Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chapter 7 Challenge of Change

A )
Tuesday’s discussion sparked a few very important questions for me:
“Is it possible for a country like the US possibly become sustainable in the face of wonton capitalism?”
“if change toward sustainability is possible in the U.S. how will it be achieved?”
“Are we currently on the right track?”

The 7th chapter in the key to sustainable cities book, “Challenge of Change”, offered some insight into these questions. First, the nature of change and how humans generally react to change was addressed. People generally do not like change, especially when they feel that the changes are brought onto them, that they have no control. Several types of change were discussed. Cyclical change describes small changes that occur so a period of time only to return to the original state—putting storm windows in during the winter is an example of this type of change. Incremental change describes a process in which small changes occur over time and generally go uncontested and unnoticed. The type of change needed for people to move toward creating sustainable cities is structural change. This type of change is radical.

Now that the foundation is set and a goal has been established, it is time to find the means to do it. Servant leadership is described as the type of leader who seeks to serve others first, before establishing any power/leadership role. Leading in the opposite direction is generally done by egotists, acting out of fear and a lack of trust. That kind of leader is not what is needed for effective structural change. Servant leadership is all good, but we need more than one person to start this revolution. The innovator is the person who comes up with an alternative way to do something, this individual is the starting point for change. Next are the opinion leaders/change agents who convince others that the innovation will be successful and will help consumers. Trendsetters are next in the process, fearlessly investing in the new innovation. Conservatives/mainstreamers are the people generally resistant to change, however, the extended time they take to accept the innovation provides stability to the system. Iconolasts are the social critics who challenge old ideas but do not come up with new ideas. These types can be very helpful to what is now becoming the innovative movement. Reactionaries and curmudgeons are the people who generally resist any change at all, however there is a slight difference between the two. Reactionaries protest any change to the status quo, whereas curmudgeons challenge everything. Spiritual leaders are the people who inspire the masses to think and believe in the new concept on a higher level. Examples of these types include: Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and the like.

Moving to more practical application of this knowledge, the author outlines 9 guidelines for conducting successful and insightful group processes. 1. Speaking, 2. listening, 3. Using time, 4. open to outcome, 5. focus on system as the problem, not the people, 6. Keep arguments, 7. be present-oriented, 8. avoid hypothetical situations, 9. always do your best. These seem to follow closely with participatory practices and I will discuss them more when I connect them to my experiences.

Community patterns of group behavior are next laid out in a helpful manner: forming, storming, norming and performing. These words represent the stages of group behavior that service leaders looking to create structural changes should identify. Also, someone in this position must identify elements of a system likely to resist change and provide openings to external influences that might facilitate change.

The chapter is ended with examples of stakeholder participation on a governmental level. Proxies are defined as people who are chosen to represent particular interests on a board that helps government make decisions. Also, direct democracy through Town Meetings is also defined and discussed.

B) So, how does all of this connect to our discussion?
I’d say that our discussion on Tuesday hovered around the issue of how structural change should occur in order to be successful, and this chapter provides a general description of practices that will lead to success. Generally, it seems like the advice is to be open to new ideas and to extend leadership opportunities to stakeholders so they take ownership of the process.

In what part of the process of group behavior are we in now? It feels as though we have come upon the “forming” stage and are beginning “storming” and “Norming.” I would say that we will fluctuate back and forth between these stages as class progresses and the goals become more clear.

C) It is hard to make a critique of the this chapter because I am familiar with the practices and principles which the author proposes. If I had never heard of participatory planning practices I would be learning the principles through this reading without really having a name for it. It seems clear to me that approaching structural change with an open and inclusive attitude is the best practice. Though the author does credit others for their work in this field, reading this chapter should not serve as a general introduction to participatory planning practices.

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