a model of the working process

We explore a five-element model of informal education that looks to informed, committed action

contents: informed, committed action · the process of informal education · on working with individuals and groups · conclusion · further reading and references

photo: people and work unitOur model of the working process has five elements:

Assess the situation and our role

Engage in conversation

Question and foster understanding.

Discern what makes for flourishing and commit to change.

Develop a response - plan and make change.

The outcome of the process is, hopefully, informed, committed action by participants. 

Informed, committed action

It is, perhaps, worth just briefly reviewing what we mean by ‘informed, committed action’. It is not just action based on reflection. It is action that embodies certain qualities.

These include a commitment to human well-being and the search for truth, and respect for others. It is the action of people who are free, who are able to act for themselves… It requires that a person ‘makes a wise and prudent practical judgement about how to act in this situation’ (Smith 1994: 167)

In this way informal education is oriented to praxis. It is not a form of education that is only concerned with the deepening of understanding. It looks to the way in which people act in the world: the decisions they make, the way they treat others, the things they do.  The process looks to participants acting in ways that reflect a certain thoughtfulness and are uplifting. Informal educators are fundamentally concerned with enhancing human flourishing.

The process of informal education

At the centre of our work as informal educators is interaction or conversation - and in conversation everything is so unpredictable. Talk can lead anywhere. In this sense it is difficult to be specific about outcome or aim. Content certainly cannot be sequenced in any meaningful way beforehand. Informal education is not curriculum-based. It is driven by conversation and informed by certain values and commitments. This means that informal educators have constantly to be thinking about their actions and the situations they encounter. They have to balance meeting competing demands and learn to allow conversation to develop and to engage in such ways that express the values that underpin their work (Jeffs and Smith 1999: 64).

Rather than using a curriculum we are guided in our actions by an understanding of our role as educators and certain commitments. These commitments should be related to our ideas about what may make for human flourishing. 

On working with individuals and groups

The process we are exploring here can be thought about in relation to both working with individuals and groups. While the interactions in groups classically involve a number of dimensions that are different to those found between two individuals, the central concern with conversation, the commitment to certain values, and the basic orientation remains the same. We will be exploring an educative way of working with individuals, rather than looking to take on another identity, for example, as counsellors.


Each of the five pages linked to this one explores an individual element of the working process. These elements are not stages. We do not do one after another. Rather they tend to be parallel processes. We assess situations as we engage with situations. In our conversations questions are being raised, commitments possibly made, and plans developed.

Further reading and references

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

Smith, M. K. (1994) Local Education. Community, conversation, praxis, Buckingham: Open University Press.

© Mark K. Smith First published November 1999.