Stage 5.2.1  What Are the Group’s Commonalities?

Any group can first be characterized by what we might call its "commonalities," all those things that members have in common. Typically these are common backgrounds, common interests, common circumstances, common values, common problems, and, most of all, common needs. A social system is a group of people who have pooled their resources to satisfy needs they have in common. These common things bind them together psychologically so that "mine" becomes "ours" and "self-interest" becomes "our common interest." This arrangement is usually very beneficial for all concerned, but sometimes it gets in the way, especially when new ideas and new ways of doing things are introduced from outside. When this happens, the members of the group have to decide individually or collectively whether or not the new thing threatens the common good. At this point, all these common values, beliefs, interests, and backgrounds become either potential barriers to change or sometimes conduits or facilitators of change.

Social organization, by its very nature, is conservative and protective; it is supposed to keep some potential "innovations" out for the preservation of the common good, and, when it lets such things come in, they are supposed to be "acceptable," which usually means "what we are accustomed to." Thus, the structure of the group is a kind of filtering mechanism. Various members are needed to "sniff out" new ideas, to expel dangerous ones, or to make initial and final decisions about "acceptability" for the group as a whole. Sometimes different people are appointed or self-appointed to fill each of these filtering functions.

It is worth noting that all biological organisms, even down to the single cell, have these boundary-maintaining characteristics and have sub-elements with similar sniffing and expelling capabilities.

The first step for the change agent who wants to gain the acceptance of the group is to find out what kinds of barriers are most important and what kinds of filters are used to maintain the status quo. We cannot generalize too much beyond this for all groups because some are very open to new ideas while others will admit almost nothing new.

So, who are these key actors or gatekeepers to change?