to again, but can’t find… Do you recall which one it was that explored that our shared profession was “working on change”?