Social Context

What sort of ‘system’ are you in?  

There is still one more important piece of the picture that is missing: the people! Who are they? What sort of social grouping are we looking at? How many? How are they related to one another? Does the need for change apply to some or all?

Change never occurs in a social vacuum; there are always people to consider, different people with different needs, related to one another in complex ways. Thus, the very first step in a change process is  recognizing what the system really is. In the most general sense, "system" just means a number of things that go together: elements, molecules, cells, organs, organisms, or whatever. Social systems are merely bunches of people that go together in some way. Just who are the social elements, how they go together, and how well they go together are crucial questions for the change agent.

For more thoughts Go to S-Box 1: What Sort of System?

The mere connectedness of the members of a system may be the central change issue. Do the people involved even see themselves as part of the same system? Do they see themselves as having common goals and interests and an ability and willingness to talk to one another and to work together for the common good? Very often they don't, and if they don't, then the first task of the change agent is to try to bring them together. Groupings of individuals create a challenge to the change agent, and change agents may want to work at any or all of these levels. For example, there are many change situations which can be defined in terms of the relations between two individuals. Indeed, to the extent that we so often tend to.

For more thoughts Go to S-Box 2 : System Health

 As we include more and more individuals and subgroupings in the target population, the social integration task becomes more complex. Thus, the social relating skills of the change agent are in every case paramount.

 Successful change agents are not merely technical experts, they are people movers. The psychological and social aspects of the change effort must always be kept front and center, and the relationships of the change agent to the system and of the system to itself must always be nurtured. Thus, the first enormous step after a concern is recognized is the establishment of relationships among the change actors and beneficiaries, including the change agent. Even after a relationship has been established, and as the change effort proceeds, the agent must return again and again to ask if the whole system has enough integration to support the change effort and has enough trust in the change agent to allow him or her to continue efforts on behalf of the desired change.

Thus, the building of the relationship is "Step #1," and it also is a key aspect of steps two, three, four, and five. As we define the problem and reach out for solutions, participation and involvement must continue on as wide a basis as practical. Even more importantly, the sense and perception of participation must be maintained at each stage so that the final solution will be "owned" by most of those who are affected by it.


Where does the change agent fit in the process? 

Anyone who intervenes in the problem-solving efforts of a social group or organization can be described as a "change agent," but there are a number of different ways in which such intervention can take place. The change agent can and should specialize in helping with that part of the process where he/she has the best chance of making a difference. That might indicate a very limited or a very broad role definition, a single contribution at a particular point in time or many interventions over the whole course of the change.

For more thoughts Go to S-Box 3: Starting Points


Should we really do this?

Not all systems are amenable to change at a given moment, even though there are many who see the need and feel the pain of not acting. The best change agents have to have a feel for timing and appropriateness. The lead question should be”\: is this system ready for a change process at this time. Will there negative on sequences of disruption outweigh the possible realized benefits? Can the system take it?

For more thoughts Go to S-Box 4: System Change Posture