Another dot in the blogosphere?

Do the least harm (Part 1)

Posted on: October 15, 2014

I remember little by way of content from my time as a graduate student. But one of the things that I will take to my grave (and pass along while I walk this earth) is a phrase from a mentor: Do the least harm.

What was the context for this phrase? It was a qualitative methods course I took a decade ago and we were discussing the value and methods of storytelling in research.

My mentor shared his experience as a consultant and told us stories about telling stories. What I learnt from him was that numbers might not move people, but good stories could.

He also told us how consultants or outsiders can do unintended harm even if they had their heads and hearts in the right place.

How can this be? As an educator/consultant/professor, we will do some harm when we suggest or implement ideas that disrupt for good or for bad.

Even the good will cause some harm. For example, some people may lose their jobs if technology implementation makes them replaceable. Or some teachers will have to change their ways or otherwise be labelled irrelevant.

The bad ideas, borne of greed or ill-conceived plans, will do even worse. Like a hit-and-run, we will not even be there to see those plans through as we drive off into the sunset.

His story stuck with me and defined what I did as a faculty member in NIE and now still do as an Education and Technology Consultant (ETC). I have rejected projects that could have been great ego boosts or provided great financial rewards.

For example, I resisted the urge to get involved in an education-related project in the Middle East. My instincts screamed no, and when I reflected on previous experiences, I understood why. I could have drowned in oil money, but I could have contributed to concept papers on change that would remain concepts due to overwhelming inertia.

I refuse to work with people or organizations that raise the hairs on my neck. This could be due to incompatible value systems or poor fit. Sometimes they are just rude or do not communicate in a timely fashion. I reason that if we cannot start well, we are unlikely to continue well.

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