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How Change Happens$

Duncan Green

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198785392

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198785392.001.0001

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(p.7) Part I A Power and Systems Approach

(p.7) Part I A Power and Systems Approach

How Change Happens

Duncan Green

Oxford University Press

Keywords:   systems thinking, cause and effect, human systems, linear planning, reflectivists

Keywords:   power analysis, empowerment, visible power, hidden power, invisible power, four powers model, resistance to change

Keywords:   social norms, socially acceptable behaviours, social justice, standards of conduct, social reality, law

Change may not be linear, but books are. One of the standard frustrations for time-strapped readers is having to wade through a couple of hundred pages before you get to the ‘so what’ section at the end. Many do not make it, so I have cheated—here’s a brief preview of the final chapter of the book, which sets out a ‘power and systems approach’ (PSA) for those seeking to achieve change in the world around them.

Since no amount of upfront analysis will enable us to predict the erratic behaviour of a complex system, a PSA interweaves thought and action, learning and adapting as we go. The purpose of initial study is to enable us to place our bets intelligently. Crucial decisions come after that, as we act, observe the results, and adjust according to what we learn.

A PSA encourages multiple strategies, rather than a single linear approach, and views failure, iteration and adaptation as expected and necessary, rather than a regrettable lapse. It covers our ways of working—how we think and feel, as well as how we behave as activists. It also suggests the kinds of questions we should be asking (non-exhaustive—the list is as endless as our imagination). (p.8)

How we think/feel/work: 4 steps to help us dance with the system

  • Curiosity—study the history; ‘learn to dance with the system’.

  • Humility—embrace uncertainty/ambiguity.

  • Reflexivity—be conscious of your own role, prejudices, and power.

  • Include multiple perspectives, unusual suspects; be open to different ways of seeing the world.

The questions we ask (and keep asking)

  • What kind of change is involved (individual attitudes, social norms, laws and policies, access to resources)?

  • What precedents are there that we can learn from (positive deviance, history, current political and social tides)?

  • Power analysis: who are the stakeholders and what kind of power is involved (look again—who have we forgotten?)

  • What kind of approach makes sense for this change (traditional project, advocacy, multiple parallel experiments, fast feedback and rapid response)?

  • What strategies are we going to try (delivering services, building the broader enabling environment, demonstration projects, convening and brokering, supporting local grassroots organizations, advocacy)?

  • Learning and course correction: how will we learn about the impact of our actions or changes in context (e.g. critical junctures)? Schedule regular time outs to take stock and adapt accordingly.