Choosing quality problems together


Communities that choose quality problems together, stay together, or at least build the power to choose either way.

In personal and public life, our problems are too often chosen and framed for us by experts, who know everything in general but nothing in particular about our lives, or the context in which our lives unfold.

The first power we hand away as citizens is the power to choose and define our own problems. When someone else defines the problems you care about, you no longer occupy a space or position of potential and possibility. Instead you are at the butt end of a transaction, where either you or your neighbour is the problem, and your job is to consume the solution in the form of a programme or service that has been designed for you.

The second power we too often hand away as citizens is the power to define our own solutions in response to the problems we’ve chosen. When an external diagnosis is complete, a top-down outside-in prognosis is never far behind.

Both powers slip out of our hands the moment a needs assessment or gap analysis is done to us or our community. The curious thing about every needs analysis I’ve ever encountered is that they all reach a common conclusion: that what the person/people being analysed need are the services of those who are analysing them.

When the remedy starts to define the problem we’re all in serious trouble. People can’t possibly know what external remedies they require until they first know what internal capacities and resources they have.

The third power we hand over is the power to use our collective efficacy to take action in making our solutions visible. Collective agency is what grows and sustains enduring commitment to social change. Social movements are not created and fuelled by heroes, but by groups with shared efficacy.

As local residents seek to find common problems to work on, no doubt they’ll be spoiled for choice, there are more crisises than you can shake a stick at, at the moment. From the global economic challenges to the environmental degradation of our planet, we have a wide array of problems to address.  As citizens in association with one another, we must therefore choose our problems wisely, taking time to tease out which are most likely to build our power. 

After all, it would be a shame to waste a good crisis.


Cormac Russell



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