The Cycle of Seven Tasks to Craft the Future

Crops grow through a cycle that is followed the word around: prepare the soil, plant the field, irrigate for germination, nurture its production, protect it from invasion, and then harvest. Social change apparently also follows a cycle. We first found this cyclical approach to be globally applicable in UNICEF, with the triple–A process of assessment, analysis, and action. The three larger steps of triple-A became more specific as the global SEED-SCALE task forces crafted the seven tasks. Twenty years of field trials for the seven –task cycle have shown it to work across cultures and economic circumstances, a universal process to evolve site- specific solutions for building capacity (assessment), choosing (analysis), and getting the desired results (action).

7 Task Diagram

A.   Building Capacity: Three People –Nurturing Tasks

1.  Evolve leadership. Leadership is likely to be more effective if it is not limited to one person. A coordinating committee gathers the community together to plan action using local data, get cooperation from both long- standing and recent faction, and points to changed behaviors. Once communities feel they are reaching commonality, action strengthens. The initial committee is reconstituted as people rotate off and others fill their places. So, the first task is to create a local coordinating committee to supervise the other six tasks.

2.  Determine what has worked already. The community s desired future will seem more achievable if it grows out of past successes. Action draws on that experience and confidence. People are continuing processes they know and, being familiar with these process, have the skills to start improving. A second task is to find local successes.

3.  Learn from other; don’t try to originate action alone. Encourage people to visit other projects and learn from them. When people see an idea and learn what is involved in it, they are more likely to try and experiment with it. Onsite visits are one way to gain knowledge, but with the Internet, cross-community learning is easier, faster, and less expensive. A third task is to learn from the experiences of others.

B.   Choosing Direction: Two Evidence –Based Tasks

Every community has the opportunity to decide its direction (and as doing so at some level already). Growth occurs by moving from what the community has (SEED) toward what is desired (SCALE). This requires evidence, which, as decisions are being made, shapes them to be more effective. AS communities review their direction (self-evaluation), they identify successes and challenges and produce a functional analysis from which jobs are assigned to everyone (effective decision – making). These are evidence- based decisions, specific to that community.

4.  Self–evaluation involves cyclical assessment of households and socio-environmental conditions, using key indicators to grow increasingly complex understandings over time. Such assessments are most accurate with a diversity of inputs from women, students, men’s groups, and experts. Communities can conduct independent assessments, but in trying to act alone, they miss using techniques that experts can assist with, such as existing evidence bases a community may not about, and key indicators to survey. A fourth task is use self– evaluation in understanding your community.

5.  Effective decision-making analyzes gathered evidence to create work plans that are doable. There are three steps in this: causal analysis, functional analysis, and role reallocation. In making work plans, the objective is to involve all partners and to balance needs against the uses of time, finances, government services, and natural resources. The outcome produces tasks that people will perform in the coming year. Plans have a negative value if the work is not done; their proposals must be doable.

The fifth task is to create a community work plan.

This is a public document – a simple chart assigning roles that target the achievement the community aspires to. There should be roles for all: community, exports, and the government. A good work plan can be read at a glance, showing what each participant must do, and when to do it. Some communities may want a one –year work plan, but our growing experience with SEED-SCALE indicates that plans are more helpful when done quarterly or even bimonthly. Consider posting the plan in public place, such as on the side of a building or a sign coming into town. Select a place that prompts discussion and remind those who have not done their jobs that they need to act. This document is the community s future, and an inventory of past work plans outlines the community s history of social change.

C.   Getting the Desired Results: Two Tasks to Do and Re-do

Actions always elicit a choice between paid- for and volunteer work.

Each type of actor has value. Paid –for actions require a source of money, and money is a scarce resource, so this choice may limit the work that can be accomplished. Thus volunteers are helpful to all community plans. The major advantage of volunteers, however, is not free labor, but the fact that these people are acting from self-interest, where the work itself viewed as something to improve their live.

6.  As people agree on a priority, action should start. If a group gives itself a name, this builds pride and justifies their actions. The term we use is action groups, but many other names are possible for groups of people who are acting for the community instead of acting for themselves. Failures will be frequent- getting the action right is not as important as getting the action going, discovering flaws, and then making it better.

Thus a sixth task is to act according to the work plan.

As communities move forward, they must also look sideways and backward. Because communities thrive on anecdotes and not on evidence, rumors and stories will abound. A countervailing forum of formal discussions, based on evidence, is one way of stemming their harm. This 360- degree perspective will guide adjustments in goals, finances, training, and oversight to ensure inclusiveness and sustainability. Discussions stemming from multiple perceptions are recursive –going forward, stepping back, looking around- and create a momentum that grows into actions.

The key is to keep moving. A community going forward with its successes calls in outsiders at the same time as it gathers up insiders. Patience will be needed to keep time –driven outsiders (who report to other outsiders with other priorities) from taking over. One exciting feature of SEED-SCALE is when communities that are investing their resources experience this energy draws in others. The community feels it is part of the bigger world, a very different feeling from being victimized. Those who labored in the early stages, however, will often think that the new-comers are taking advantage of their earlier work. This is an unfortunate dynamic, and its negative consequences should never be underestimated.

7.  Effective midcourse corrections make the next cycle of community activity more affective.

A good midcourse correction may (but need not) adjust what is being done to reach the work plan target, which is the usual expectation. In SEED-SCALE, midcourse corrections always shift actions toward strengthening the four principles. Community commitment grows and keeps going forward when principles are strengthened. Thus the cycle of seven tasks come to its final task, to make midcourse corrections.

The sequence in which the tasks are accomplished does not matter, and this sequence should be adjusted for differing situations (Humanitarian and or Development). What is important is that all seven tasks be done, and doing an excellent job of any one tasks (or all of them) is not a priority. Doing them all again, and making the cycle better the next time, is what counts.


The Seven Tasks: Their Objectives and Process

# Task Objective Tasks / How?


Develop Leadership

Create or re-recreate a coordinating committee and use that to mobilize both the community and its partners. An individual leader can get caught between factions, while a committee can bring groups together and has the potential to distribute responsibilities


Find a Starting Point & Resources

Identify past successes. Whatever a community has done best in the past will be the most likely base for future success. An existing success within a community is the strongest base for future success. On its own, a community may not see its strengths; experts can help identify these.


Obtain a Relevant Education

Visit other communities to learn about their successes. Find where worked for others people in similar circumstances and adapt these practices. Send community members who will actually perform the tasks on these visits (instead of just the powerful ones), so the workers get trained.


Fit situation-ecology, economy, values

Use self-evaluation. Evaluate the situation objectively – and for that, get evidence (gather data, information and problem specific to each community). Such objective data provides a better basis for action, therefore, use evidence as the base, instead of decisions stemming from opinions, power or who has the money.


Determine direction & partners

Employ effective decision-making. Working from data specific to each community, discussion will identify and clarify actions that can solve problems and build community confidence. Discussing these matters collaboratively, the community probes the sources of problems and explores alternative solutions and prioritize what is attainable. Once community members (in public meetings, guided by the coordinating committee) have agreed on an achievable course of action, it’s time to create a project and or an annual work plan that assigns specific jobs and functions to all. Under emergency or humanitarian situation, most of the activities for this step will be performing by outside – in experts and organization.


Coordinate people, resources & time

Act or Start Popular Project. Involve as many community members as possible. Start projects that will be popular. Action grows when it is successful and addresses priorities.


Keep momentum on track

Make midcourse corrections. Monitor the momentum of community action, in order to make necessary midcourse corrections. Identify gaps during the course of work plan implementation. Corrections should strengthen the principles – commend success, grow partnerships, refine evidence, nurture behavior changes – with the larger result that community energy rises. Strengthening principles is the objective, and it is more important than achieving work plan targets, because community fabric grows stronger through strengthened principles. Under humanitarian situation, improvements will only be short-term when the natural resource base is declining.

On-going, multilevel monitoring is critical, with all three partners participating, gathering data, and revising targets to maintain the collective focus on creating more just, sustainable, and community-specific futures. Involvement of objective outsiders can be very important in this phase.