Cognitive skills for volunteering

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Maria Bombardó
  • It is one of the groups of capacities that volunteering develops in its action, along with cognitive skills and meta-skills.
    It is one of the groups of capacities that volunteering develops in its action, along with cognitive skills and meta-skills. . Source: Pixabay.

All actions and moves require thought. A volunteer must be able to process information and act consequently, bringing their cognitive skills into the picture.

People who decide to join a team of volunteers don’t just take away and experience, but they also can develop a wide range of skills. Bearing this in mind, the Catalan Ministry of Social Rights has issued a “Preliminary handbook and dictionary of skills and meta-skills for volunteering”, promoted by the Catalan Regional Government.

The aim is to show the two-way value of these activities, which don’t only have an external impact, but also on the person volunteering.

More concretely, cognitive skills refer to an individual’s set of abilities to process information. These abilities allow the person to give a meaning to events and assess and create information and content.

Critical thinking

The ability to develop arguments, question ideas and identify incoherencies, logical errors or fallacies is the basis for critical thinking. In its early phases, this ability means doubting and questioning affirmations, as well as what is socially considered unquestionable. At a second level, it is developed to evaluate these affirmations in detail and detect inconsistencies.

Critical thinking implies being able to argue in a logical way with original ideas, that step outside the norm, that aren’t standard; this is very much needed in the daily work of a volunteer.

Lateral and systemic thinking

Lateral thinking is one’s ability to consider and solve problems in a different way, establishing different knowledge relations and asking oneself questions and finding creative answers to them. Disruptive thinking and associating concepts in an unconventional way are a sign of first-level lateral thinking. If practiced, lateral thinking can take a person to offer broad and different perspectives and to come up with disruptive solutions.

It is somehow related to systemic thinking, to the extent that the latter implies being able to link different events. Initially, it has to do with the ability to point out the causes, effects and consequences, but when developed further, it allows a person to find more than one solution to problems, identifying and explaining the processes to develop a task and make decisions based on the different impacts of the elements of an event.

Abstract and conceptual thinking

Abstract thinking is the ability to solve logical questions swiftly. In more developed stages, it allows creating links and sequences with non-verbal concepts and information, as well as inferring and identifying sequence patterns.

Conceptual thinking means identifying patterns and models and pointing out key questions in complex matters. So, what initially starts off as an ability to identify links between past and current events and take the most relevant information, it can evolve to perceiving similarities and key elements in very complex situations that aren’t obvious for others and that haven’t been learnt before.

Analytic and synthetic thinking

Understanding and solving problems by breaking down their components is what we know as analytic thinking. What starts off as an ability to break down tasks to solve specific and habitual problem may develop into a more complex and complete version where a volunteer is able to break down any situation easily and is able to perform complex tasks.

In a similar way, but in the opposite direction, we find synthetic thinking. This ability allows you to understand situations and events and solve problems by linking the individual components that make it up. This allows someone to create and gather more or less abstract ideas and use them to design new action plans and effective solutions.

Spatial reasoning

It is interesting for volunteers to develop their ability to think about space, mentally visualizing the perspectives of rooms and objects. In an advanced stage, this skill is very useful for tasks such as planning and managing events and other actions, since it involves the possibility of designing and interpreting patterns, schemes and circuits as well as more specific matters such as reading maps at a scale.

Schematic reasoning

Schematic reasoning is the ability to graphically represent an event or procedure following a scheme. It becomes a very useful skill when managing volunteering projects and actions. A person who has developed this skill will find it easy to structure large amounts of information and design diagrams to solve complex problems.

Numerical reasoning

This ability is usually associated to anyone with good math skills. However, numerical reasoning is also closely linked to other skills and, rather than a skill for mental calculation, it is especially useful for team and project management.

Verbal reasoning

As for the previous skill, verbal reasoning is also usually limited in social imaginary, and is only perceived as the ability to write and speak properly. However, the truth is that when verbal reasoning is well developed, a volunteer will be able to express complex and abstract ideas adapting them to their audience, no matter how diverse, and adopting many different points of view, in the most effective manner.

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