What are Organisations for?

What are organisations for? Why is it that my blog posts have concerned itself with looking at organisation and change within the organisation? The reason is seemingly simple – that if changes do not appear in a subset of an organisation, then change in a larger setting is not as possible. Another answer because organisations are the vehicles of human effort, and thus, of initiated change. Even when our desire is to change communities, an organised effort is required on the part of the initiator(s).


I’ve been looking at organisations and why they are important starting places to think about change. In the previous post, I have identified the information-based stumbling blocks that get in the way of how information flows across the organisation. By identifying these stumbling blocks, sites of change also become clear.


The discussion of these information stumbling blocks are clearest within the organisation. When applied across society, the presence of these issues become obscured by rhetoric and vested interests. Yet the issues often remain the same – they are still about who has access to the information (or resources), and whether incentives are aligned between agents and principals. One argument justifying the existence of incentives and punishment is that they are important for signally to agents to align their motivations with those of the principals. Coercion by force becomes the chief means for compliance.


Organisations are also important starting points because they are also the final parties responsible for enacting and maintaining the different set of configurations. Going back again to the discussion on systems, indicators and assumptions need to be aligned. Advancing another step, systems are maintained by the consistency of assumptions, indicators and actions. Only when these three align can systems function in the configuration desired. When enacting change, all three must be aligned.


With this train of thought, the enactment of change cannot be done in isolation. No social movement or goal can be achieved through selfish action. Any change that happens has to insert itself into the larger system, and interact with the other components in it. Any emerging movement has to find partners in the political, public, non-profit and private sectors. There is no shortcut to change. To genuinely change the assumptions of society is a deep task. To paraphrase a quote from Adam Kahane’s Solving Tough Problems – you can’t be part of the solution if you are not part of the problem.


Movements today cannot rely solely on the intensity of their voice or the persistence of their protests. Change needs to come about through broad movements that direct their efforts towards points of leverage, and set up new indicators that expressed the desired assumptions. Have systems that allow for people to be aligned to these new indicators. Maybe the resulting system is not too different from the present. Maybe they are radically different from the present. We have little idea about the direction and shape of change.


By this point, one could suggest that the burdens for those who are creating change is too much. I have in a way, broken down the various ways in which changemaking needs to be done. I have suggested:


1. Identify present assumptions;

2. Identify indicators expressing the assumptions;

3. Identify the relationships between indicators and assumptions;

4. Identify the information flows within organisations;

5. Identify the information flows between organisations;

6. Identify the points of leverage;

7. Create new assumptions, indicators and the relationships between them;

8. Change happens as the system transits from one configuration to the new configuration of indicators and assumptions.


These things don’t quite happen linearly, but outcome for Step 8 is where most could agree. Steps 1-7 can be done in any order – start wherever is appropriate, and work out the rest along the way. The sheer amount of work required is the reason why change starts with a smaller team first that can embody the changes desired.


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