There is nothing new about Theory of Change. Having been used by politicians for over a hundred years as a tool for, well, change, the theories have been adopted in recent decades by social experts as well as scientists to help organization develop a measure and strategy based on the team’s aspirations and vision for future society for smooth transition.
Needless to say that change is a natural phenomenon. Although it happens round the clock, it gets noticed only when something big and visible happens as a result of that change process. The theory helps create an enabling environment for change and divert direction of efforts. Here comes the practical challenge for how to translate that theory into action and help the change makers or conveners or agents _ the front line actors, facilitate the change process toward the goals we aim for.
These are what we discussed in a three-day meeting involving colleagues from South Asia. To enhance our understanding on the change process, we also discussed a way forward to familiarize ourselves with the process: WIN (Worldwide Influencing Network) that is an internal change goal set for Oxfam.
WIN contains a series of strategic elements based on the change process Oxfam sets to guide its interventions at national level, involving its staff and partners and people combating injustice and inequality.
Was the “Orientation Workshops” we conducted to understand what we call “Emerging Theory of Change” really enough? Can people from diverse backgrounds reach the same understanding about it? The answer is simply NO. A mere understanding in principle is not going to work.
Internalization is a key to mobilize the internal will of the individuals within the organizations and give insights for how to move forward.
So what is internalization? Also known as acceptance, it is simply a process that effectively turns external notions into internal subjects and hence creates a full ownership. It emphasizes harmony between acting and believing. It is widely accepted that internalization is motivated by a desire to be right. If the person who provides the influence is perceived to be trustworthy and of good judgment, we accept the belief he or she advocates and we integrate it into our belief system.
Undoubtedly, internalization is a slow and often painful process. It requires plenty of time and patience at both individual’s and organization’s ends. The first crucial step for this is internalization of the evolved change doctrine within the organization. Hence, it is essential for the organization to allow time and resources to go through the change process. For this, the organization should demonstrate a sound commitment to facilitate this process. Secondly, we need a carefully designed course of action in order to translate the theory into a practical visible change.
Such actions include what do we have to do and not do? What will be our role? Leader? Convener? Facilitator? Actor? Supporter? How do we see the role of others? What are other elements which will be facilitating or hindering the change process? Who holds power to what extent while a change process goes on? What will we be doing to engage friends and allies or swingers and blockers? How do individuals and organized forces interact with networks and alliances in a digital world? Where do we find people we want to bring about the change?
It is crucial to keep in mind that while we are going to reinforce the desired behaviour, new and sophisticated techniques of manoeuvring will have to be in place and rigorously used by those whose powers we aim to redistribute in order to combat inequality.
Change cannot happen overnight and often does not have a deadline. End results can turn out differently from what we expect if we do not steer the change process carefully. After all change is a complex phenomenon and any recklessness can lead to irreversible social consequences.
Story: Shabnam Baloch, Program Manager, Oxfam in Pakistan. Her article was a reflections from South Asia Learning event on WIN and Emerging Theory of Change which took place in Kathmandu, Nepal in May. For more details, please write to email@example.com. Photos: Asish Subedi, Program Officer at SAWTEE and Ziaul Hoque Mukta, Regional Policy Coordinator at Oxfam Asia.