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Aliman Sears - Forget about Outreach

The importance of good empirical research. From David Week, July 22, 2007. Time 17:43

Hi Aliman

I liked your article because it started with a piece of empirical research. As is often the case when we "consult with reality", the results were surprising, broke old patterns of thought and behaviour, and suggested a new way forward. I was then a little disappointed that the second part of the article did not follow this same path.

Your research findings shows us that zero growth comes because new members don't stick around. What we might do about this should depend on why they don't stick around. Only if we understand the problem, can we create a solution. Your solution supposes that if we express our spirituality and create projects, people who would once have left, will then stick around. But where's the evidence for this?

There are two ways that we can find out why people leave. One is to ask them why they have left. That's hard to do: they've left, they may be hard to find, they may be unwilling to invest any more time in Subud, they may be suspicious of what they see as a re-recruitment effort. However, there are (from memory) four articles on this site from ex-members. There's also the anti-subud site. To me, these are gold, and should be examined carefully. However, sample size is small.

Much easier, though, is new members in that two year period after they are opened. Your research says that they may not know it, but they are very likely to leave. Talking to people like this is extremely sensitive, because they may not yet know that they are likely to leave. Interviewer bias could easily skew things. I would suggest that such a study not be done by amateurs, but only by experienced market researchers. Independent, non-Subud market researchers might help eliminate any interpretive bias.

My personal impression, from talking to new members, and reading the old, is that the complaints come in three forms:

(a) Nothing happening: They did not come for potluck, they did not come to join a charity, they came for transformative or restorative spiritual experience. It doesn't happen. This hasn't always been the case, and it seems the early days people felt things were really


(b) Dodginess: Subud business (external and internal) conducted in a way that reflects poorly on the Subud organisation, and hence the community, and hence the practice of the latihan.

(c) Rituals and teachings: Selamatans, reciting Susila Budhi Dharma, rice mountains, DVDs of Bapak's talks, ideology, etc.

Again, that's my informal take: very perspectival. I'd love to see a really well-designed, independently conducted study tell us what it really is that people find disappointing about Subud. One thing is clear: people who have been around for a long time are--because of their familiarity--the least likely to see it. It's the new members that come with fresh eyes and beginner's mind, and are likely to see where our emperor has no clothes.

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