Reflections on working with social movements

Over the course of last year and into this year Athari has been involved in evaluation and facilitation of social change movements – feminism/women’s right and environmental justice. 

These experiences have been an incredible learning opportunity for me personally and I’m writing to share some of my reflections. These are by no means exhaustive and I hope to continue to reflect and be open to challenging my own thoughts over time – as that is the best way I know how to learn. 

Social movements such as feminism and environmental justice are underpinned and guided by values of equality. These values mustbe shared and embraced by the evaluators and facilitators supporting the movements.On the surface, this seems obvious and perhaps even simple. In reality – I found myself surprised by how complex it can be. This complexity arises from many different places.. For example :- 

We (the evaluators and facilitators) are people – with histories, cultures, norms, values and biases. One of the first lessons for me was the importance of acknowledging and understanding my own values and biases as well as those of team members I was working with and the partners contracting the exercises. In hindsight – were I able to wind back time, I would have asked that we reflect internally as individual team members at the onset – prior even to developing methodologies and tools. I would have also asked that this reflection took place each time there was a difference in opinion around methodology/approach or even findings to enable us to identify and adjust for evaluator bias as necessary

It is easy to assume that all individuals working within a particular social movement share similar values, principles, fears and aspirations. From my experiences so far – this assumption is unlikely to hold true. Individuals also have unique histories, cultures, and norms – which influence values, principles, fears and aspirations. As a facilitator, I found this to be particularly important to bear in mind as it allowed me to be aware of the importance of creating safe spaces to allow individuals to share differences in a manner that was respectful and non-judgmental. As an evaluator, it was crucial in ensuring that findings factored in contextual differences – particularly across different regions. Feminism in one place, for example, does not necessarily mean exactly the same thing in another place. Similarly, the articulation and expression of feminism in one place may be completely different in another. 

Interestingly, I also found that often value-driven groups and individuals are highly judgmental – with very strong views of how the world should/should not be. This strength in conviction is critical to driving the change process in what is increasingly challenging and risky environments. However, this often also reduces the spaces for learning and sharing. Individuals with extrovert personalities can drown out individuals that are more introvert in nature. Introverts retreat and drown out the extrovert with their silence. As both a facilitator and an evaluator I learned it was important to try and identify understand these personalities and dynamics – and adjust accordingly. 

All in all – I’m humbled by my experiences. I’ve met some incredible women’s groups and individuals whose bravery fills me with much gratitude and hope.