How We Work: The CAN Model – The Four Action Stages
1. Breaking the silence
In the CAN Model, the starting point is always with the lived experience of each person who has lived with inequality and/or a denial of rights. Encouraging people to tell their stories breaks the silence of exclusion as well as validating their ways of knowing about the issues they have lived with. We encourage people to talk out loud about this experience, often for the first time even to themselves. Breaking the silence is the beginning of breaking down the individualised, internalised experience of inequality that is often expressed as feelings of personal inadequacy and failure by the person involved and by others.
The CAN Model enables us to create multiple opportunities for people to name their experience as they have lived it. This happens through a variety of experiential learning and issue-specific events where the lived experience can emerge in a safe environment. Breaking the silence is an essential phase of every action we take, regardless of whether it is with groups that are geographically based, issue based, partnership structures or whatever. It fits with community-led audits, human rights campaigns, organisational start up, capacity building, leadership development to name but a few. We use many methodologies and are constantly adding to the menu of what works.
Breaking the silence in a group context where attention is paid to safety and trust creates a shared understanding of how inequalities are experienced. Patterns and similarities are highlighted, and this moves the experience from the individual to the collective as well as creating a sense of solidarity and identity within the group. It also provides an experience of a more equal way of being in the world, as the way of the group is participative, where every person’s contribution is valued.
Breaking the silence unlocks the potential of individuals and communities to become powerful actors in their own lives. It is the beginning of empowerment and of grass roots development. Individuals and communities regain a sense of pride and worth when their story is truly heard. It is a hugely transformative experience as feelings of inadequacy and failure are discarded in favour of anger, frustration and inquiry into the reasons why so many people can have the same experience of inequality. The personal experience can now be named and organised around defined issues.
2. Inside-out social analysis
By subjecting shared experience to scrutiny through a process of social analysis, the CAN Model enables groups to see the interconnection between the personal, social, cultural, political and economic dimensions of an issue. In this way the root causes of inequalities can be identified; and, at the same time, the group has a huge experience of empowerment as the structural causes of their lived experience are revealed.
This process of questioning the systems, structures and processes that cause and perpetuate inequality is ‘inside-out’ because it starts with the lived perspective of those affected by inequality. It represents a key turning point in capacity building, and learning through inquiry adds another layer of empowerment, reinforcing existing wisdom and knowledge while at the same time giving a strong message of the potential within each person and community to grow and develop.
The CAN Model uses tools of ‘inside-out’ social analysis as the basis for a systemic change that has people at its heart. We see it as the point where powerful civic engagement begins, and it represents the shift from needs to rights as people begin to understand the power dynamic that governs their lives. Power mapping is a central feature of social analysis as is the bedding down of the right to participate in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of decisions that impact on our lives. Capacity building that reflects more equal structures within the community provides an alternative view about how a more effective democracy might be constructed.
3. Imagining a better future
Envisioning an alternative reality is often challenging to people and communities who have lived for generations with inequality and social injustice. It is a little easier, however, when people have followed earlier stages in the CAN Model, by ‘breaking the silence’ and conducting ‘inside-out social analysis’ of their situation or issue.
Imagining a better future can often raise strong feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, and the CAN Model gives people the chance to work constructively to dare to imagine a positive alternative reality. The earlier stages in the CAN Model can help create a sense of urgency that brings out the importance of envisioning alternatives. Having different frameworks for understanding change, how it happens, and the stages required to make it stick are essential elements of imagining a better future. This is also a time when those initiating change have to hold a strong vision themselves, and be capable of leading with a sense that change is possible.
This is a time to introduce new allies – those who also carry a concern for a more equal society and who are in a stronger position to be supportive of the change required. This can be a delicate time, as the coming together of those who live daily with inequality and those who wish to be supportive is often the coming together of people with very different life experiences and ways of working. In the CAN Model, we recognise that groups of people from different backgrounds will, in their interaction, experience the tensions that are inherent in society. This has to be acknowledged and worked with to achieve a genuine shared understanding without any hint of patronising or do-goodism. It is about creating structures and ways of doing things that in themselves reflect the change in action.
When people have a strong vision and can separate out different images of what a better future would look like, they are better equipped to explain the importance of the change in ways that enlist wider support. Communities such as that in Fatima in Dublin have shown that this is possible – where a community dared to dream of a radically different housing complex and became active participants in making this dream a reality.
4. Moving together
Collective action, taken through alliances but driven by those who experience inequality, is central to the CAN Model. It requires a range of skills in group dynamics, leadership, lobbying and advocacy, human rights and dealing with the media. Collective action can take many forms but must always be framed to meet the needs of the community who originate it.
Within the CAN Model, collective action can include many different kinds of events including, for example, tailor-made or accredited training, community-led service audits, community consultations, development of strategic plans, setting up of new organisations, and arranging public events.
In the CAN Model, we anticipate that this stage of engagement is a time when outside forces may seriously resist the challenge to exiting mindsets. There may be attempts to:
- Nullify the action, by reducing the capacity of the community to the point where it becomes ineffective.
- Co-opt the community group by incorporating the work so deeply into established systems that it is reduced to being about maintaining basic social cohesion; and
- Ostracise the group by retrenching so much that any alternative structures or initiatives created become irrelevant to mainstream change.
In our experience, when the groundwork outlined above has been given sufficient attention, communities can and do resist the resistance. People who live with inequality learn that they can be very resilient, that they can be heard, and that they do have power and will not go away. They also learn the value of linking different communities and building effective partnerships for action across and within issues.
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