developing a response - planning and making change

We explore the final element of our working model - working with people to develop plans for, and implement change. 

contents: introduction · formal planning · strategies for action · some common issues · conclusion · further reading and references 

model of the working process

Our model of the working process has five elements. Here we focus on the fifth: developing a response. As a way of thinking about working with individuals so that they may develop and make a response to the situations they want to face we will make use of Gerard Egan's (1998) model of the helping process. While it is skills-focused and works in stages, it still provides us with some helpful guidance around helping people to discover how to get what they want. 

Formal planning

As Egan (1998: 301) points out, planning goes on throughout the process of working with others. 'Little plans' often emerge out of conversations - small things that have to be done to realize what we have talked about. Making a call, getting some information, talking to a friend are examples here. In other words helping people to develop a response to a situation may well not entail moving into a full 'casework' mode. It is simply part of everyday conversation.

However, there are more formal moments when we have to sit down with others to map out actions. Such overt times of organizing - and the plans that arise from them - have significant advantages. They help people that need discipline; keep them from becoming overwhelmed by what has to be done; provide a means of developing better strategies; and allow for a deeper appreciation of what is entailed and the obstacles (op. cit.).

For informal educators this sort of interlude entails a shift of gear - and involves close attention to creating the right sort of setting for conversation and activity. It may well involve them in activities such as 'brainstorming', listing different ways of proceeding, and providing frameworks for stimulating thinking (perhaps in the form of different exercises or activities). It also involves educators working to with people to develop new understandings and what these may mean in terms of concrete activities. 

Strategies for action

Here we are concerned with exploring the sort of work that needs to go on if people are to translate priorities into 'problem-solving accomplishments' (Egan 1998: 29). In other words, we work with people to figure out the sorts of activities they need to be involved in and undertake if they are to get what they want.  Egan suggests that there are three aspects that interconnect one with another:

Possible actions. Here we work with people to explore different ways of achieving their goals (for a discussion around setting goals see: helping people to craft a change agenda). It involves asking the question: 'What do I need to do to get what I want?'

Hasty and disorganized action is often self-defeating. "I tried this and I did that and nothing worked" is usually a sign of poor planning rather than the impossibility of the task. Stimulating clients to think of different ways of achieving their goals is usually an excellent investment of time. (Egan 1998: 30)

Choosing best-fit strategies. We work with people to choose the strategy that best suit them - their talents, resources, style, temperament, and timetable. It involves people asking: 'What actions are best for me?'  It may well be that educators have to introduce the idea of strategy, and to involve themselves in activities like creating 'balance sheets' of the pros and cons of different actions. 

Crafting a plan. People need to organize the actions they will have to take to accomplish their plans. 'Plans are simply maps clients use to get where they want to go. A plan can be quite simple. Indeed, overly sophisticated plans are usually self-defeating' (Egan 1998: 30). Here the key questions are: 'What should my campaign for constructive change look like?' 'What do I need to do First? Second?' (Egan 1998: 272). 

Some common issues

Egan (1998: 296-298) helpfully highlights some of the issues that arise when selecting strategies - but they also apply to the other elements:

Wishful thinking. We can easily choose strategies without fully taking into account the risks, costs or obstacles to action. We might feel comfortable with a particular way of working or being and believe (against the evidence if we were to properly engage with it) that this the way forward in this instance.

Playing it safe. Here people 'chooses only safe courses of action, ones that have little risk and a high degree of producing at least limited success'.

Avoiding the worst outcome. Rather than choosing the most effective way forward, people can opt for the means that looks most likely to avoid the worst possible result. This is hardly surprising given the experiences that people may have, and situations they face. 

Striking a balance. In the ideal case, Egan suggests, people 'choose strategies for achieving goals that balance risks against the probability of success'. He continues:

This 'combination' approach is the most difficult to apply, for it involves a great deal of analysis, including clarification of goals, a solid knowledge of personal values, and the ability to rank a variety of strategies according to one's values, plus the ability to predict results from a given course of action. Even more to the point, it demands challenging the shadow side of the problem, chosen goals and the ineffectual courses of action that have been adopted in the past. (ibid.: 297)


Here we have focused on the moments when informal educators have to engage with the more formal planning and implementation of strategies with those they work with. A lot of the time the planning we are involved with is 'little' - involving some fairly limited actions that can be arrived at without moving into more of a casework orientation. 


Egan, K. (1998) The Skilled Helper. A problem-management approach to helping 6e, Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole. 

Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. (1999) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Ticknall: Education Now.

Ridley, M. (1997) The Origins of Virtue, London: Penguin.



© Mark K. Smith 2002. Last update: July 08, 2014