There’s only one way from the bottom

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

April 27, 2010


Categories: The Balancing Act

A community of interest gathers at Stonehenge,...
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What does it mean to plan from the bottom up and why is it relevant? Some folks hear the term so often, they can only see its trite attempt at anything meaningful. But, what happens when it happens in a meaningful manner? What does it look like?

The type of planning people are most accustomed to, it seems, is this expert planning, or top down planning. Think about it. This is the way we are raised. Our parents are constantly, as parents we constantly, tell us or our kids what do do. We seek the advice of parental figures to help guide us in their infinite wisdom. What should we do to tackle this problem? How should we live?

As we grow older, we become the parents and increasingly, we have to become our own experts. I wonder if there is a disconnect between how we are raised and how we must act as adults that makes the acceptance of bottom up planning more difficult. It’s like there’s a continuous power struggle – we want to be the parents who always told us what to do. We are adults, so we can make up our own minds. We don’t need an expert telling us what to do because we are the experts who know what to do.

That’s why bottom up planning should be approached first in any civilized planning discussion – from how to form this small group to how to shape this city (state, country). The larger the group, the more isolated the individual becomes. And, in these instances, mixing bottom up and top down becomes relevant because it is imperative to have the big-picture talking to the smaller pictures to show how ideas must work together.

Bottom up planning is strength. It is strength in numbers. It is strength in confidence of group deliberation. Bottom up planning, when done right, has ownership that empowers.

Bottom up planning is not one person stating this is what the group wants, however, without proper group deliberation. If an issue is contentious, it will take longer than a 2 hour planning session to mitigate the differences and achieve a solid group stance. Bottom up planing is not one person making the rules because s/he was elected and appointed the rest.

Bottom up planning is cohesive and deliberate, and that’s hard. It’s important when forming a group to not lose heart. It’s important to stick it through, with all the difficult personalities you never thought you would encounter. Sure, bottom up planning works with the right people, but if we don’t strictly define community, we must allow diversity. It’s the diversity that makes bottom up planning successful, no matter how hard it is to stomach the culture shock or personality shock.

The trickiest bit, something I have no idea how to broach, is getting bottom up planning ingrained in systems that are in place. How do you incorporate the strong outcome of bottom up planning in your hierarchical church, for example. How do you set up the steps for bottom up planning in the non-profit where you dedicate your time? How do you coach other burgeoning groups to step back and reevaluate their “bottom up” process when its not working? I believe these questions are important to answer because of the strength achieved through good bottom up planning. Imagine a world where we could deliberate and understand processes together? What would that look like? I imagine a lot greener and a lot more peaceful.

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