change communication
  terry gibson

You may have been involved in a large scale campaign or change process in an organisation. You may have arrived at an East African village in a Landcruiser to start a development project with big funding. In business the 'holy grails' are encapsulated in words like 'engagement' and 'embedding', in development buzzwords are 'participation' and 'capacity building'. In either case it's likely, in many cases, that there will come a point where you wonder why it's not working, why some of those involved seem to be actively tugging against the goals of the project, why at the end of the project everything goes back to what it was before . . .  or worse.

Understanding why change processes sometimes do work, and often don't, is about

Community, Communication and Change


Whether in industry, in a social group, or any other body of people there are collections of people which constitute 'communities' and many which seem to be . . . but aren't. Change processes depend on a community working together because change happens socially, not individually. What's more, much of the knowledge on which change depends comes from within the community. Whether in organisations ('Action Learning', 'Learning Cycles' 'Knowledge Creation') or development situations ('Conscientization', 'Participation') much thinking and experience shows that change depends on communities working together, bringing their own knowledge to the fore.

See case studies 'SAB Miller Global Network', 'Hurricane Mitch' and 'Linkspace'

The starting point is understanding the dynamics of a group of people and both identifying and building 'community' among them, whether it's a 'community of practice', a 'community of purpose' or a 'community of interest'. Often the supposed geographical community is in fact a set of overlapping communities who are as likely to pull against each other as together.

See case study 'B&Q Supply Chains'


The key roles of communication in change processes are to enable knowledge and undestanding to be developed between the community members, and to develop a repository of shared knowledge within the community. This is very different to dropping corporate video 'stink bombs' and hoping they have an impact, or 'participative processes' in rural development which just validate a plan brought in from the outside. It means devising projects where people really work together; workshops, ongoing networks, campaigns, social networking, participative programme making are all tools that can be designed into community processes, whether in a change process in a business, an NGO, or a local community.

See case studies 'SAB Miller Global Reporting', 'Scoop' and 'Digital Bridges'


In the end externally imposed change doesn't work. Even where it does this is at the cost of any shared responsibility for the progress of the community. The most persuasive presentation, striking video, or engaging event which attempts to set new goals based on someone elses agenda will not deliver lasting change. There is clear evidence that people are effective (have 'agency') even where they may seem passive or inarticulate. They subvert projects to their own ends. Change processes start by identifying functional communities, building their communication processes and shared knowledge, and stimulating organic change. Where this is allowed to happen the effects are often striking

See case studies 'The Global State of Kingfisher' and 'Pillars'

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