Think pink! – Learning from the Antipoles

May 22, 2012 | LND | Methods & Tools |


Rating: 4.6 out of 5

Corinne-SprecherBlack and white, water and fire, ying and yang, Outcome Mapping and Logical Framework – is it really like this? Corinne Sprecher from the International Team at AGRIDEA discusses in her blog post the attitude of individuals towards two opposing concepts. With the example of Outcome Mapping and Logical Framework Approach she shows, how the process of dealing with the polarities could look like. And how the eagerness to see the positive aspects of two poles could enhance (an unexpected) learning, of searching for complementarities, combined with the great potential for creating new ideas and new solutions.

By Corinne Sprecher, Agridea

Outcome Mapping Lab 2012 – “learning to adapt”

Just over 10 years ago IDRC published the Outcome Mapping (OM) Manual and OM started to contribute to planning, monitoring and evaluating social change interventions in international development. Thinking and practice have evolved since, as application has expanded and experiences have been made. In February the Outcome Mapping Learning Community hosted a laboratory for OM in Beirut under the slogan “Learning to adapt”.

With “only”  close to two years of experience in OM I participated in the OM Lab pretty much as a newcomer to the “scene” and as such I have not paid much attention to the title “learning to adapt” in the beginning. Only as the lab went on, the slogan started to engage my interest and my reflections: What does this motto tell us about the development and discourse in the OM community? What lies behind it?

From Differentiation to Opening up

In my personal experience I remember OM being presented to me in opposition to the Logical Framework Approach (LFA). I remember experts often defining and explaining OM ex negativum, its strengths were underlined by the weaknesses of LFA. This phenomena can be put in a historical context where OM has come up as a solution to weaknesses of known, conventional PCM methods, such as LFA. Experiences have been made with LFA and frustration has come up that made at least some look for alternatives.  However, as a young professional my conceptual focus has always been on OM, not LFA. Thus, I much more focused on: What is OM, rather than what it is not. What are the strong points of OM in general, and not in differentiation to LFA.  And this way I developed my own rationale for OM.
I was very curious to meet the founders of OM and other development professionals at the OM Lab in Beirut, and particularly to hear what is discussed 10 years into practice. What experiences are others making? What rationales for OM have others developed? ? And what astonished me: Actually, I could hear very little critique about LFA. In contrary, I heard more people asking questions about how to integrate OM and LFA. Or more broadly – as the title of the event also puts it – how can OM be adapted?
It felt to me like the OM community is opening up. In the early days of OM for developing and strengthening the new approach, it must have been important to differentiate. Partly out of frustration with one thing, a new thing developed. For building a new community, boarders were drawn and one first turned away from the established, the known, the “old”. Now, after 10 years of building up, experimenting and applying OM, it seems the time has come to face the “outside” again and look at other approaches – including LFA, which is still in many development agencies the mainstream.

Between the poles of two opposing ideas

Reflecting about this perception, a picture came to my mind – a picture known from polarity management. Two opposing ideas are facing each other. After concentrating for a while on one of the ideas, the negative aspects of it become more apparent, and this then makes the opposing pole more attractive again. An oscillating movement begins.

Adapted from:

Let’s take the example of breathing. Inhale deeply. Doesn’t this feel wonderful? But for how long? At some stage, our body has too much carbon dioxide. We exhale, get rid of it. This feels much better, until we have too little oxygen. And so on. The question hence is not: What is more important or more enjoyable in breathing: inhaling or exhaling? This would be absurd. Of course, we need both. Breathing is the oscillation between two polarities, inhaling and exhaling.
Do OM and LFA represent polarities of the same? Probably not the methods as such, but the philosophy behind and some characteristics of the two approaches can be seen as polarities. Some that come to my mind:
– flexibility versus order
– focused on behaviour versus focused on products
– problem driven versus vision driven
– SMART versus Einstein‘s „ all is relative“
– logical results chains versus evolving development processes with unexpected results
– embracing complexity versus reducing complexity

Using the energy between the two poles

Considering these examples, I ask myself: Are these problems to solve or ongoing polarities we must manage well? Both poles have positive characteristics, only a too extreme focus on one of them can turn it into a negative trait. Flexibility can become chaotic, order can turn into stiffness. The solution will not be to decide either on flexibility or order. The picture illustrating such a “either – or” duality thinking is a pendulum, which can only Waage-Polarityswing from one extreme to the other, shining light on the negatives (or the positives) of one polarity and then back on the negatives (or positives) of the other. The incompatibility of the two is underlined. In contrary, polarity management is moving from the negative characteristics of one pole to the positive characteristics of the other. An intensive process of analysis, learning and understanding is initiated and this can generate a creative and energetic dynamic for developing new ideas and solutions. Development and innovation is happening in between the well-balanced positive poles.
The question will hence not be LFA or OM, but how to best balance the strong points of both without drifting into the negative extreme of one pole and what new solutions will come out of this dynamic. Learning to adapt. Or better, learning to actively engage with opposing ideas and innovate?


Comments to“Think pink! – Learning from the Antipoles”

  1. Manuel Flury says:

    Dear Corinne,
    this reflection of yours resembles a lot to what I sometimes hear from a Yoga teacher I sporadically visit and I join your attitude of seeking the balance. The issue is: the balance between what?
    I am often highly critical towards LFA and highly positive towards outcome orientation. This might have something to do with what kind of guidance I chose for my own, personal action. There is, however, a second reason: Our business is in many cases oriented towards supporting societal change, change in attitudes and habits, changes in practices and, thus, intervening in highly complex relationships. Such interventions may not be guided by a precise result than can be formulated clearly in advance, often we are not in position to link effects with their causes. We need to go ahead on the basis on critically reflected assumptions and hypotheses. In such cases, the outcome orientation fits more than the logical framework approach. The LFA has been as is still a powerful instrument to plan things that can be planned such as infrastructure. I agree that LFAs can be adapted to the nature of our projects and interventions in societal systems but it is my observation that the framework “disciplines” us to think in terms of chains of causes and effects, in a rather linear way.
    What I take from your post is: Let us be specific on the situations we find us in and the nature of the result is we would like to achieve with our intervention and then choose the appropriate framework.
    Thanks again and best regards

  2. Dear Corinne, dear Manuel

    You beautifully describe the process of moving between the antipodes. That pattern occurs frequently in solving strategic questions, in dialogues and, I would say, offers a concise description of any conflict. To find ways to deal with antipodes is therefore essential to my work, in order to structure and question constructively, to open up the mind, to overcome barriers and blockage during a process. I want to share my my practical approach through questioning the logic, which is leading us into a dilemma. And find myself coming back to very old concepts of human thinking.

    Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics influenced our thinking through centuries in Europe by his concept to find the right balance between to extremes. In the essence his logic leads us to think either true or false, either there or not there. There is no third possibility.

    And not surprisingly Manuel thinks of his yoga teacher, because the teacher probably builds on the form of argumentation, which is called the tetralemma or Catuṣkoṭi stems from ancient Indian jurisdiction, which was further developed around the 2nd century (A.C) by Nāgārjuna, the founder of the mādhyamaka Buddhism.

    The basic form of the tetralemma is described by four positions: the first is « one », as e.g, LFA, the second is « the other », e.g. « outcome orientation », being opposed to each other and experienced as a dilemma of either this – or that. Leaving behind the paradigm that only one can be true, a path is leading out of the dilemma to the third position « both »: including for example qualities of position one as well as qualities of position two; the link beween « one » and « the other », which might have been overlooked; the oscillation between both, LFA and outcome orientation, which might be helpful in a specific context, or the synthesis of both giving rise to a new gestalt; or thinking along the lines of Martin Buber, to integrate the strength of the pole, which is not chosen, into the chosen one. Exploring the third position seems to describe Corinne’s experience in Beirut.

    Our imagination can be challenged further by the fourth position « neither nor », questioning in which context the question arises in the first place, in what circumstances is that particular dilemma might be helpful.

    You can think of the tetralemma as a square where two opposite corners are held by positions one and two, and the two other corners allocated to position three and four, being thereby opposite as well. You would like to proceed further? Then go into the negated tetralemma where the fifth position « nothing of that » is introduced and extended by not assigning a position in that square, to « … and not even that ». It always gives me the impression that the logic is escaping my thinking process at that point – which exactly is the purpose of this process structure. The fifth position helps to leave behind a given context, to change the patterns and open up for unexpected creativity.

    So taking this logic structure as a background for a perceived dilemma situation provides a whole set of interesting questions. I have mentioned just a few of them above. And I literally walk the talk, moving from one position to the other. The beauty of it is that there is no « best position », but steps in process of development. You can walk on your own; you can walk with a group. The tetralemma concept is best explained and linked to application in practice by Mathias Varga von Kibéd and Insa Sparrer.

    So I invite you to join me in walking the tetralemmas and enjoy!

    All the best

  3. Corinne Sprecher says:

    Dear Ursula, dear Manuel,

    Thanks for this addtional input Ursula, for opening up further perspectives and positions than just the two antipodes and for inviting us to walk the tetralemmas. It sounds indeed tempting to get deeper into that concept!

    Below my reaction to Manuel’s comment, I posted two weeks ago, but which somehow got lost.

    All the best, Corinne

    Dear Manuel,
    Thanks for your comment! I like your conclusion and indeed, I share the affinity to the OM approach! It also fits much more the way I think and act – as you’ve described it nicely. But despite – or better due – to my own affinity for this “one pole”, it might be “the other pole”, be it proponents of LFA or any other opposing concepts that give me the most valuable inputs for learning. That’s what I wanted to underline, just more of the same will usually not bring us further.
    You ask the question: The balance between what? Which triggers my question: Is it really the balance we want to find? Balance sounds very static to me. Why not go for a continuous oscillation that moves us forward or upward?
    This got a bit philosophical now. To get back to practice, I believe there is a potential in combining a bit or even a bit more of OM with LFA. I just got back from a mission in Benin where we tried exactly to bridge this gap. Some conclusions from this exercise were: It very much depends on the flexibility of the donor, how far the integration is possible. It also depends on the willingness to invest in building up a learning oriented M&E system; and to give some priority to this besides the daily business. And last but not least, it depends on the courage of the people involved to adapt whatever method to their needs, which leads us back to your conclusion. I had to learn that it is not self-evident that people actually dare to adapt!
    Thanks again and best regards,


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