What do people want? (and how do I want to work out what people want?)

This is not the first post I have written heading along these lines and this is something I have asked many people about. Yet I do not seem to be getting anywhere. It was suggested to me that I should work out why I want to answer this question and then the important aspects of the question will come to light. However, I cannot see this happening just yet because the reason I want to answer this question is because I do not think it is a question that gets asked in evaluation research.

The Camberwell Assessment of Need is a mental health assessment tool looking at difference aspects of day-to-day life. The formats I have seen ask the patient/ client/ consumer to rate how important a function is to them, how much help they get and how much help they need. It seems to be related to the ‘Personal Projects’ approach. Such clinical assessments and approaches seem to go some way towards acknowledging that people have a past, priorities and different visions for the future. Yet I have been struggling to find examples of social inquiry into what people aspire to/ want/ set as goals.

I do not think that crying ‘false consciousness’ is really a way out because I want to look at what people measure success against, and the relationship to the outcomes that community programs seek to achieve/ demonstrate. Similarly, as I concluded in an earlier post, ascribing universal motivations is not a starting point for me.

I suppose ‘thick description’ calls for motivations to be included. Perhaps I am just making an issue out of something that has not been highly theorised simply because it is so fundamental in ethnographic research. After all, debates around individual Vs group advantage and structure Vs agency are also debates around the loci of motivation.

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