Creating an architecture for change

December 15, 2014

Yesterday’s post was partly inspired by my reading David Chandler’s 2014 book Resilience: The Governance of Complexity. My daughter recommended it and it has occupied me on a series of flights from Mumbai to San Deigo by way of Heathrow and Dallas. Both connections were fraught with time delays so I ended up without sufficient charge on the MacBook to clear email and read instead. No bad thing and I might institute a new rule for flights that involves reading rather than processing emails.

Now I always get nervous when people rush up to to me after a presentation and say something along the lines of that was brilliant its what I have been saying for years. My general experience of this statement is bad in that my own ideas are been suborned to support something that is clearly other. So the fact that my reaction on reading Chandler’s book was similar is making me cautious! That said the essence of his argument is what I started to say over sixteen years ago, namely that top down intervention to achieve a desired future state is not only undesirable it is a priori problematic at least, counter productive at worst.

He argues that in the context of regime change or peace and reconciliation we have moved through two stages and are entering a third:

  1. Imposing our notion or idea of democracy onto emerging or fraught nation states using military or economic power, then when that didn’t work we …
  2. assumed that the problem was elites within those societies whose perverted self-interest was preventing the will of the people from emerging, with the assumption that said will was in favour of liberal notions of society. So we use military or economic force to remove said delete, now that hasn’t worked …
  3. we need to focus on creating an infrastructure within which a fluid series of changes over time can create a resilient society build around local networked agency. Specifically we should not reach out to people who appear to be like us, but instead we should see who has the best network connectivity within the culture at a highly localised level and create the conditions under which new and constantly evolving practices can emerge.

His third point matches the approach I started to develop over sixteen years ago and which we can take on to an extra level of sophistication with SenseMaker®. By capturing the stories from local communities using the people themselves as agents of capture we see what patterns of possibility emerge that we can nudge with small safe-to-fail experiments to allow a sustainable and culturally relevant solution to emerge. Those will be local. Our notions of democracy in the UK are mediated by a history that starts with the De Montfort rebellion which first restricted the powers of the King which was further developed in the Commonwealth of Cromwell and then in the various 19th Century Reform Acts. The US builds on that in part as well but with the key difference of a formal declaration based on a specific political ideology which was dominant at the time. Those systems were a product of local interaction over time, not the imposition of a pre-determined model.

This is not only government it is also the way of all legitimate organisational change. Changing the constraints to allow the emergence of contextually appropriate practice within a locale. We can design an architecture (as long as we realise it is brown not green field approaches which are needed), but then within that architecture or constraint framework we need to allow sustainable patterns of local behaviour to emerge.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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