Listening: The powerful skill planners require

Planners need to listen! From therenegadeblog.com

The TED Radio hour just did a great episode called the Haves and the Have-Nots.  This podcast discusses many of the issues that we have been grappling with on this blog.

The moral of the story: We need to listen to communities that we work with.  

There are lots of examples that are given in the show (and you should listen to it!), but one stands out in my mind.  Ernesto Sirolli tells the story of a gardening project the Italian government sponsored in Zambia.  They were responding to a lack of food within the community.  So, they brought seeds from Italy to this fertile region…and the plants grew well, but the community was not engaged.  The Italians presumed that the Zambians were ignorant. When it came time to harvest the produce, a herd of hippos came and ate all of the produce.  The Zambians then said, “that is the reason why we don’t grow food here.”  Sirolli says, “that is the reason we need to listen.”

As planners, we need to listen and respect local knowledge.   That is a difficult task, and it is something that has its challenges.  Jacqueline Novogratz tells a story (I don’t want to spoil it for you!).  But, I will share her conclusion that : “Listening is not about patience” where if you have listened for long enough and not gotten an answer you can do what you want to do.  Rather she says:

 “When you’ve lived on charity and dependent your whole life long, it’s really hard to say what you mean. And, mostly because people never really ask you, and when they do, you don’t really think they want to know the truth. And so then I learned that listening is not only about waiting, but it’s also learning how better to ask questions.” From TED talk.

That is a huge challenge, and a humbling one.  We are trying to figure out what that means for use as planners.  Our tool kit seeks to explore methodologies and tools that we can use to be better at listening, respecting, and understanding communities.  Even with those tools, the practitioner must have a heart of wanting to listen. 

Posted by Juliana

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2 thoughts on “Listening: The powerful skill planners require

  1. Great post! I think the challenge with listening is also the fact that we sometimes listen for what we want to hear OR we already have arrived to a conclusion in our mind and are listening for something that validates that conclusion. In other words, we don’t listen to be wrong. That’s a problem. Listening is just a part of the challenge. The other part is acknowledging the possibilities and probabilities of us being wrong………and being okay with it 🙂

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