Change agents can be viewed as both builders and destroyers of systems. Certainly where linkages are very weak (as in Figure 0-1) the focal concern may be system-building, creating linkages among members and creating a sense of the whole for all the members taken together. A social system is in many respects a prized human achievement. In its fullest form it has evolved over countless generations to provide stability, safety, and comfort to our individual lives. Thus, once achieved, cohesive social organization is tightly held, sometimes even to the death. By the same token, where it is very weak or in a state of disintegration, it may be a cause for great anxiety to would-be change agents and others. If you judge this to be the primary concern for your system, then the focal chapter in The Guide for you is Stage 1: Relating.

The graph represents the typical state of affairs in organized societies. Most of us are embedded in social organizations with specified roles and task expectations relating to innumerable shared goals and concerns. However, the degree of connectedness and the areas of shared concern vary widely from group to group. The change agent, in the initial survey of the scene, will have to make some judgments about the strength and tightness of the social organisms with which he or she is dealing. Sometimes, the first task of the change agent may be to bring people together and to increase the degree of cohesion, but in other cases, the more urgent first task may to be to open up a system which is so tightly bound and ordered within itself that it has lost the ability to change.

The following graphic, extends these ideas into something that we can begin to call a social system with not only a joint recognition of common concerns but a division of labor and an integrated set of relations capable of producing joint action.

What is Change?

Change is everywhere and is always happening.  It is a coming together and a falling apart.  Somewhere in the middle is a state of ‘No Change,’ which we could also call “stasis” except that the stasis is inherently unstable, coming apart even as it is coming together. A better term is ‘QUASI-STASIS,’ a sometimes-desired state of equilibrium, a balance of forces between the coming together and the falling apart.

For each of us individual humans ‘Change’ is life, itself, a coming together of trillions of atoms to make a whole living thing, walking, talking, and acting on the world around us.

This living whole is always and continuously in a state of flux.  But the flux is not random. It is mostly purposeful and the goal is to reach a good or better state of equilibrium. That striving or converging toward the ‘better’ state could also be called “PROBLEM SOLVING.”  If the result of this coming together is an improved quasi-stasis, that could be called ‘PROGRESS.”


Living Social Systems: What Are They?

To begin to understand who is being served or who is in need of change, we need to make a brief review of what social systems are, how they come into being, how they keep going, how they change, and how they grow and decay.

[1] Formation of social systems

Social organization is always going to be complex beyond our knowing. It exists in great variety and abundance everywhere, always overlapping, multiply connected, partially connected, disconnected, etc. Given this complexity, we can still step back in our imagination to the chaotic world of pre-connection when all the people were islands unto themselves. Imagine a group of people boarding a bus at an airport, headed for downtown. A few may be ac­quainted but most are headed in from different places and getting ready to head on out to different destinations. Here they are, in one place, at one time, the most rudimentary of social organizations, the collection. They have, at this moment, only one relatively weak common goal, to continue on this bus until it stops. Such might be the situation depicted in the graphic.