In Figure 0-5 we suggest that "moving" might involve three rather different types of change inputs: (1) change involving internal elements only, i.e. changing relationships, reallocating resources, changing internal linkages and barriers; (2) changes that come from outside in a more-or-less random fashion about either intent or planning; and (3) finally, planned changes, brought about by the deliberate action of persons from inside or outside the system (or both). This Guide is concerned primarily with this third type.


(3) Refreezing: Making sure the change stays (if it is good)

The final step in Lewin's simple model is "refreezing," i.e., the return to stability while the new elements are incorporated. Of course, systems that are temporarily open to new ideas can close up again without incorporating any new elements whatsoever. 

(2) Moving: Only possible if there is openness to changing

The second step in Lewin's change model was what he called "moving." This is the introduction of the change or innovation and its initial acceptance or absorption into the system. The more permeable the barriers and the looser the interconnections within the system, the more rapidly and easily new elements can enter. This is what we could call system "openness." Advanced and sophisticated systems are able to retain a great deal of internal stability while still welcoming many types of innovations. They can do this by being temporarily open at certain times or by having specialized subsystems that take in, analyze, and transform.

Kurt Lewin's 3-Stage Model: Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze 

If you are confronted by an established system containing a rather well-defined social structure and long-standing relationships (almost always the case in educational settings), then your initial “change” activity may have to be directed toward weakening or loosening some of these bonds, at least temporarily.

This brings us to one of the many valuable insights into change processing introduced by the great social psychologist and field theorist, Kurt Lewin.  Lewin proposed that all social systems exist in a state of what he called "quasi-stationary equilibrium," the parts being held together by a cohesive energy which also acts as a barrier to outside influences. Like all living things, social systems are required to absorb new inputs from outside on a continuing basis as a matter of survival, but they do so in a highly controlled manner, which preserves the essential stability and relations among existing elements over time. The most conservative view of system maintenance is that all inputs be either expelled or absorbed without changing any of the internal elements or their relations.

In education, the purpose of schools within this conception is to mold new system members in such a way that the system as a whole remains the same, i.e., children are taught exactly what their elders were taught so that they can grow up to fill the exact same social positions that their elders have filled.

Both the barrier and the cohesive ties between elements are necessary for system survival, but barriers and ties are a hindrance to change coming either from within the system or from outside. Internal rigidities and commitments prevent reorganization, growth, and reintegration of existing elements. Strong barriers protect the system from unwanted external intrusions but also inhibit the entry of new people, new resources, and new ideas.


[1] Unfreezing: Sometimes the first task of a change agent

some call it “disruption”

Lewin proposed that the initial posture of most social systems to change is "frozen." Therefore, the initial task of those who wish to bring about change is to unfreeze the system, to create an environment in which ties are at least temporarily loosened and barriers made temporarily permeable.

New elements can be tolerated for a time but then rejected, often at a point in time when members are forced by circumstance to decide what is "really important" (e.g., when budget trimming is required). Thus, in many ways the greatest challenge for the change agent is to gain a level of acceptance for the innovation that is strong enough to survive this closing-up process.

Lewin's three step unfreezing-moving-refreezing model actually covers all of our stages, but it is introduced here because it especially helps us to understand the first stage. The level of concern for a problem or the sense of a need to change the status quo must reach the point at which the system becomes unfrozen. The "moving" part of Lewin's model really goes with our Stages 2, 3, 4, and 5. The "refreezing" applies to our Stage 6.

It is also useful to think of change issues in terms of the system concepts that Lewin introduced. Our world is made up of systems within systems; sets of elements which go together from the micro-space of atoms to the macro-space of galaxies. Living systems appear to be the most complex and interesting because of their ability to reproduce and to process material from their environment to maintain a more-or-Iess stable internal state. At the physiological level we refer to this state as "homeostasis" and the processing trans­formation as "metabolism." Social organization has developed into a variety of forms with equivalent quasi-stationary internal states and with processes equivalent to metabolism. Both the states and the processes of social systems have to be recognized and evaluated in order to bring about change. They are the barriers to change, the targets of change, and the very stuff of change all at once.

"Planned Innovation" is a complex subject which has been analyzed by scholars from a number of viewpoints. However, we have found that most practicing change agents organize their work and their thinking about innovation in terms of specific projects in which they are involved, projects which have a defined beginning and an end, and a sequential history. Therefore, we chose "STAGES" of planned innovation as the framework for navigating change. There are two ways to look at stages of innovation. One way is to see it from the point of view of the people who are being changed, and the other is to see it from the point of view of someone who is trying to change someone else. First, consider the viewpoint of the one who is changed. Every person, every group, and every social organization necessarily has some sort of problem solving process in order to survive in a changing world. This does not mean that everyone is an expert problem-solver, and it does not mean that everyone finds innovative solutions when they have a problem, but everyone does develop some sort of procedure for coping with change.

 The real key to effective problem-solving and sensible action to improve our world is to get beyond the two-step mode of thinking about change and acting to bring about change. In a major sense, that is what this book is all about. Take at least one extra step before you act on an impulse: stop and think; stop and plan what you are going to do; stop and think about the consequences of your action for different people, for the longer term, for the system as a whole. Stop and think about whether you know what the problem really is. Stop and think about who your client really is. Stop and think about whether you have considered enough alternatives either on what should be done or how to go about doing it. Become a rational problem-solver.