Beware the mad dash for change!

on Sep 19, 2014 in Blog


The morning after the Scottish referendum on independence and there seems to be a mad dash for constitutional change in the UK.

That change has been called for is not in question. Some want greater self-determination. Some want a new system for social justice. Some want to grab greater personal and political power. Some want healing and unity.

That change is underway is not in question. The seeds of change have already been sown in the multitude of public and private debates and deliberations around Scottish independence. Yes or No – simply asking the question about independence began the process of change. And, as many OD people well-know, the questions we ask often focus change in a particular direction.

That change in one place affects another is not in question. The question of change for Scotland acts like a ripple on a pond, affecting the wider system of the UK (and beyond) and the people within it. The question of constitutional change in Scotland has already raised the possibility of change for England and prompted people to ask questions about greater powers for cities and regions.

From a complex social systems perspective, you cannot change the constitution in one part of a system without affecting other interrelated parts. So, because Scotland is part of a complex social, economic and political system, change is not just under way for Scotland, it is inevitably under way for the wider system.

What will actually change IS in question. The trouble with change in complex social systems is that it is impossible to know in advance how a system will actually change. And it is impossible to know in advance what unintended consequences may emerge in the short and the long term. However, we do know that unintended consequences are highly likely. That’s due to the sheer number of people involved, and their complex patterns of communicative interaction with one another. And we do know that constitutional change will enable and constrain some of those patterns of interaction, although we do not know what will emerge from changing the rules of engagement.

So, from a complex social systems perspective, some really important questions are:

  • How can we make space to learn what change we are creating while we are in the midst of creating that change?
  • How can we recognise what patterns are emerging and notice unintended consequences – both issues and opportunities – much sooner?
  • How can we take responsive action in these live processes of change?

That change is afoot is not in question. However the dynamic patterning of that change – and how political, business and social leaders play into the emerging patterns, is very much in question. The big worry is whether those with power and influence within the process will even pause in their relentless charge for constitutional change, to make sense of what they are creating.