Types of Change

For GANs and the organizations participating in them, the work of GANs involves developing new strategies, new capacities, new ways of thinking, and new ways of being. In short, GANs are large system change agents.

They are developing three types of change:

  1. Incremental: this is the easiest of changes types. It follows identification of one or more models…often the product of pilot projects…and applying the knowledge developed from them on a much larger scale.
  2. Reform: this is change of moderate difficulty. If follows recognition by stakeholders of the need for change and agreement upon some new ways of organizing. The reorganizing can be done within current power structures, but requires new rules and processes.
  3. Transformation: this is the most difficult of the types of change. Stakeholders recognize that there is a need for significant change that involves basic shifts in values, beliefs, relationships, and power. But the stakeholders do not know what those shifts are, and undertake a process of exploration.

Identifying the type of change needed is critical to success, because different types of change require different methodologies, tools and strategies. For example, negotiating tools are important in scaling up and reform; however, transformation requires re-visioning methodologies.

GANs are distinctive because their work involves all three types of change. Often one geographic location or sub-issue require one type of change, while others are dealing with a different type of change.

One useful unifying theme for building strategies across these change types is learningand the concept of societal learning and change. Just as we learn as individuals, and we have the concept of organizational learning, so too we have learning by societies when they create new capacity to realize new goals. One great example of this is with South Africa as it moved to post-apartheid rule. This was transformation change fostered by scenario development methodologies.

This analysis of change builds upon several decades of work by many people. Below is a table that described the changes in more detail, drawing from a paper following an in-depth analysis of GAN change strategies.

Incremental Reform Transformation
Purpose To improve the performance of the established system. To change the system to address shortcomings and respond to the needs of stakeholders To redirect the system and change its fundamental orientations and core relationships
Participation Replicates the established decision making group and power relationships Brings relevant stakeholders into engagement in ways that enable them to influence the decision making process Creates a microcosm of the problem system, with all participants coming in on an equal footing as issue owners and decision makers
Process Confirms existing rules. Preserves the established power structure and relationships among actors in the system Opens rules to revision. Suspends established power relationships; promotes authentic interactions; creates a space for genuine reform of the system Opens issue to creation of new ways of thinking and action. Promotes transformation of relationships with whole-system awareness and identity; promotes examining deep structures that sustain the system
Source: Pruitt, B. and S. Waddell. 2005. Dialogic Approaches to Global Challenges: Moving from “Dialogue Fatigue” to Dialogic Change Processes. Generative Dialogue Project. August.

The importance of the distinctions between the types of change is that they require distinct strategies, methods and actions. Incremental change basically requires a group of skills and methods that are appropriate for a mediation logic: there’s no question about what to do, only minor questions about how to do it. Reform action requires supporting a negotiations logic: defining roles and benefits to achieve an agreed-upon set of goals. Transformation skills like those necessary to address complex issues are based in a visioning logic that includes methodologies to change how and what people see and make sense of data and their world, identify previously unimagined goals and possibilities, and experiment with radically innovative ways of doing and organizing.

However, transformation also involves incremental change as successful “experiments” with new ways are adapted and disseminated;  reform is usually required to support this process.

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