Disruption after transformative events: the Satir Change Model

July 28, 2009
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The impact on group performance of a well assimilated change during the five stages of the Satir Change Model

Steven Smith has a very interesting post discussing the Satir Change Model – a model of group process which charts the impact of innovations in organisational dynamics.

Smith discusses the impact of change on organisational dynamics.  The Satir Change model is derived from family psychology, which tracks the changes in family behaviour after the introduction of a new or disruptive event.

What the model finds is that after a new way of acting or behaving is adopted, there is a drop in performance often followed by a period of chaos or disruption.  This then restabilises to a higher level than before after group members internalise and embrace the circumstances of the new condition.

Clark Quinn then comments upon this, applying the model to organisational change.  He suggests that breaking new conditions or changes of behaviour into small, bite sized chunks might actually help reduce the negative aspects associated with change adoption.  Introducing these at the right time, and in the right order, may be the key to progressive, ongoing organisational change.

Smith then summarises this process in a table, reproduced below:

ctions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.

Many thanks to Steven and Clark for discussing this issue in the context of organisational change.

What lessons might this hold for humanitarian bearocratic change in the face of increasing numbers of disruptive, change-inducing events? Depending on the magnitude and frequency of these events (both increasing), it is possible that such organisations could hypothetically be driven down a process of ever decreasing performance if such changes happen fast enough.  On the other hand, embracing and understanding a model such a this (if it works in the context of your organisation) could help managers better navigate these changes.

UPDATE – This also suggests that in order for organisations to learn and improve, they must be subject to creative, disruptive, potentially even destructive events.  If one is serious about change management and organisational adaptation, doesn’t it make sense to bring about such small events in order to help agencies and organisations better strengthen their “immune systems” in this regard?  In this case, do the ends justify the means?

Learning from children: strategy, tactics and games in times of rapid change

July 20, 2009


Are there lessons in how children learn that might help us adults, and the organisations we run, learn from turbulent environments and make better decisions in times of change?

Watching my 9 month old child grow up, I was struck by how inventive and experimental his learning style can be.  Like all children, his life is a constant stream of novelty and change.  He has very little control, has no sense of why or how things work, yet learns quicker and more effectively than most adults and at a rate which makes organisations look positively glacial.  He also seems to enjoy it much more than most adults I know as well.

A colleague recommended reading the classic book “How Children Learn”, by John Holt.  That book is reviewed here, here and here.  I have transcribed relevant excerpts below, and interpret them in the context of organisational learning and strategic change management.

When children attack a new problem, they begin to play, almost at random.  This generates a tremendous amount of sensory data. A scientist might say that, along with his useful data, the child has collected an enormous quantity of random, useless data.  The trained scientist wants to cut all irrelevant data out of his experiment.  He is asking nature a question, he wants to cut down the noise, the static, the random information, to a minimum, so he can hear the answer.  But a child doesn’t work that way.  He is used to getting answers out of the noise.  He has, after all, grown up in a strange world where everything is noise, where can only understand and make sense of a tiny part of his experiences.  His way of attaching a problem is to produce the maximum amount of data possible, to do as many things as he can, [in as many] ways as possible.  then, as he goes along, he begins to notice regularities and patterns.  He begins to ask questions – that is, to make deliberate experiments.  But it is vital to note that until he has a great deal of data, he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.

This is a marvellous phrase, “he has no idea what questions to ask, or what questions there are to be asked.”  How many of us have felt this way, when honestly considering the complexities we face in our daily lives?

The young child, at least until his thinking has been spoiled by adults, has a great advantage in situations… where there is so much seemingly senseless data that it is impossible to tell what questions to ask.  He is much better at taking in this kind of data; he is better able to tolerate its confusion; and he is much better at picking out the patterns, hearing the faint signal amid all the noise.  Above all, he is much less likely than an adult to make hard and fast conclusions on the basis of too little data, or having made such conclusions, to refuse to consider any new data that does not support them.

Reading Holt contains excellent lessons for decision-makers faced with complex, changing landscapes.  They must first understand what kinds of problems they are facing and what kinds of questions must be asked.

This can only be done through experimentation.  But not the kind of experimentation taught to us in the science lab.  The kind of experimentation that doesn’t need to be taught, that is, through play.

But not just any kind of play.  Play doesn’t work if it isn’t fun.  Play minus fun equals labour, which doesn’t have the same learning benefits.

The spirit behind [children’s games] should be a spirit of joy, foolishness, exuberance, like the spirit behind all good games, include the game of trying to find out how the work works, which we call education.

Only through play, then – through random, iterative, and fundamentally joyful experimentation – can we begin to understand how and why the world is changing.  And only through play can we generate the notions and motivations necessary to interact successfully with it.

Surprising insights from an author who specialises in, well, children’s games.  Perhaps management strategy need not be as serious and we like to think.

UPDATE – See my similar post on “Rules for Emergent Experimentation“, which reaches similar conclusions and proposes guidelines for play in the context of organisational learning.

Bill Gates files patents for geo-engineering ships

July 11, 2009


Bill Gates and colleagues are seeking patents for a flotilla-based hurricane suppression system.

The patents, discussed here, are intended to use the temperature differential between the warm, surface water and the cold, deeper waters below.

Hurricanes are caused when ocean water temperatures rise, releasing warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This water condenses and creates cyclonic wind storms due to the pressure difference between hot and cold air fronts in the atmosphere.

Gates’ idea is to use giant floating bath tubs to capture warm water on the surface, then suck it down to the ocean depths in a kind of thermohaline exchange mechanism.

The basic idea is to draw cold water up from the ocean depths to cool the ocean surface, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

This appears to be the latest effort in climate change, weather suppression technologies, discussed on this blog in a series of posts here and here.

From TechFlash:

Patent watcher “theodp,” who tipped us off to the filings, says he was reminded of “The Simpsons” as he read through them. “The richest man in the world hatches a plan to alter weather and ecology in return for insurance premiums and fees from governments and individuals,” he writes. “It’s got kind of a Mr. Burns feel to it, no?”

The hurricane-suppression patent applications date to early 2008, but they were first made public this morning.

Reviewing the American Red Cross Social Media Strategy Handbook

July 6, 2009

Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross just posted a draft of their proposed Social Media Strategy Handbook.   We think it is great.

Note, this is only a screenshot.  Unfortunately WordPress doesn't let you embed Google presentations yet.

One of the core tenants of HFP is that humanitarian aid organisations must become more savvy with social network technologies (and tactics).  This collaborative document, built on top of the shared policies of many other organisations, is an excellent example of this is practice.

The document is remarkable in at least three ways:

  1. It was produced collaboratively, built upon the shared policies of other organisations.
  2. It is being shared over the web, in full and in an easily shared format, for comment and discussion
  3. It is very clever, practice relevant, and a great example of practising what you preach

The entire strategy can be found here as a text version.  The Google Docs slideshow is excellent as well.  Well done Wendy!

Mapping disasters in 3D

April 5, 2009

  Vodpod videos no longer available.

Robin Murphy from Texas A&M University (TAMU) create software to reconstruct 3D scenes of disasters from 2d photographs taken by flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s).

Picture this; an earthquake devastates a major Chinese city.  Rubble is everywhere, no one knows where the survivors are.  

A team of researchers suggests a new system may help first responders gain a better understanding of their environment through the use of flying robots and 3D reconstruction software.  

[The system] deploys several small unmanned air vehicles (SUAVs), such as AirRobot quadrotors, to take snapshots of the rubble. The pictures are then uploaded to a software program called RubbleViewer, which quickly builds a three-dimensional map of the area that users can intuitively navigate. More efficient than drawing by hand, this system is also cheaper and more portable than the alternative–using helicopter-mounted lasers to map the rubble.

Last time I checked “using helicopter mounted lasers to map the rubble” was still a tad beyond most humanitarian budgets.  But who knows what wonders the G20 stimulus package might provide?  In any case, it’s an interesting proof of concept that could be scaled to market over time, thus lowering the price and becoming potentially useful to combat-style first responders in urban environments in the future.

IDP camp, internet cafe, or participatory panopticon?

March 25, 2009


Fulbright scholar Jon Marino, reports on the use of the web in the Coo Pe IDP Camp in Uganda.

Take a walk through Coo Pe IDP Camp (Coo Pe literally means “no men” in Acholi/Luo) in northern Uganda and you are liable to stumble across something that may surprise you.  Thanks to Project BOSCO, residents of Coo Pe have access to the internet, either via a wireless network, or by using a solar-powered PC stationed in the camp.

He writes that the project was, “initially conceived as an emergency-response system that would give camp residents the power to share the oppression they were experiencing at the hands of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government with the outside world. However, now that relative peace has returned to the region, the technology is helping people with the rebuilding process. Farmers are using the wiki to share ideas about re-introducing crops. Human rights monitors are using it to highlight corruption and abuse. Schools are using it to access online newspapers for free.”

The rise of the participatory panopticon

This is another excellent example, like the Kakuma News Reflector, of IT tools empowering people from the ground up.  Futurist Jamais Cacao suggests that, taken to its logical conclusion, this trend could soon result in something like world-wide, voluntary, mega-monitoring of all our daily activities.  And not by Big Brother, but by ourselves, for our own various ends.

In The Rise of the Participatory Panopticon, he writes,

Soon — probably within the next decade, certainly within the next two — we’ll be living in a world where what we see, what we hear, what we experience will be recorded wherever we go. There will be few statements or scenes that will go unnoticed, or unremembered. Our day to day lives will be archived and saved. What’s more, these archives will be available over the net for recollection, analysis, even sharing.And we will be doing it to ourselves.

This won’t simply be a world of a single, governmental Big Brother watching over your shoulder, nor will it be a world of a handful of corporate siblings training their ever-vigilant security cameras and tags on you. Such monitoring may well exist, probably will, in fact, but it will be overwhelmed by the millions of cameras and recorders in the hands of millions of Little Brothers and Little Sisters. We will carry with us the tools of our own transparency, and many, perhaps most, will do so willingly, even happily.

I call this world the Participatory Panopticon.

Implications for aid and development futures

This has both exciting and terrifying implications for development and aid provision.  At the recent HFP Stakeholder’s Forum, a participant raised the question, “what would happen if aid agencies and their insurers instituted mandatory drug testing of all field employees?  How many of us are on anti-depressants and stimulants and what impact would this have on staffing?”  

Another issue raised was the ever increasing efforts for HQ to control field workers through such technological means.  What if every action was being recorded and could later be used for investigation, inquiry, or even law suits?  

Although the prospect has many positive aspects, such as better monitoring of human rights abuses, exposure of corruption and graft, etc., the participatory panopticon is clearly a powerful and game-changing trend which could fundamentally alter the way aid is planned, delivered, and received.


Geospatial Revolution Project: The location of anything is becoming everything

March 16, 2009


Penn State researchers just launched an exciting project with significant innovation potential for humanitarian organisations.

The Geospatial Revolution Project has a by-line; “The location of anything is becoming everything”.  What does this mean?  

The project states:

We live in the Global Location Age. “Where am I?” is being replaced by, “Where am I in relation to everything else?”

Penn State Public Broadcasting is developing the Geospatial Revolution Project, an integrated public service media and outreach initiative on the brave new world of digital mapping.

The project will include a 60- to 90-minute public television broadcast program, a structured outreach initiative 
with educational partners, a chaptered program DVD including educational toolkit components, and a Web site with information and additional resources.

They include a lovely 5 minute video which is an excellent overview of how geospatial tools are changing the way everything is made, tracked, and interacted with. 

Imagine if the UNDP could track every single tent it shipped.  Imagine if conditions for IDP provision rested on users wearing a trackable necklace at all times, with a unique ID and personal history.  Imagine if aid organisations themselves were monitored in such a fashion.  How would this change everything?

Rules of behaviour for emergent experimentation

January 9, 2009

IDEO CEO Tim Brown discusses six lessons learned from decades of innovation that help foster collaboration, experimentation, and change

Brown’s six rules for emergent experimentation can be found here. Among the best are

  1. Assume the best ideas emerge from the organizational ecosystem, including all stake-holders not just employees.
  2. Set conditions so that those in the ecosystem who are most likely to be stimulated by changing external factors (technology, business factors, consumer needs, strategic threats or opportunities) are the ones who are best situated and motivated to have new ideas.
  3. Articulate an over-arching purpose so that the ecosystem has a context in which to innovate without top down control.

HFP consultants Sean Lowrie and Noah Raford have been having similar conversations about effective management strategy in turbulent environments (such as those faced by forward looking humanitarian entities in the coming decade).  When uncertainty and change are so great that long term planning is impossible, how can one plan for organizational commitment and change? One possibility is structured improvisation, with lessons taken from jazz, theatre, and the creative arts. Such rules include

  1. Observe what went before, find the pattern, and then match it.
  2. Vary the pattern incrementally and experimentally over time.
  3. See how others respond.
  4. Change everything now and then.
  5. Repeat.

Are there any parallels in planning for humanitarian change? What might this look like when collaborating with multiple and different stakeholders? What if only some, but not all, stakeholders agree to “play the game”? How can one create conditions of listening where these rules might succeed?

Referring back to Tim’s post, we love the idea of favouring ideas which create organizational resonance, which also articulate over-arching purpose for both the organization and its stakeholders and clients. The catch? These ideas don’t usually come from the top! In this case, the “consumer” of humanitarian services might be the one with the best ideas and strategies for adaptation in the face of change.

You can read the full post from Tim here. By way of background, IDEO has been a leader in innovation, collaboration and design for over a decade. They are recognized as one of the world’s leaders in innovation and collaboration and are increasingly turning their attention towards humanitarian and social issues. They recently published a toolkit for the Gates Foundation on providing Human Centered Design for humanitarian services and are also active in a variety of management and social change decision-making sectors.