Multi-Dimensional Aspects of Poverty Study

Over the past few weeks St. Mary’s Center has been participating in the Multidimensional Aspects of Poverty study sponsored by Oxford University and All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World. The study was conducted using the merging knowledge technique that has been utilized by ATD Fourth World for many years. The technique tries to ensure that there is space for every voice in the discussion. For our specific study, we were split into three groups: academics, practitioners, and activists. Within each of these groups the same questions were presented and discussed, but at the end of the study, the actual “merging” occurred when each group presented what they had decided and then the groups were mixed into five smaller integrated groups to discuss the same final question. The study occurred over a five-week period, meeting once a week. Many St. Mary’s staff members, volunteers, and clients participated and we had a good number of community partners join the study.

So what was the goal of the study?

There have been countless studies done that produce specific data on the state of poverty, both within the United States and globally, but the merging of knowledge approach is attempting to expand what the world thinks poverty is like by infusing data with lived experiences. Looking at a statistic that says roughly half a million people in the United States are homeless doesn’t seem like that dramatic of a number when you consider there are seven billion people in the world. But we have become numb to numbers. By gaining the perspectives of academics, those who are researching poverty, practitioners, those who are working to help those in poverty, and activists, those living in poverty, ATD Fourth World and Oxford University are hoping to present a more humane and deeply personal look at poverty for the United Nations.

The study wanted to focus on a person’s specific lived experience. For every question presented there was a reminder to think from your own experience and not to answer what you think the right answer is. There were no right or wrong answers, it was instead focusing on creating a strong foundation from which ATD Fourth World could collaborate with all the other study sites to create experiences and expressions of poverty.

I was the note taker for the practitioners group and was not able to participate in group discussions, but I enjoyed watching the group move from thinking separately about their own lives to thinking about the lives of those they have each helped. It was interesting how some answers came so quickly to the group while others would have to be mulled over for several minutes and maybe even returned to the next week. This study wasn’t about presenting the United Nations with more data to file away, it was about explaining and expanding on the human connectedness of the globe.

Claire is the 2016-17 XPLOR intern with our Resources for the Third Age program. During her time with us, she will be writing a weekly blog on her experiences with St. Mary's Center including insights into our programming, interviews with clients, and more. To see all of her posts, check out our XPLOR tag

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