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Patterning Transformative Change

For sustainable dialogue, vision, conference, policy, network, community and lifestyle (Part #1)

Commentary A on an exercise in metaphorical interpretation of the Chinese Book of Changes. Original version (on networking with references) published in Transnational Associations, 1983, 4, pp 172-181; also published in Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, 1994-5, vol 2, pp. 557-558. Also published in modified form in Statistics, Visualizations and Patterns (Vol 5 of the Yearbook of International Organizations, K G Saur Verlag, 6th edition, 2006/2007, as section 10.2.1)
1. Introduction
Chinese insights
Interpretative exercise
Transformation pathways
Contrasting exercises

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1. Introduction

This exercise is concerned with identifying and representing patterns of change and with the development of better ways of responding to its possibilities in various forms of socially organized activity, such that developmental momentum is conserved within the pattern rather than being dissipated unusefully. It has been applied in seven distinct areas of contemporary concern in an equivalent manner. The areas are: dialogue, vision, transformative conferencing, sustainable policy cycles, networking, sustainable community, and sustainable lifestyle.

The focus is on moving beyond the inadequacies of single factor approaches in each case, in an effort to provide a richer and more adequate framework for sustainable development. Versions of this exercise, and this commentary, appeared in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1986, 1991). The challenge identified there is to avoid single-policy weaknesses such as:

  • single policies create the impression of being viable and successful by filtering out conflict and opposition. They are thus ill-equipped to interrelate a diversity of perspectives, many of which may involve fundamental disagreements (sometimes manageable by hierarchies in an "objectionable" manner);
  • single policies may be used as temporary vehicles for enthusiastic response to problems, only to be abandoned as soon as unpleasant realities have to be faced;
  • single policies are often geared to "positive thinking", negating the possibility of criticism and especially self- criticism, thus hindering collective learning.

The question is then whether there are any clues to ways of "tensing" policies to correct such tendencies). What can be done to prevent the energy from draining out of policies? One approach has been discussed under the heading of "tensegrity organization" as a hybrid "marriage" between networks and hierarchies (Anthony Judge. Implementing Principles by Balancing Configurations of Functions, 1979).

A related approach is to assume that policies fail to contain problems because they are effectively out-manoeuvred by the dynamics of such problems. As in the martial arts, a policy must swiftly re-order conceptual and organizational resources to keep up with shape-shifting and hydra-like transformations of the problematique. The policy may need to alternate between several modes of action and conception in order to respond effectively (Judge, Policy Alternation for Development, 1984). If this is the case how can we come to recognize the pattern of transformation pathways to which a cycle of policies needs to respond?

nize the pattern of transformation pathways to which a cycle of policies needs to respond?

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