Four Network Change Strategies for Complex Systems

People easily get into arguments about “correct strategies” to realize change. Often with a little bit of dialogue, they discover that they are actually talking about complementary strategies. Then, they start to understand the limitation of their own advocated strategy, and that it cannot succeed on its own. These types of insights spurred Ken Wilber to popularize an integral approach to support a comprehensive and integrated view of the world, and to found the Integral Institute.

In audacious titles and substantive books,A Brief History of Everything and A Theory of Everything, Ken developed “a model that would unite all the known laws of the universe into one all-embracing theory that would literally explain everything in existence.” He is driven by the questions about what will move us to a world that has the benefits of modernity such as increased freedoms and longevity, and address the substantial problems of modernity such as environmental degradation and inequality.

A key product of this work is what is now referred to as the “four-quadrant” diagram. Very simply put, this arose from looking at all the great writers and theorists in spiritual (Christ, Ghandi, etc.), developmental (personal development with Jean Piaget, institutional development, those who integrate them such as colleague Bill Torbert, etc.) and other scientific, cultural and thought traditions.

The four quadrants are behind the Table Four Change Strategies. This was developed with particular help and influence of colleagues Philip Thomas, Jim Ritchie-Dunham and Mari Fitzduff. The Table suggests that a successful strategy must address four change challenges. Quadrant 1 deals with intention, personal identity and ways of perceiving, Quadrant 2 with behavior and how it is developed, Quadrant 3 with culture, beliefs and values, and Quadrant 4 with the structures and processes of social systems. There is a lot in this one Table, and it deserves study by all interested in change, particularly of the transformation type.

In order for an issue to change in the way Global Action Networks (GANs) and multi-stakeholder networks aspire for, there must be action in all four Quadrants. That does not mean that the network itself has to lead the activity. However, to realize the change it is working for, it, its participants or others should undertake strategic interventions to ensure change is proceeding in all the Quadrants. Lack of change in one of the Quadrants will hold back development in the others.

There is a tendency for change networks to focus on the exterior, both at the individual but especially at the collective levels. There is usually resistance to incorporating spiritual-psychological strategies, because this can conflict with the external action-orientation of most networks to get others to change and to focus on, physical technology, structural and intellectual change. Also, inappropriate methods are often applied for a particular change challenge and goal. The Table is a draft that aims to get at some of these issues…feel free to comment! You might find this a good tool for analyzing your own change strategy.

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