The CAN Model: Overview
CAN has developed many different tools, strategies, initiatives and templates to arrive at outcomes that deliver positive sustainable change in the life experience of those who face structural injustice and inequality. Over time, these various tools have merged and diverged, coalesced and grown, developed and changed to the extent that we now have a process that is recognisably and uniquely the CAN Model, a structured and outcomes-driven template for intervention.
The CAN Model involves two foundation principles, four action stages, and one all-encompassing practice of acting, reflecting and learning.
Two foundation principles
The two foundation principles to the CAN model guide our interventions and keep us focused:
- Change is not neutral and those who lead change initiatives towards social justice must be deeply connected to the value base of their actions. This requires an ongoing commitment to ensure there is a synergy between what we say and what we do. It means subjecting values to regular scrutiny, reconnecting with and nurturing the sources of value, and understanding this as a key part of leading and driving change.
- Leadership is key to change and drawing out intrinsic leadership qualities from individuals and communities is an essential step in creating positive and sustainable change. Leadership is a matter of shared responsibility for common actions, one where different individuals and communities can undertake leadership roles that fit well with their own personal qualities and their wider community objectives.
Four Action Stages of change
The CAN Model is a staged model, and our work usually progresses through four action stages:
- Breaking the silence: a range of techniques for eliciting the lived experience of those who have been affected by social injustice or inequality.
- Inside out analysis: ways of questioning the systems, structures and processes that cause and perpetuate inequality, from the lived perspective of those affected by it.
- Imagining a better future: strategies for imagining a better future founded on strong community leadership and capacity building, and focused on creating new structures to reflect change in action.
- Moving together: a range of strategies for engaging in positive collective action for change and for developing sustainable cross-issue partnerships.
Acting, reflecting, learning
The CAN Model involves a cycle that moves from action to reflection, from reflection to learning, and then back to action. In other words, we make the time and space for reflection on our action, we learn from that reflection, and our learning informs and develops our future action. We use a process of constant inquiry to welcome questions, uncertainty, paradoxes and dilemmas in a way that frees us from feeling that we always have to have the right answer.
We challenge ourselves to always keep the lived experience of individuals and communities at the heart of any change initiative.
The process of Dialogue across systems facilitates different stakeholders to sit, think and feel together in ways that honour different perspectives and foster shared meaning. This often results in radical new thinking and practices. One example of this is in Dublin 8 where the Garda, Dublin City Council and local communities revisited previous assumptions about dealing with anti-social behaviour, and have now embarked on a completely new approach.
The CAN Model challenges organisations to structure themselves and conduct their business in ways that reflect the kind of future they aspire to. Within CAN, we base our own business practices on ways that seek to maximise the participation and leadership functions of all team members. Reflective learning informs our practice and is central to how we evaluate our work. We challenge ourselves constantly to find new and innovative ways of tackling inequalities and promoting systemic change, and this ensures that we retain a sharp focus on our practice development. Using reflective learning to reimagine the organisation is not always easy, however, particularly for organisations that have inherited more hierarchical structures.
Positive outcomes from The CAN Model
The CAN Model works, but we usually locate our successes more in the talents and commitments of the people we work with. We facilitate, we encourage, we draw out latent talents and skills; but ultimately the individuals and communities we work with build their own achievements. We are, however, proud of the contribution we make, and we know from many sources that our work has made a difference. We know this from:
- What people who live with inequality tell us.
- Independent evaluations of work where the CAN Model has been applied.
- Ongoing reflection and evaluation within every piece of work at every stage of action.
- The continuing demand for our services from within communities faced with issues of social injustice and inequality.
Positive outcomes from the CAN Model include empowered communities who have shown themselves capable of taking complex collective action on issues of inequality. This has included grassroots mobilisation and communities organising around specific issues of inequality. In some cases this has led to new community organisations being formed, as well as more effective partnerships and alliances between organisations, often across different locations and campaign issues.
The CAN Model brings with it new ways of engaging with communities, and many of the interventions we have been involved with have left lasting legacies among communities who are more strongly aware of their human and civil rights, who are better organised to tackle issues of injustice on the ground, and who are enthusiastic about sharing their experience with less favoured communities.
At a practical level, CAN’s involvement has helped communities develop focused action plans, organise campaigns around particular issues of injustice, and raise awareness of the real personal, social and economic costs of social injustice and inequality.
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