Change Process
A DEMOCRATIC THEORY OF SOCIETAL CHANGE
 
 
Change in societies proceeds from a cumulative, multilevel, open-ended process of continuous interaction among all actors who influence the course of events—citizens both in and out of government—as well as factors beyond their control. The question for citizens is how to conduct that process—to the extent of their capacities—in the public interest. This is a work in progress offered for comment.
 
First, mindset may be the first element to address in a theory of change.  
 
Whether citizens see themselves as responsible for solving their problems and able to generate change—or choose to leave solutions to others, especially government—may be a critical determinant of how change takes place. Our theory of change is rooted in a new paradigm for the study and practice of politics—a new way of describing how change happens. We call it the relational paradigm. [click here to read more about the relational paradigm]. That paradigm broadens focus from the formal structures of state, government, political parties, and interest groups as the main agents of change to whole bodies politic—to citizens outside as well as inside the structures of power.
 
Second, citizens’ organizations may act as critical catalysts in a process of change
 
A small group of citizens together may have the capacity to initiate and organize change on their own. But often they may turn to citizens’ organizations that have developed a particular instrument for generating change. Or those citizens' catalyst organizations may initiate change themselves by introducing change processes, training citizens in their use, and helping those citizens connect with others sharing their objective.
 
Third is exploratory dialogue—first efforts to diagnose a problem and citizens’ capacities to deal with it. Change begins when individuals talk with like-minded others about a problem they see as hurting their interests. We call this period “dialogue about dialogue.” It can produce three products: 
 
A judgment that action is needed. They talk about the problem and name it in human—not expert—terms that permit most of them to see their interests reflected in the name.
 
A citizen’s decision to act. The tipping point from recognizing that something must be done to an individual's decision to act seems to lie in citizens' discovery of something they personally can do that they believe can make a difference and in their belief that others are likely to join them in such action. It becomes their own problem. This exploratory space also provides a face-saving venue to begin acquiring skills of collective work and testing others’ willingness and capacity for such work.
 
Selection of an instrument for change. Together with a catalyst organization, citizens decide to use a particular instrument for change. They must choose an instrument suited both to their capacities and to the problem they have named. Then they must prepare themselves use it. Training is critical. They set a time and place to begin and invite participants. 
 
Fourth, citizens create a formal space specifically designed for their change instrument.
 
As this wider circle meets, they work their way through a progression of tasks: (a) They broaden and deepen their diagnosis of the problem. (b) They probe and begin to transform their own relationships. (c) They develop the name of the problem they are addressing, probe its dynamics, begin to talk about possible approaches to dealing with it, and may come to some common sense of direction in which they might explore moving. This is the beginning of a strategy—the link between analysis and action. (d) They may decide to lay out a complex of steps that could begin to move in the desired direction and draw an ever-widening circle of citizens into engaging the problem. 
 
In this space, as they work their way through these tasks together, they learn to create a cumulative agenda; to talk analytically and empathetically; to relate differently by collaborating and thinking together rather than confronting; to create a common body of knowledge. They develop capacities to become boundary-spanners in communities—both practical skills as agenda-setters, speakers, analyzers and relational skills in bridging deep human divides. These are the capacities they need as political actors. They learn to design change together by developing a scenario of interactive steps for bringing divergent elements of a community together—at least in complementary action—to deal with problems that affect them all.
 
Fifth, citizens build networks as they increasingly engage others. In order to influence the larger environment, they need to connect with other like-minded-groups and engage elements of the larger community. 
 
Sixth, as citizens implement an action plan in broadening circles, they constantly take stock
 
In an open-ended political process, citizens cannot necessarily know at the beginning exactly what the process will produce. Each concrete step forward may make possible achievements that were not possible before. An active citizens’ group becomes a participant in the political process of continuous interaction and change among the elements of the body politic. Continuous evaluation of progress together deepens their relationship—their capacity to make mid-course corrections and to tackle new problems or opportunities as they arise.
 
Judging progress—evaluating—requires a framework that fits what they are doing. This theory of change can provide such a framework up to a point. The framework that describes the change process they have chosen can provide a fuller framework. Those who have chosen Sustained Dialogue can use the five-stage process to reflect on their progress. Their own design of a scenario of interactive steps with its stated objectives will provide a further framework. The concept of relationship may be a useful analytical tool where changing destructive relationships is an objective. The framework must be a continuing part of their process in advancing their work.
 
A democratic theory of societal change can transform random acts into the purposeful conduct of a political process. Power is the capacity to influence the course of events. Citizens can generate the power to accomplish their goals when they see themselves as capable actors in the process of continuous interaction that propels change.
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