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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!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Is it people who change systems? Or systems which change people?

Individualists say the former; sociologists and fatalists the latter.
And both are right!
Change begins with a single step, an inspiring story, a champion. But, unless the actions “resonate” with wider society, such people will be dismissed as mavericks, “ahead of their time”.

Change of any sort – whether an organisational reform or a social movement - is an intervention in a social system. Like an organism, it will quickly be rejected or absorbed unless there is some such “resonance”.
A significant number of people have to be discontent – and persuaded that there is an alternative before there will be any movement.
And the wider system has to be ready for change.
Robert Quinn’s Change the World (2000) is still one of the few books to focus seriously on this question of how one individual can change history….

Formal and informal systems are a well-recognised fact of organizational life. In 1970, Donald Schon coined the phrase “dynamic conservatism” to describe the strength of the forces resisting change in organisations – an update almost of Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy”. Whatever new formal systems say, powerful informal systems ensured systems remained largely unchanged.

I remember vividly the discussions which ran in the 60s and 70s in the professional journals about rationality and change – with names such as Donald Schoen, Chris Argyris, Ametai Etzioni, Warren Bennis, Charles Lindblom and Herbert Simon to the fore (Alvin Toffler was simply the populiser)
These, of course, were the academic scribblers in whose midst American society was threatening to escape control….a moment perhaps best described in Adam Curtis’ documentary The Century of the Self (2002).
But it was The Aquarian Conspiracy – personal and social transformation in the 1980s; by Marlyn Ferguson (1980) which at the time caught the spirit of the age and posed the essential challenge both in its title and subtitle. Alas, it was a challenge soon to be marginalised…..

Those of us who had bemoaned the inertia of our bureaucracies were suddenly caught unawares by the speed with which change was unleashed…. In the 1990s, managing change became as popular as sliced bread. And soon indeed had its own recipe -
·         communications, leadership and training to ensure that people understand what the reform is trying to achieve – and why it is needed and in their interests
·         Development and enforcement of new “tools of change”
·         “Networking” in order to “mobilise support” for the relevant changes
·         building and “empowering” relevant institutions to be responsible for the reform – and help drive it forward

We are these days advised always to “control the narrative” and to carry out “stakeholder analyses” – to track who will be affected by the changes and how the indifferent or potentially hostile can be brought on side or neutralised. Out and out manipulation...,,and the world is wise to it....at last!!

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