Community development projects: The Heroes’ Journey

In this era of the ‘personal brand’ and celebrating uniqueness, I delight in drawing together my own interests, skills and passions in my work.  As a consultant to the Public Health and Community Health sectors, I develop evaluation plans, conduct participatory evaluations, co-develop strategies and frameworks, support and coach project teams, and facilitate organisational and team discussions.

I also happen to love mythology, Jungian depth psychology, and spiritual art and poetry.

When I put these things together, I draw on my deep sense of archetypal patterns to support and illuminate possible ways forward for project teams and organisations.

I am currently witnessing a great example of this. I remember when I first heard that George Lucas had drawn on Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey for the template for Star Wars, and that Joseph Campbell had drawn on the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying to realise and express his model of The Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey is essentially a representation of the archetypal pattern/cycle that any story reflects. But it goes beyond just stories. This same pattern/cycle/sequence is the formula for projects and for stages and cycles of development in our lives.

In my own (very) summarised version, it goes something like this:

Everything is fine – Something disrupts things – There is something to be done – There are resources to help – It gets very challenging and bleak in the middle – There’s a major breakthrough – The central character gets the lesson – He/she emerges more mature and with more personal awareness and power – A new equilibrium emerges

What really interests me is that I am seeing this in the projects I am evaluating.  Because I use an involved, reflective, supportive, style of evaluation, I have the privilege of witnessing the journey with the team and increasingly with other members of the community.

I have reached the conclusion that somewhere ‘in the middle’ of the process/cycle/season, things look bleak, challenging, off-track.  The message I would like to convey is that this may not be cause for alarm and could be a normal part of development. In most cases, this is to be expected and could even be an indicator that things are indeed ‘on track’.  PARTICULARLY in community development projects because one of the key traits of a true community development process is a commitment to be open to whatever the community response tells us about the project. This is certainly a voyage into the unknown and requires genuine flexibility.

I believe that there is no perfection in community development. There’s always a higher standard of genuine community engagement, involvement and empowerment to strive for.  But I would like to offer that a bit of questioning, doubting, worrying in the middle of a project cycle is OK.  Especially when used as a stimulus to ask deeper questions, explore ethical dilemmas, honestly appraise things. The mistake would be to continue to use funding to follow a questionable trajectory without reflecting, consulting, refining and transparency.

Getting lost in the middle doesn’t just happen to individuals, it happens to teams, organisations, nations, global societies.  The key is to dig deep and find our way out of the dark to the other shore.

May the force be with you all.

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