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| 2 minutes read

How Change Happens

How does change happen? This is a topic discussed by Cass Sunstein in a recent Royal Society of Arts lecture.

There are many complex factors that influence societal change, and interdependencies - people react to what other people say and do. 

A point from the lecture that I found particularly interesting was that different people have different thresholds being motivated to be proactively involved in influencing change. It links to our values, beliefs, and the context or situation in which we find ourselves.

There may be incidences where people are upset about something, but in and of itself that upset is not enough to trigger action. 

The context is also crucial: perhaps the person has become acclimatised to a situation. To them it is 'normal', and without knowledge of an alternative, or how to make an alternative happen where is the impetus to create change?

Another factor that can prevent successful change is that people might conceal what they actually think. Sunstein called this preference falsification. Social norms are very powerful - people may feel that they have to support a popular view, and be reluctant or unwilling to suggest an alternative argument for fear (whether real or imagined) of being teased, ostracisation, or in the case of political regimes, punished. 

Added to this, different people need different levels of social support before they will rebel, or say what they think. Sometimes they can be encouraged if they see others leading the way - you might have heard of the first follower principle. We've seen examples of this recently with the #MeToo movement - there have been more open discussions about sexual harassment thanks to people in the public eye coming forward to talk about their experiences, and thanks to the openness of social media. 

Change is impossible to predict, and challenging to encourage. We don't know where other people's change thresholds are (or even where our own is, because it's situation dependent), meaning there's no one-size-fits-all magic change formula. 

There is a kind of magic at work, though. 

When change does happen, it is often the product of serendipitous factors - who did what when, heard by whom...a butterfly flapped its wings at the right moment.

It's all about like-minded people talking to each other. Creating community. Supporting one another, providing encouragement. 

You can find out more about creating a community of change by joining The School for Change Agents. 

We are a global movement of more than 15,000 creating the boldest and most innovative ideas in health and care. Everyone is welcome, and it's free to join and take part. We hope to see you there - sign up now. 

Thank you to Sarah Brooke for the sketchnote based on Cass Sunstein's talk.

[This post was edited in November 2019 to remove the reference to the start date for the May 2019 cohort of The School for Change Agents.]