Stage 0.4   How Do We Sort out CARES?

The hierarchy of concerns

Most change agents will approach their client systems with their own concerns well in mind. It is clear that all four of our change agents in the case examples were already primed with concerns of their owna, some more strongly held than others. In some ways, having concerns in advance helps the change agent, but it can also get in the way. Let us suppose, therefore, that our agent starts out as the most altruistic of public servants, with no agenda other than to help clients bring about beneficial change of some kind. What would the change agent look for as concerns or cares of the clients? What sort of list or framework would be helpful for sorting out the cares of individual members, sub-groups, and the system as a whole? Obviously, some cares are more important than others, but how do we decide or, more properly, how do we get them to decide, keeping in mind that these focal concerns are going to become the forces that will drive the change effort.

When Thomas Jefferson penned the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" into the Declaration of Independence, he gave us a wonderfully simple taxonomy of the cares of humans. These are the things that people prize above all else and probably in that order. The most basic need of humans is life, i.e., survival, of the species first, survival of the self being subordinate but integral with that. Survival requires food, shelter, and protection from the destructive forces of nature and other people. Liberty is what we hope to have, once life is secure, the freedom to choose our own way of life, our own religion, our own company, our own ways of thought.

The pursuit of happiness perhaps encompasses the rest. The phrase begs the question of whether happiness is out there somewhere. All it says is that we should be able to pursue it, not necessarily find it. Yet implicit in the phrase is the notion that there are many types of things that humans find rewarding and pleasurable and they should be allowed, even encouraged to go after them in their separate ways as part of their fulfillment of life. Thus, there are foods not just for survival but for the infinitely varied delights of taste and smell. There are sounds not just to hear and to warn of danger but also to inspire through poetry and music. The trappings of culture are not merely functional requirements of system maintenance but prized jewels which elevate the quality of our lives. 

Everything we have listed so far represents cares or concerns which can be powerful enough to energize an effort of some kind,, either to save, to enhance, or to create, but these are concerns expressed in terms of individuals rather than -social organizations. The change agent should also be able to think in terms of system concerns that transcend the individual. For example, system survival is always an issue, usually in the back of the mind but sometimes up front. It is sometimes referred to as "existential," meaning that the system will be destroyed if something is done (or not done.) Systems, like people, are born, they grow, they decline, and they die. Systems also can merge or subdivide and remain healthy. Even the idea of system "health" is complicated and perhaps controversial. For some, long term survival is proof of health, but for the change agent system, health is more likely to be suggested by such qualities as the ability to change, to grow, to adapt to new conditions, and to adopt new ideas and hew subsystems.

Focal concerns may also reside at the level of subgroups or minorities within a larger system. These concerns may be viewed as system defects by advocates of these particular causes. In such cases the change agent seeks to make the larger system feel responsible for the concerns of the minority, whether it be in terms of caring for the poor, the handicapped, the homeless, or the racially or culturally different.