Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

SF and the new politics of Syriza in Greece

What can we say about politics from a solution-focused viewpoint?  I know several SF practitioners have been considering that question for a while, and it was on Fania Pallikarakis's mind when she interviewed me recently for her article in the Huffington Post.


Here's the interview.


FP           Do you believe that SF ideas could apply in a political setting?

PZJ         Solutions Focus is the direct route to positive change. The approach is founded on getting the best out of people, using their resources and taking small steps to see what happens, at low risk. Therefore, it is possible to apply this set of ideas not only on the level of individuals, teams, groups or companies but also on the level of communities and world politics. The principles don’t change.


FP           What would you say would be the outcomes of such an implementation?

PZJ         You have to tell me! Because you just did that in Greece! In England, where I live, the Labour Party is very cautious; tries not to commit to anything and seeks to disguise the fact that it is left-wing, so that it gets closer to the middle. In contrast to that, the Syriza leaders are making some bold statements and are rejecting a culture of corruption that is linked to not paying taxes. And they also have a fresh approach on how to lead negotiations. It seems to me that Syriza inspired many people to reconnect with politics in a different way and it raised the party from 3% to a 36% share of the vote. Maybe Podemos in Spain will do something similar.


FP           Does that mean that you recognise some SF elements in Syriza’s approach?

PZJ         Having conversations is very solution-focused; listening to people, taking their views into account for the policy formation based on what their needs and resources are. And there one can find some strong parallels into how a party could work in a solution-focused way and make that a very successful intervention. The politicians from the Syriza party went to remote communities and asked farmers and market people what they wanted. “These were the only people who really came and talked to us and asked us what we wanted” – that’s what these people told interviewers from UK newspapers.


FP           In your opinion, how did that make a difference?

PZJ         Implicitly, there seem to be some SF elements and an inspired vision of the future, what we call a Future Perfect. It’s about asking people what they want, through policy formation; it is about going beyond presenting the party’s programme, into engagement. It is a process that is bottom-up as well, instead of being only top-down. And that connection creates trust. People got inspired because they are always interested in things being better. And that is exciting. It looks different.”


FP           What if a party was explicitly applying an SF approach for policy formation? How would you notice without being told?

PZJ         I would be hearing that there are a lot of meetings in town halls and village communes where people gather to describe what they want and how they would want the future to be like. And from there we’d hear about new policy initiatives.  Small steps would be taken very quickly in order to see what worked. There would also be a lot of sharing of good ideas that worked well and people would explore how these ideas could also be implemented in other cases. The documentation of these stories would make them circulate so that things happen. And you would see the momentum and see that people are very engaged with this.


FP           Isn’t the future shaped upon the options one has?

PZJ         Yes. And this is why in the SF process we also work on creating more options. And this is possible. For example, in Syriza, they seem to be rejecting a finance concept that until now seemed to be a one-way path. They look for possibilities into what else they can do. For example, the fact that they want to speak separately to the three finance institutions so as to have specific, particular conversations with each party, opens up a new perspective. Since they don’t know what will happen, they focus on what’s important first. I like the creativity of the thinking; it seems to have some SF flavour in the sense that it’s about taking small steps and see what happens.


FP           So how do you imagine SF strategies could be applied for decision-making related to public good?

PZJ         You might gather a group of leaders together and create a Future Perfect; main advisors, stakeholders, state and finance people, including those who maybe don’t agree with a specific party’s ideas but who are genuinely interested in things to work out well for the country. And we would intensively work through what it is that they want and what are the available resources that will take them towards there. Then, we would design and agree steps that they can take and also define small signs that would tell us that we were on the right track during, before and after decided actions. This would be instead of wasting time over-analysing problems and how they occurred in the past. We would look at what we can affect now, which is to create a better future than the current one. Good things would come out of that, no matter what would happen.


FP           Do you think there is hope for more solution-oriented politics?

PZJ         Yes. I believe we shall see more of this in the future. Today, people in all countries are detached from politics and yet we have the mechanisms to be more connected to it; we have the internet that makes it easier to engage people in conversations and gather them around an interest or focus. These sort of initiatives will happen and if they are done in a solution-focused way, we know it’s effective.


The interview was published in Greek at the Huffington Post Greece on 12/02/2015:


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Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on March 28, 2015 at 16:38

For me this is an interesting part of the interview: 

FP           What if a party was explicitly applying an SF approach for policy formation? How would you notice without being told?

PZJ         I would be hearing that there are a lot of meetings in town halls and village communes where people gather to describe what they want and how they would want the future to be like. And from there we’d hear about new policy initiatives.

This reminds me on the way, how politics works in Switzerland:

In 90% of all Swiss municipalities "town meetings" are the usual legislative body of all citizens (as far as they live in this village and have a Swiss passport) . They "describe what they want and how they would want the future to be like" and have the power to decide what proposals of the town council (the elected representatives) is accepted or declined. And with the power to place some proposals.

BUT: The citizens have not "one" preferred future, they normally have some very different preferred futures. And after having discussed them a voting is done and the - sometimes only very small - majority is the winner. With the consequence, that the loosing part(s) of the citizens again and again try to let this topic "cooking" and to find a majority or - a worse case - try to slow down or block the implementation of the "winning future". 

SO:  "To describe what they want and how they would want the future to be like"  is not the key point. The key point is to find a way to balance the conflicting interests with some sort of a "deal" or a more or less useful compromise. Up to now I couldn't observe, that such deal or compromise was worked out in a  town meeting. This is the result of discussions "off public" within the town council (with politicians belonging to competing parties).

For me "solution-oriented politics" should focus on  balancing conflicting interests - and offer a better way to create more useful "deals" and compromises accepting, that people have very different and opposing "best hopes".      


Months ago "Syriza leaders are making some bold statements". But they are only ONE party in Greece (149 from 300 seats), and now they are responsible (as the government together with the right wing party  Anexartiti Ellines with 13 seats) for ALL people in Greece. So, as I see it, a lot the "bold statements" are history now .... making place for a much more pragmatic practice a bit more in line with the demands of the "Troika" which is now called "The Institution" (fulfilling one of the "bold statements").

I am wondering: Observing the practices of the Syriza leaders NOW (in the last few weeks): What can we label as "solution oriented" - and as very different from the "normal" way of politics?




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