My brother Bill’s birthday is approaching. He’s three years younger than I am, but probably 10 years wiser. He’s my best friend… and often keeps me balanced when things get crazy. (Think: overscheduling, kids driving, etc.) In addition, he is really good at bringing perspective.
Perspective is defined as “a particular way of regarding something.” In drawing or painting, it’s a way of portraying three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface by suggesting depth or distance.
In our often complex Extension work, perspective is a tool that can yield valuable, tangible results if we employ it correctly. For example, let’s say we’re helping a small business, non-profit, or local government agency do some strategic planning. Our very presence brings an outside perspective—an “etic” as defined in the social science research literature (see Pike, 1967). This perspective contrasts with the “emic” (or internal view) that people, groups, and organizations inherently hold. Morris, et al (1999) described the emic/etic perspectives in terms of cultural phenomena. But the construct holds in strategic planning which is, of course, set within an organization’s culture.
In practice, some consultants will (falsely) jump to the conclusion that the emic perspective is clouded by insiders being too involved to clearly see and articulate a solution (e.g., not being able to see the forest because of the trees in the way). But be cautious of this thinking. It can land short. The consultant might advise the organization to abandon “process X” in favor of “process Z”… wreaking havoc at multiple levels.
Instead, I suggest a combined approach. Use your outside etic perspective to gather data, observe systemic processes, and look for solutions to suggest. But first, ask your client for their internal emic view. Then, you can overlay your perspective and co-construct a better overall solution together.
Morris, et al (1999), Views from Inside and Outside: Integrating Emic and Etic Insights About Culture and Justice Judgment. Academy of Management Review. 1999, Vol. 24. No. 4, 781-796.
Pike, Kenneth Lee (ed.) (1967), Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of Structure of Human Behavior (2nd ed.), The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
Perspective figure source: Creative Commons https://mrsswansonsclass.wikispaces.com/Perspective
Brian Raison is an Assistant Professor & Extension Field Specialist in Community and Organizational Leadership.