The following is an edited transcript of the above video.
Let’s dive straight into the theory of change mental model—I think you’re going to like it. I would suggest that you draw this right now on a piece of paper so that you can get the feel of what it’s like to do this. This figure just has a head and not all its limbs. The important thing about this is to draw the head that pops up just a bit above the line of the circle, and there is a reason for that. You’re going to describe our theory of change as you go through this. Remember that this follows directly on the work that we did in Module 1, which was to create a mental model of your life.
That was the last thing that happened in Module 1, so that’s fresh in the memory of everyone who is an investigator. These three circles represent what it’s like to live in a world where it’s unstable, where things go wrong all the time, where the resources are low and you’re forced to solve problems again and again and again. You can see these arrows come around and point to each other. The idea here is that the one on the left may be cars that break down. The one in the center might be childcare, and the one on the right might be food or housing. You can take these stories and put them straight in here so they can see the continuance of their information feeding this mental model. These things keep whipping around because you see this problem again and again.
The next step is to put the word concrete on here. In Module 1, when we put the terms around the outside of the mental model of poverty, one of the words that we put up there is concrete. Poverty, as you’re living it and as you were defining it in your mental model you did about your life, can be called the concrete world. In this world, you are the one who has to get under the car and get it fixed. You are the one who has to find someone to help you fix it. You are the one who has to take care of the furnace. You don’t have somebody who looks after your property and who does those things for you. From there, you put muscles on this person because you’re communicating the way that you solve problems.
When we were talking about poverty in Module 1, we asked, “How do you solve problems?” Well, I use relationships to do that, and I’m solving problems all the time. This means that we recognize you as a problem solver. You are not the problem, which is the way our society often looks at families and people in poverty. You are a problem solver. Then you thicken the line and you’re showing this big line, the life that you’re living. This circle represents that life. And you’re saying, “This is going on month after month, year after year, living in this space.” It does make you a hero, but it’s not going anywhere because you’re so caught up in solving the same problems over and over. This is the same thing you were saying when you developed the old mental model.
This is that concrete world that spins around year after year and essentially shortens the lives of people because of the health indicators that go with it. The way out is to get to the abstract to while you’re living in chaos, to be able to get to the place where you can think about it. We’re adding value to this, and after you draw it, you define it. We use the very same terms that we did in the old mental model, which is to say that you have to be able to detach yourself, share your mental model with others, and come to group and talk about it. Have a friend you can talk to. You can become more objective that way. It helps you fall into the hijacked feelings that you’ve been living in all the time. It gives you that safe space that we create in Getting Ahead.
Getting Ahead is a place where all the rest of this can happen. You can become detached because it’s safe. We want to really emphasize the idea of a safe building, safe room group rules, all making it safe. It allows you to go to the abstract where you’re detached and objective and separated from your problem. Now you can think and analyze. What happens in Getting Ahead is that’s what you do. You spend your time doing it. In Getting Ahead, you run across new information and education, and you create plans for support. It’s all part of the abstract world that you’re in. You’re going to learn how to plan backwards later in Getting Ahead.
Pretend that you have science project. In the project, you know that x represents a number of days. Let’s say the project is due on a certain day, so what day is that your kids want to go buy the poster board? The night before! You know that to get the science project done, you have to work your way backwards. You begin the project way two weeks earlier, and then you have these steps that bring you over to the day when it’s finally done. That’s planning backwards. We plan backwards and we make procedural steps. Now this is organized. You’ve got a plan, and you take your procedural steps and turn it into a 3” x 5” card. You carry the card in your pocket so you know what you’re doing every day to move toward this bigger plan of yours.
That’s your future story. In the paper version of this, the instructions are written out for you in detail. But just because you’re getting ahead or you’ve been out for a year doesn’t mean everything’s going to run smoothly, and things are going to come to throw you back into problem solving immediately, back to the concrete world. Our idea is to get back to being in the abstract as quickly as possible so you aren’t as vulnerable as you are when you’re solving immediate concrete problems all the time and grabbing easy solutions. That includes things like identifying that you’re in a crisis and then taking time to breathe so you get out of the rush of your thinking, get in touch with the rest of your body, and then start working your way through.
If it’s a safety issue, ask yourself what you need to do or who you need to talk to. Then, get yourself back into a place that’s safe where you can analyze work your solution again. That’s the mental model. That’s the new theory of change. You should know that all the mental models that you make during Getting Ahead can always be improved. When you first make your mental model of poverty and the group has it hanging on the wall, it doesn’t mean you can’t go back to it and add stuff to it, right? And the same is true for the mental model of middle class, the mental model of wealth, and so on.