Rational and interpretive approaches are different from each other, but they are used to solve the same problems. Theoretically and ethically, the interpretive approach resonates with me more, as it offers “a more collaborative, less reductionist approach to decision-making” (Netting, O’Connor & Fauri, 2008, p. 127). From the point of view of social work, in which interaction with people and communities is important, orientation to the context and consideration of all participants’ perspectives is preferable. However, a rational approach may be more useful for formal activities that require evidence and detail. Rationalism can be a form of “idealized prescriptions, depicting an unreality” (as cited in Netting et al., 2008, p. 129). Thus, interpretive planning is more suitable for social activities since it implies working not with indicators and data but directly with people.
In my practice settings, both approaches can be used equally and complement each other. Data collection and analysis are essential to plan a community strategy effectively. Moreover, the promotion of any social initiatives and programs requires evidence based on a rational approach. However, working with a community involves interacting with its members, and people’s behavior and reactions are often unpredictable. Thus, social work practice also requires the use of an interpretive approach, which allows to analyze information based on the context and make decisions that are important at the moment.
In theory, a rational approach can offer a means to achieve long-term results. However, from the pragmatic point of view, it is not always possible to collect relevant data, or its analysis takes too long, which I consider a tension. An interpretive approach can also theoretically help in solving short-term, more specific problems. However, from a pragmatic point of view, it can result in a lack of consistency and neglect of the entire community’s needs. Thus, approaches should be used in a balanced way to ensure comprehensive consideration of objectives and results.
Netting, D. P., O’Connor, E., & Fauri, M. (2008). Comparative approaches to program planning. Wiley.