How Do We Make Real Change?

Authors: Michelle Medley-Daniel

A paper by Leandro Herrero, author of Viral Change: the alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organizations, was recently shared with me. The paper, “Changing the Way We Think About Change,” is full of insightful ways to think about and approach change-making through networks. In it a quote from Albert Einstein caught my attention and my mind has wandered back to it several times since. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Pithy, memorable, relevant: all the makings of good food-for-thought.

Those of us engaged in the movement toward fire adapted communities, as a strategy to fundamentally change our relationship to the places we live, should consider how we approach this issue of measures. Many of us work in a reality that requires us to forecast our impact by laying out plans for action we propose will achieve desired results. There is a logic and desire for accountability behind this system of measureable results. But this reality, often connected to funding for our programs, sometimes misses the mark by letting us settle for feeling successful when we accomplished what was in a work plan: we said we’d do X and we did it, therefore we were successful. This line of thinking can lead to what Herrero calls an “illusion of change.” We have to make space for the things that matter that defy measurement, or that we didn’t anticipate.  How we make space for those kinds of change, and celebrate and reflect on those things, is something I hope we are integrating into the practice of the FAC Learning Network.

So, what is the alternative to traditional work planning when selecting actions to take? Herrero offers some advice that speaks to this: “Imagine that everyone did (XXX), that it became the norm, a routine; what kind of organization would we be building?” This “imagine if” test asks people to consider small behaviors that they think might matter—might lead to better organizations, or in our case, fire adapted communities–and then act on them. What if my community did X action? What kind of capacity and fire resilience would we be building? His advice goes on to suggest that people should take action on some seemingly small things, then spread those actions through their networks so that others take action as well. By this method we experience our impacts instead of focusing on planning future actions, and make progress on what truly matters—not that we did some things, but that the things we did made a difference.

At the kick-off meeting of the FAC Network a year ago in Boise, hub leaders shared visions for the Network with a common thread: that it be a vehicle for real change in their communities. Since then they’ve taken all kinds of actions to connect community members, facilitate landowner mitigations, envision a shared future with their neighbors, learn from places in other parts of the country and from the people they’ve engaged at home. Setting benchmarks and measures may always be part of what we do, but this paper gives us insight into how we can shift the focus of our accountability from fulfilling tasks in work plans to having impact. I hope that we can seize the opportunity for accountability to impact and celebrate the changes we cannot easily measure, the powerful actions that defy counting.

What are some actions you are taking to create change in your community?

2 thoughts on “How Do We Make Real Change?”

  1. Krys nystrom says:

    One thing that comes to mind is the simple act of listening. Listening to the concerns of those you are trying to convey a message to is probably one of the most important things I’ve learned in working with various communities. Admitting when you screw up is also important and goes a long way to building trust with folks. And don’t tell people what they want to hear…. Tell them what they need to hear …

    Sometimes we get burnt out hearing hysterical community members spreading misinformation that goes against what we are trying to say and cop attitudes. One way for me to bring myself back down to earth is remembering that stuff above….

  2. Michelle Medley-Daniel says:

    That is great insight Krys. Really listening is one of those foundational practices that improves relationships and goes a long way toward getting things done! It is amazing what you can learn when you listen with an open mind. Honesty and authenticity also go a long way toward building durable relationships–thanks for sharing your experience!

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