Clarify: Making Invisible Goals Clearly Defined

clarify     As a chef, several years ago, I learned that ‘clarify’ is a cooking term for making clear broths and clear butter (ghee).  The key word here is ‘clear’.  To clarify is to make things clear.  To clarify, however, we are not talking about cooking here – we are discussing social justice!

In social justice programs, clarifying is an important part of the consulting process.  As discussed in the last two blog posts of this series, the consultant collaborates with a community in order to help them decide on projects most important to them.  The third part of this process is clarification.  Unfortunately, some projects can fail, simply because the consultant failed to clarify the project goals so that everyone involved understands exactly what will happen, and who has specific responsibilities.  Even more importantly, failure to clarify can mean individuals have different understandings of what will happen.

Different understandings often lead to ‘misunderstandings’.  Misunderstandings can lead to resentments and even harm to the people you are trying to help. A perfect example of this is a group I was involved with a few years back.  This group was involved with an Indigenous group, helping them to build their community.  An elderly community member was asked if their stories could be posted on a “blackboard” (which was part of an online social media site).  This person understood blackboard as a physical item – such as those found in schools.  They were very upset when they discovered their stories had been shared on the internet – and asked for them to be immediately removed.  Of course, by this time it was too late – the blackboard had been viewed and shared across the world, and this community member lost control over their own stories.  All of this could have been avoided if jargon and modern terminology had been fully explained to the individual.  Assumptions were made which eventually caused harm to a person being ‘helped’.

In short, the clarification process takes care of many of these misunderstandings.  The ‘rules’ are simple.  When consulting with marginalized communities, don’t use jargon.  Be sure to adequately define what you are saying. Always communicate with the people you are working with to make sure they fully understand what you are saying.  Always end each planning session by asking the community to state what they understand you are doing.  Always restate what YOU understand the project and goals to be!

Most importantly, make sure everyone involved understands: (1) what they are doing (their role); (2) what their individual responsibilities are: and, (3) how they benefit!  Clarification involves communicating with the group, summarizing goals, establishing roles, and explaining the time frames, benefits, and boundaries of the final project.

Clarifying the goals is the responsibility of all involved parties.  It is the duty, however, of the consultant to make sure clarifying the goals occurs. The consultant has three goals.  First, they make sure they are understood.  This is accomplished by educating themselves about specific languages, cultures, historical backgrounds, and traditions of the group they are working with.  Second, they make sure that any decisions or project outcomes are clearly representative of everyone in the community.  All too often, the ‘loudest’ or most outspoken individuals in a group drive the outcomes, and they may not be the individuals who have the greatest stake in the plan.  It is up to the consultant to clarify that all needs are represented.  Finally, before any plans are implemented, the consultant needs to do a final ‘check in’ with the group.  This is the time for making sure everyone completely understands – and agrees with – the project goals.

So far in this series, I have discussed three of the four C’s of social justice: consult, collaborate, and clarify.  Next week, I will unwrap the final ‘C’ – commit.  As we will see, commitment is one of the most critical to successful social change.  Until then, this is Spatial Integrity – making the invisible, visible!


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