Change seen from an individual perspective (for example, a senior policymaker desiring to create a specific unit or process to incorporate research and evidence to policy decisions) is very different from an organizational perspective (i.e. a team within a policy unit wanting to build new partnerships with universities and research centers to foster production of policy relevant research).
How can you work considering both levels at the same time?
Our framework can be used both at the individual and organizational levels, and to build bridges between individual agency and organizational change. Even though its focus is on the State agency as an organization, we believe change largely depends on the role of individual champions.
Being an astute political actor requires understanding the political context and organizational histories and leveraging organizational values. The framework paves the way to this: you can use it as an effective lens to become politically alert and detect windows of opportunities by subtly playing the game to change the rules.
Furthermore, the complexity paradigm offers us a useful concept to observe the potential links between individual and organizational change: emergence. It refers to events that are unpredictable, which seem to result from the interactions between elements, and which no one organization or individual can control. The process of evolution exemplifies emergence. As one animal successfully adapts to its environment, others mutate in ways that overcome the advantages the first animal has developed.
Neither a single individual nor an organization can drive systemic and predictable change, but at the same time each movement within this web of interactions can mean change in others. So, how should you proceed to embrace complexity and at the same time make concrete decisions and take specific steps towards promoting positive changes?
One potential strategy is to watch out for emergent solutions and patterns as a way forward to build bridges between individual and organizational change. In fact, complexity theorists believe that what defines successful leaders in situations of great complexity is not the quality of decisiveness, but the quality of inquiry.
Dagu is very potent concept if we desire to better deal with complexity and link our individual contribution to organizational and systemic changes. Dagu is a very rich practice that comes from a tribe in Ethiopia, called the Afaris, who believe “it is a sacred responsibility to listen and share dagu-a word that means information, though it implies more than pure data” (Zimmerman and Patton: 2007).
The authors explain how “being nomads, Afari families travel from place to place, seeking better conditions for their cattles and themselves. Every so often they will meet another Afari family, and no matter what they are doing and where they are heading, they sit down to talk and listen, usually for hours. The exchange of dagu trumps all other responsibilities. They share what they have seen and heard about the environment, about health issues (both cattle and human), about political tensions, about new relationships. As they talk, they provide the facts as they have seen them or heard them, but also their interpretation of what these facts mean. They collectively make sense of the patterns that are emerging. Children learn about dagu in their families and practice with their parents until they are deemed to be adept at deep listening, astute observation, and sense making or pattern recognition. Their lives depend on dagu. Dagu helps them decide when to leave an area and which are to head to next. It helps them stop the spread of disease in their cattle or families (…) The Afaris do not believe that they can control the patterns, but if they can understand them deeply, they can work with them and potentiality nudge them or influence them.”
To incorporate emergence into any change endeavor, and be politically alert to detect the best windows of opportunity for change, you might want to consider the following questions:
• Are you really counting with others to detect the relevant patterns?
• Are you using the sensitivity of local sensors (colleagues, other relevant stakeholders within our institutions and those with whom we usually interact, etc.) to bring on change?
• Are you working with a pace that allows you to observe, listen, connect and process as dagu implies?
One baby step: hold a meeting with four/five individuals from your organization as well as current external partners and discuss about emerging trends in terms of the way research and policy are closer to each other (this might range from an university where former policymakers are increasingly hired to teach to the setup of information systems within some governmental agencies). Then select two persons who usually have divergent views on this topic and discuss with them whether they also perceive any emergent trends and ask them about the ones you have already identified.
For more on Emergence, see the following Useful tools: