A theory for change – 5i’s for holistic change management

Change. The final frontier. How does it work? How can we make it work? To talk about the development and humanitarian sectors in corporate terms – they’re both all about change management.

The concept of systemic change is an aspirational yet daunting endeavour. Operating within complex systems of layers and stakeholders can lead to narrow thinking, focusing on challenging one part of the system. In reality, a number of different efforts must be made to see change. That said, it isn’t necessary for one organisation to tackle the same problem from every angle. As a result, the 5i’s can be used to support the design of programmes both in terms of activities themselves, but also it can foster opportunities for partnerships or, at the very least, complimentary action to ensure a collective drive for change from multiple angles.

So what are these 5 ‘i’s and where do they come from? Well, as with everything else here, they’ve been adapted, tweaked and rearticulate from various inputs. Most notably, the original was ‘inspire, influence and incubate’, taken from transition theory and shared with me by a former colleague at Bond. Since there, I’ve added some bits and pieces.

So why did it resonate? It’s multi-faceted: it considers change required various inter-relating moves to see real progress made. It had some real face validity to it – it made sense. Without space being created for people to experiment, the practical steps to realising innovative concepts wont take place. As mentioned before, policy is often influenced by practice, but it is in both directions and it is in that reciprocity where change is most likely to occur. Creating space to incubate and the practice to expand that space is a powerful combination. In its full expansion, the model has notes of top-down, bottom-up and lateral dynamics. That feels powerful. So here’re the headlines:

Bang the drum
shed light on the issue through communications, internally, externally, face-to-face and digitallylaunching a blog, writing a paper, contributing to debate in meetings, events and online
Create space
space must be created for change, often at policy/political levels but also in other systems such as industries and organisationsadvocate and create space, provide resource for teams and remove hurdles
Protect pockets
seek pockets of innovation and support they continued developmentshift away from immediate, orthodox results, create freedom to fail and reward for learning, even make teams with specific alternative projects to do so
Create conditions to spark
where innovation doesn’t occur and yet the conditions create an opportunity, create pockets of innovation by sparking ideascreate spaces to engage potential pockets for innovation and incubation – seek out where progress is being made
identify the opportunities for individuals, organisations and even systems to interact, share, learn and challenge each othercreate communities of practice, technical groups, platforms for conversation and shared learning

And what that may look like in diagrammatic form:

So now we can get to utility. I genuinely think it has merit in a variety of situations. Whether you’re trying to change the whole humanitarian system or internal practices. Whether you’re trying to get a new or hopefully improved method off the ground, or even designing programmes.

Whatever the change is that you’re looking for. Promote it. Create the space for it. Protect its development. Create the conditions for new contributions and collaboration, especially with those similarly sought goals but perhaps different ways of getting there. And if you spot gaps in that plan – see what you can do to change it.

A theory for change – 5i’s for holistic change management

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