Illustration by Jasper Kipp. Learn more about our illustrators.
Designing a Process for Change
While we like to say that we create products, services, environments, and other tangible things, much of what we actually design is the process of creating these things – the process of creating change. We work closely with our partners to design and create the conditions that allow people to be actively involved in the creation, implementation, and evaluation of the changes happening in their system. To do this, we use the following techniques to be sure we’re designing a sustainable process of change.
Understanding the details of people, organizations, and systems
We start with seeking to deeply understand the context that people are working within. Through one-on-one conversations with people internal to the system and external to the system, we explore the assets, barriers to change, and tensions within their experiences, roles, perspectives, and priorities. Through these conversations, we also explore the systems of power—both formal and informal—that shape decision making at different levels. When it’s appropriate, we will bring together people from our partner organizations to map and visualize systems and networks of power, helping them to identify opportunities for change.
Finding opportunities to build on assets, strengths, and motivations
While we don’t shy away from tensions, difficulties, or areas of challenge, we find it’s often more motivating for a team to feel like they’re building upon what is already going well. As we’re learning from people, we pay particular attention to hearing about and celebrating the assets and strengths already at hand in the organization and across their network, and explore opportunities to build on those. This could be simple, like inviting a person to step into a meeting role that uses their strength, or more complex like scaling up a procedure that had shown success in a particular area. Sometimes the stories we gather from people involved are full of assets and strengths. Other times, we identify assets by looking closely at places where there has been success, despite systemic barriers, or places where there has been progress despite setbacks.
Creating a plan that sets expectations while maintaining flexibility
While we do hope that people will “trust the process”, we understand why that phrase sometimes comes with an eye roll—people want to have a clear understanding of what’s going to happen, how they’ll be involved, and when they will see results. We foster trust by designing, sharing, and revising process plans that lay out expectations of activities, timing, involvement, decision points, and results along the way. We approach this iteratively, starting with a draft sketch, filling in the details collaboratively, and then updating or pivoting the process plan based on feedback and learnings as we go. In this way, we set the overall expectation that the process is responsive, and that ownership is shared across the team. We use the process plan to model an openness to change, anticipating areas where flexibility may be needed and clearly communicating both the what and the why whenever adjustments are made.
Providing space and tools for alignment and resolution
The process of engagement must provide support for stakeholders to come to alignment, and when conflict arises, to resolution. Guided by the process plan, we facilitate a flow between phases of learning and exploring and phases of focusing and deciding. We intentionally pace these activities and moments to allow both time for generation along with time for processing. Sometimes that means thinking about the physical space – where will we gather and how will that support our interactions together? We also consider the mental space that this work occupies—how much can people consider at once, and what may need time to percolate? Throughout, we build alignment in small steps along the way, offering specific prompts to uncover tensions or challenges early and often. Once we reach a moment of alignment, we document it by creating something tangible that we can refer back to together, which serves a functional purpose of remembering and an emotional purpose as a marker of our shared progress.
What tactics and techniques do you use to develop a creative and engaging process for change? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a note below, or send us an email at email@example.com.