On energy and opportunity for change

How can we explore the priorities and possibilities for change by looking at the concepts of energy and opportunities?

Energy for change is the notion that all change requires energy to drive and sustain it, in the same way that a battery might fuel a torch. We see energy manifest through a number of sources: individual people, practitioners and policy-makers who are advocates for a particular change; those in charge of resources and decision-making; those who shape policy and the rules of the game. The critique here is that it is not enough to target only the hierarchical ‘levers’ of government – legal, economic, policy and marketing. By addressing individual incentives, the social norms and values of the collective, and the power and authority of hierarchy, change is more likely. Identifying advocates for the new as well as those who can be mobilised in support of this change is a core task for the change-maker, one which can be undertaken through standard approaches to system and stakeholder mapping. 

It is worth recognising that – to continue the battery analogy – there will be people, activities and events that will drain the energy quicker than it can be recharged. To sustain energy for change requires a balance to be struck between depletion and replenishment. Much of my work on social movements as grass-roots momentum for change explores these tensions.  

Social moments are points in time – events – at which energy for change is released. If successfully harnessed this energy will sustain further progress towards the desired outcome; at its worst it will make the intended outcome less likely. The Grenfell tragedy put housing and inequality at the top of the public’s consciousness for the first time in years; a personal health scare presents the opportunity to make lifestyle changes; a change of Government or of leadership within an organisation might put back, or advance, your policy agenda. 

The process of identifying the energy and opportunity for change will support the move towards the desired future or vision. In doing so, we must be mindful of the power of the status quo whose self-preserving instinct deploys a range of barriers and incentives to prevent the desired change from taking effect.

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