Planning Progress: Lessons from Shoghi Effendi
Author: June Manning Thomas
Publisher: Association for Bahá'í Studies, Ottawa, 2000
Review by: Lynn Echevarria-Howe
All Bahá'ís are part of a "plan", and "plans" are at the very heart and history of the Bahá'í Faith. And yet, do we as individual Bahá'ís know all we need to know about the planning process? Do we use a systematic approach to planning? Do we know how to link knowledge and action? Do our plans address real needs and collective aims? Why do our plans sometimes end up gathering dust on the shelf?
Professor June Manning Thomas addresses such questions in her most recent book, Planning Progress: Lessons from Shoghi Effendi. She believes that everyone has the capacity to develop and master planning skills. As a professor of urban and regional planning with applied experience in numerous community-based projects, Professor Thomas has examined the difficulties individuals and groups encounter in the process of creating and carrying out plans. To help the Bahá'í community become more at ease with this process, Professor Thomas has, in this book, presented some basic concepts of effective planning.
This is not, however, a mere handbook for planning strategies and techniques; nor is it an academic book to review what's new in the planning field (although the author does cite useful examples from professional planning and development literature). The uniqueness of the book lies in its primary focus on Shoghi Effendi as a role model for planning, and the presentation of the innovative processes he used in applying spiritual principles to advance the Bahá'í Faith. In this regard, as suggested in its Foreword, this book is remarkable in that "it represents a first attempt at making a direct connection between reason and spirit in the field of planning" (Anna C. Vakil).
Professor Thomas traces the genesis of the Guardian's ethos of planning to the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and to specific letters of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. These Texts reveal foundational concepts and spiritual principles for planning human advancement: from Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual vision for individual and societal growth and development, to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's concepts of leadership, and His common sense insights into the nature of goals and actions. The author then concentrates on characteristics of the Guardian's planning for the three global Crusades which were directed toward the North American Bahá'í community.
Professor Thomas' scholarship combines the benefits of her academic training with her long-time Bahá'í experience and love of the administrative order, to bring to her study a remarkably poignant, humble, and insightful approach. Beyond drawing upon her research of related books, articles, and materials, she systematically applies a content analysis to Shoghi Effendi's Plan-related letters, postscripts and cables. Her analysis presents the key ideas, themes, and particular characteristics that helped to make the Guardian's planning effective. For example, the author outlines the ways in which the Guardian conveyed vision, identified goals and lines-of-action, and monitored, encouraged, and evaluated the progress of the Bahá'ís throughout the Plans. Professor Thomas also shows how Shoghi Effendi exemplified good leadership through his ability to consult with and empower others. His fact-finding, through extensive consultations with thousands of Bahá'ís world-wide, provided specific strategies and attainable objectives for each national community. His wise assessment of the capacity and potential of his followers, his counsel, liberal praise and encouragement, gave the inspiration and support needed to assist the Bahá'ís to achieve these objectives.
The book is laid out in a comprehensive and easily accessible style. It is divided into seven chapters, four of which conclude with bulleted summaries of "lessons learned." Included throughout are a number of Tables which clearly highlight Shoghi Effendi's approach to different phases of planning, as well as a facsimile of Shoghi Effendi's hand-drawn map illustrating the progress of the goals in the years 1953-1958, during the Ten Year Crusade. The Appendix is, in itself, a basic primer on planning, ranging from simple to more elaborate approaches and including charts and worksheets which Bahá'ís can use as a basis for their own planning.
Professor Thomas' book provides a reference and a resource for individuals and institutions that seek to engage in integrating spiritual principle with scientifically-based action. In the final analysis, this book will invoke a deeper appreciation for Shoghi Effendi's extraordinary career as a spiritual leader. It is a joyful testimony to the Guardian's brilliance as a master planner.