Transformations’ Deep Change Challenges

By: Steve Waddell, Lead Staff – SDG Transformations Forum

Leading up to the first face-to-face SDG Transformations Forum meeting last September in association with the Transformations2017 conference, I talked with over 80 people involved with what I perceive as a transformations initiative. The key question I asked was “What is holding you back from being even more successful with your transformations work?” Their responses were key to designing our meeting, organizing of the Forum and developing a Theory of Transformational Change (ToTC).

The Forum distinguishes between incremental, reform and transformational change by associating each with different loops of learning as pioneered theoretically by Argyris and Schon (single, double) and extended to triple loop by various theoreticians. Since learning is a core change activity, this definition provides a particularly powerful perspective. Transformational change is distinguished by its depth of challenge to prevailing systems including ways of thinking, assumptions and power structures; it involves re-defining of purpose and system boundaries and structures. Of course there is often misalignment between an espoused transformational vision, and the type of change tools and strategy used.

A thematic analysis of the responses to my question resulted in the following:

  1. Transforming Assessment and Evaluation: Current input-output assessment approaches undermine transformations, which require deep learning; jurisdictionally and project limited boundaries are limiting scale and time of transformation.
  2. Meta-narrative: The current economic-focused stories about success associated with growth and GNP must be displaced with sustainable ones focused on human and environmental well-being.
  3. Innovation: Rather than designing innovation based on some physical technology propelled by financiers, we need to categorically design with integration of the new narrative.
  4. Financing Transformations: The current finance system is highly fragmented between “pots” of money (e.g.: commercial finance, government finance, philanthropy, science funding, sovereign wealth funds) with very inadequate ways of smooth connections for funding the quality and quantity associated with transformation.
  5. Capacity: “Change” capacity efforts are highly fragmented and generally mired in non-transformational change methods and approaches.
  6. Transformational Systems Analysis: We need ways to see the complexity associated with transformation, for purposive transformation efforts. Although mapping and data visualization methods are advanced and advancing rapidly, they are generally under-utilized and still under-developed.

The Forum’s September meeting was organized around these responses, and subsequently the Forum has organized its Working Groups around them. The responses are not seen as comprehensive – for example, “governance” as a transformational challenge is missing; nor are they seen as silos, but rather as mutually inter-acting and informing issues.

This has led to understanding these challenges as “deep causes”, in contrast to direct and proximate causes of transformational difficulties. The Table helps illustrate these.

This distinction is part of the Forum’s evolving ToTC.  Today people refer simply to “theories of change” without distinguishing the type of change they mean. However, given the types of change are very different in terms of dynamics, required tools and activities, this simplistic approach results in muddling of actions. To address this, the Forum is evolving a theory of transformational change, including its relationship to the other types of change. In this, the need to address the deep causes by emerging new patterns of relationships and actions as the basis for transforming systems, is a critical ingredient.  We look forward to further advancing this work at the Leverage Points 2019 conference.

 

The call for abstracts for the Leverage Points conference is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit: http://leveragepoints2019.leuphana.de

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: LP2019@leuphana.de

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