What triggers transformation? Learning from transformational learning theory

Civic Action06 Dec 2010Deborah Duveskog

The last few days discussions have definitely provided some food for thought! In particular I found the discussion on various levels of learning interesting, i.e. incremental (doing more of the same thing), reforming (changing others) or transformational (changing one selves). The fact that resistance to change often is institutionalized, and organizational cultures actually work against change due to individuals or organizations personal interests and need for survival makes it obvious that MSP will require a profound transformation of mindsets and behaviors for it to emerge fully as a new form of governance structure.

This blog item was part of the ‘Engaging stakeholders for change’ dossier

Increasingly, multi-stakeholder processes are being used in response to ‘tough’ problems such as responding to climate change, fighting poverty, and creation of sustainable business models. Many development organisations and networks have become aware that these change processes are of an increasingly ‘emergent’ nature, and need to be facilitated. The Change Alliance is an emerging global learning network which aims to support good practice in facilitating and strategizing around multi-stakeholder cooperation for systemic change.

From 1-3 December 2010, 20 facilitators of multi-stakeholder processes from across Africa are meeting in Nairobi. Co-hosted by the Change Alliance and SNV, to exchange experiences with leaders, researchers and donors. This ‘Inspiring Change’ event aims to share and collate state-of-the-art experiences and explore ways of supporting and strengthening capacity for effective facilitation of multi-actor processes.

This blog provides an online discussion platform for speakers, participants and other experts in the field, where they can reflect on the discussions and opinions voiced at the Inspiring Change event as well as further discuss the wider topics it addresses.

This brings me to think about what transformative learning theory (TL) (Mezirow, Taylor etc.) brings out in terms of what trigger transformation in ways of thinking and acting. TL literature (which is mainly based on individuals) points at events of shock, surprise, depression – so called disorienting dilemmas as frequent triggers for deeper reflection that include a profound questioning of held assumptions, values and view of ones role in the world. Through this disorientation individuals reframe their worldviews and develop a new position in the world.

What does this mean for us as facilitators of MSP? Maybe we need to look at how to trigger such “disorientating dilemmas” among stakeholders where actors come to realize that their current way of thinking and going about things just does not work and where individuals and organizations profoundly come to realize that “I am part of the problem – and I need to change”. Maybe our current focus mainly using positive methods, visioning, and appreciative inquiry etc. does not get us to this point. By facilitating an often over-positive atmosphere maybe we don’t reach this deeper reflection that include self-evaluation and that might be needed for transforming the way we think and act.

In this light I am now interested in exploring tools and processes where stakeholder groups and individuals come to understand why and how current behaviors act as barriers for true MSPs, maybe through various forms of role-plays, reflective analysis of collaboration failures etc. Processes that may trigger a certain necessary level of depression or sense of failure that hopefully can trigger a genuine motivation and realization of the need for change not among just others but also among ourselves.