System change

Things change all the time. But as humans we live in the here and now, and change that has happened in the past, may not be immediately available for ‘memory recall’. Past change may not be at the forefront of our minds. What about future change? The human animal is notoriously resistant to change. We prefer the steadiness of normalcy to the unpredictability and risks of change (even when the rewards could be massive, and the odds are looking good). Better a sparrow in the hand than the dove on the head. Better the devil you know. Loss aversion is a real cognitive affliction, and our progress, and ultimately our survival, can suffer for it.

With the bigger picture of oil running thin and worldwide overpopulation, change is coming whether we like it or not. We could take action. For future change to happen, providing a new or radical standpoint enables and empowers people to think new thoughts, and understand the issues. It also moves debates onwards and shifts public opinion. Normalcy’s point of gravity can be shifted by allowing and opening up debates, activating and empowering networks. All this can legitimise and ultimately normalise a new standpoint.

Warning. This can work in the direction of good (social justice, reducing inequalities etc) and socially bad (economic dictatorship, oppressive dominant systems etc). It can be used and misused. (I have put one thing aside in this article: neoliberal politics messing with decision making and actively working on disengaging people from democratic processes.)

Normalisation process visualised

changeagency01Normalcy exists. It could be a standpoint such as “Everyone drives” or “Space (also air, water, food) is an unlimited resource at our disposal”.




changeagency02A new standpoint emerges, perhaps such as “There are many who don’t drive, and many more who do not want to be depended on driving” or “Space (also air, water, food) must be managed better, more efficiently”. This new view then may see support from the change authorities, decision makers and is taken up by civic society and in public debates.



changeagency03cThe point of gravity (of what is considered normal) starts shifting. But beware, this may not be the linear process shown here! Often it is a toing and froing, and can feel like a tug of war, going backward before it goes forward direction. The old system likes to resist.




changeagency04bChange has been accepted.




changeagency05The new normalcy becomes normal.


If you want to see change in a certain field (say transport), it is important to state alternative views to avoid self-silencing. (Self-silencing is the belief that your view is not normal which can often lead to not uttering it in the first place. This can start a downward spiral, when many think and act like that, leading to the subject not getting an airing at all!) In whatever you do, don’t get marginalised – it’s the tactics of normalcy to want to statically stay The Normal, the norm.

It is also most important that progressive policies (“we want more people to cycle and leave their cars at home”) are contextualised and then planned: what exactly is it that needs doing to “get more people cycling”? Change can be managed through this normalcy-shifting process. Authorities and decision makers can take the lead on enabling and creating opportunities for new-normalcy standpoints to be aired and debated – and ultimately solved and implemented too. Decision makers should help to legitimise policy-supporting (change-directive) viewpoints, seek out their policy partners and work with them. It means that, together, we can move policy and strategy into implementation.

Personally, I have often seen decision-making bodies to shun working with their obvious policy partners, often because the (transport) policies had not been broken down into bite-sized chunks; and hence the overall wider context was misunderstood or even missing entirely. This makes it messy. In fact, it deeply disables decision makers and also undermines their authority and trust-worthiness too. It also makes the change process, which could and should be a joyous celebratory victory march of policy, very painful indeed.

As a last comment on this I’d like to mention trust and the scarce resource of civic time. Volunteers are often at the vanguard of change. It is volunteer campaigners and unpaid advocates who make the time to state alternative views and paint visions of a different and better future. I have seen these status-quo challengers in action – it’s beautiful. Some are radical, some more moderate. There are people out there, not afraid to state a case for common good and ask for change.

When change is coming, it must be managed well, and civic time must be used productively and well. It’s such a precious resource and authorities should be proud of it and therefore manage it wisely and with foresight.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s