what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, November 2, 2015

How Change Happens

Yesterday’s post was sparked off by a book and a paper with this title. Kzarnic’s paper was written in 2007 (although I came across only yesterday in the book) and is simply the best introduction to the topic I have come across – identifying what for him are the core approaches which the various intellectual disciplines offer to explain change – whether that change is described as “technical”, “economic”, “political” or “organizational”. And adding some multi-disciplinary approaches for good measure….
Green’s book focuses on one very small part of the picture - “people power” in poor “developing” countries, emphasizing right from the start that - 
Activists seeking social and political change usually focus their efforts on those who wield visible power, presidents, prime ministers and CEOs, since they hold apparent authority over the matter at hand. Yet the hierarchy of visible power is underpinned by subtle interactions among a more diverse set of players. Hidden power‘ describes what goes on behind the scenes: the lobbyists, the corporate chequebooks, the Old Boys Network.
Hidden power also comprises the shared view of what those in power consider sensible or reasonable in public debate. Any environmentalist who has sat across the table from government officials or mainstream economists and dared to question the advisability of unlimited economic growth in a resource-constrained world will have met the blank faces that confront anyone breaching those boundaries.

I’m long enough in the tooth to have seen many times the “conventional wisdom” of everyday conversation become a forgotten tale and am constantly amazed by how easily people move from one discredited world view to another without beginning to develop some scepticism about that conventional wisdom……    

Yesterday’s post tracked my own journey of discovery about “change” and power – first as a Scottish politician working with community groups, political colleagues, official advisers, academics and journalists; and, since 1990, as a consultant working to European bureaucracy and with Central European and Central Asian technocrats and politicians – local and national – all the time trying to keep up with the burgeoning relevant literature in fields such as “managing change”, “institutional reform” and “developing capacities”   

This experience suggests that there are actually four very different bodies of thinking and writing about “change – and how it happens” - each using different language and each with different audiences and loyalties…..

- Managing Change – the “management of change” literature was written by management consultants looking for markets and hit a peak about 15 years ago. The ultimate business guru book is an excellent introduction to the people and ideas on which that genre drew.  Critical management studies (CMS) was an interesting (if badly written) radical academic response to the overfocus of those writings on senior business executives with power and authority.  

- People Powerthe literature of what we might call “Social change” is diverse and developing fast as the sense of crisis develops. It includes such fields as self-help, community enterprise and social movements and, for me, offers the best written and least self-serving material. Ronald Douthwaite’s Short Circuit – strengthening local economies for security in an unstable world (2003) is still one of the best arguments for social enterprise.  Tarrow’s Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics is a good summary of the last group. International Charities (such as Oxfam) also make an important contribution to thinking….  

- State Reform – it’s amazing to realise that Public Sector Reform (PSR) is only about 25 years old….the writings come almost exclusively from academics and consultants and either ape that of change management; or of the deconstructionists of CMS. Increasingly the literature on “change” has been coming from state bodies (national and international) such as The World Bank, OECD, Asian Development Bank, ODI etc and is addressed to senior officials, academics (and journalists?)…

- The White Heat of Technology – everyone’s great hope in the face of the environmental and financial disasters (which people have eventually understood) now face the world….We are overwhelmed by the books which all sorts of people have been pouring out in the past decade giving us the stories of the technological, economic and social forces which produced (and change) the world in which we now live.    

Coincidentally, the first thing I found in this morning’s surfing was a presentation by Chris Martenson’s about his Crash course – a full version of which can be accessed here. That single hour’s viewing told me more than I had learned in the several hours it took me last week to read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.

The presentation nicely complemented last week’s reading of Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations - a book which has apparently been making waves in Europe. His basic argument is that the wave of the future is joint-ownership and his book celebrates those companies (some quite large) which have adopted that principle and identifies some of the preconditions, systems and procedures which seem to account for its success.

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