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New perspectives and public value

One of the tenets of Jack Mezirow's theory of transformative learning (1) is a change in perspective triggered by a disorienting dilemma--an event or observation that causes the learner to question her prior assumptions. Being introduced to someone else's perspective can be part of that dilemma. Consider, for example, a rancher and a wildlife conservationist working together in a community group to develop a consensus plan for managing a local population of wolves. Challenged to critically reflect on their own assumptions and to understand others' perspectives, their own perspectives may "transform."

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I can imagine that in some cases an Extension program succeeds in encouraging a participant to make a different choice than she otherwise would have by helping her see the perspective of the community-member her actions affect. Letting a homeowner see how her poorly managed septic system turns her neighbors' drinking water toxic could be enough to induce her make a fix. Simply learning the impact of her actions on others--whether beneficial or costly--could be enough for her to make different choices.

In other cases, the perspective change might be a change in the way the participant sees how her actions affect herself, her family, or her business. She may make an alternative choice, not because she is concerned about her impact on the community (her public benefits or costs), but because she wants to improve her own or her family's well-being. As long as these changes also benefit the greater community, she is--however unintentionally--creating public value.

As a final thought on perspective change, I note that Extension educators who participate in a "Building Extension's Public Value" workshop are asked to assume the perspective of a stakeholder--someone whose support for the Extension program is valued, but who is not a program participant. For example, a stakeholder for an out-of-school-time program might be a school board member, who does not have children of his own in the program. BEPV workshop participants are asked to imagine what matters the most to the stakeholder: to put themselves in his shoes. For the school board member, a primary concern might be Kindergarten readiness or student performance on standardized tests. The public value message directed to that stakeholder, then, takes into consideration his perspective and addresses concerns. In so doing, the public value message should be successful in securing his support for the program. It's a case of transformative learning (through perspective change) on the part of the Extension professionals, themselves.

(1) Mezirow, J. (Ed.). (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Comments

Letting a homeowner see how her poorly managed septic system turns her neighbors' drinking water toxic could be enough to induce her make a fix.

Yea that should do it! not to mention the effect on the environment it would have!

Building Extension's Public Value: New perspectives and public value
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