If it weren’t for…

There’s a phrase I’ve heard thrown around while working with school districts.

“If it weren’t for the students and teachers, education would be simple.”

Let’s phrase this is in a different light: “Planning is easy; implementing is hard.”

Or to take it one step farther still: “Humans really complicate things.”

When we plan for something that will impact and involve a large number of people, the level of uncertainty and complexity can seem insurmountable. Rather than try to build a solution based on every single person that we are serving, we have a tendency to get overwhelmed and plan it based on none of them. We plan it as a hypothetical. If we do plan with people in mind, we usually involve one point of view: our own.

Rather than take those approaches, build out a solution with actual people in mind. Put together as diverse a group of stakeholders as possible (they don’t actually need to meet, although that’s great if you can do it). Instead, use them to build a set of personas, and make decisions based on the impact that your decisions will have on those personas rather than working in generalizations.

Planning session 1: “How will the decision to cut funding to the arts at Xavier Middle School impact Alexis, an economically disadvantaged Hispanic 7th grade student that lives 15 miles away with average grades and strong ties to the school through the theater program? What are we saving, and what are the costs? Are there community programs that could supplement the work we are cutting? Can we get them involved at the school to help bridge that gap for Alexis since they don’t exist where she lives?” Then complete that line of questioning for your other four personas.

Planning session 2: “What are the pros and cons of cutting funding to the arts at Xavier Middle School?”

While the problem remains complex with either scenario and tough decisions will still need to be made, Session 1 yields a well-thought out plan of attack that considers the authentic impact of your work on real people. Session 2 produces a list of things that might happen to some people.