Patterns for Change, Part 2

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment
Pattern 2

|Photo by James Cridland||

Picking up from yesterday’s post, the question I left off with was how do change agents identify and work with patterns in complex human systems where control and predictability are elusive.  This is where Holladay and Quade offer up Glenda Eoyang’s CDE Model.  This model names three different conditions that change agents can analyze and work with to shift constraints within a system so that it can achieve more optimal fit with (and thrive in) its environment.  Below are an explanation of these conditions and examples of what can be done to either tighten or decrease constraints in the direction of more organized or unorganized surrounds.

(C)ontainers: Containers can be physical (spatial layout), organizational (departments and neighborhoods), or conceptual (vision, mission). Decreasing constraints here might look like making physical space more open, encouraging cross-functional teams, and brainstorming new ideas to address emerging trends and complexity.  Tightening constraints could include tightening agendas, shortening time frames, differentiating roles and responsibilities, and clarifying goals for greater predictability.

(D)ifferences: Whether relating to style, background, or outlook, differences are what create the texture of a system.  They manifest in both number and degree.  Focusing on similarity and commonality, such as shared standards and points of agreement, tightens constraints to allow for more efficient operating.  Making room for broader perspectives, integrating diverse approaches to problem-solving, and focusing on individual stories helps to expand the responsive capacity in a highly dynamic environment.

(E)xchanges: Whether we are talking about information or other resources, exchanges are the way that a system connects to itself and to its environment.  Streamlining and standardizing communications increases constraints in the direction of ordered environments.  Opening up communications, making the flow faster and looser, creating more options for people to connect, increasing access to information – all nudge a system in the direction of adaptability to changing conditions.

Constraints here are therefore value neutral and all depend on the surrounding conditions.  What change agents can do is look for patterns in these different dimensions (for example, spatial arrangement, openness of discussion, degrees of standardization) to decide whether those are optimal given the bigger story.  Then tighten or loosen, enlarge or reduce, open up or close to see how the system responds.

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  • I am surprised and pleased to see our book referenced here, and love that you find it useful. Both Kristine and I appreciate those who wrote about this before, and look forward to new ideas that may emerge. We believe that change agents–and in fact any member of the system–can be intentional about using patterns to understand and respond in our environments. We each do it naturally and automatically every day–traffic patterns have us speed up, slow down, or take another route. Behavior patterns of significant others in our lives let us know about their moods and needs, and we respond accordingly. We “buy and sell” according to the patterns of the stock market. What HSD offers is the language that helps us know what we are doing and respond in informed and intentional ways…

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Thank you, Royce, for you comment and for your contribution to my evolving understanding of human systems. Certainly look forward to learning more from you and others in the HSD community. Just so you know, I look forward to using the Landscape and CDE Model’s to frame up a discussion with grantmakers about stakeholder engagement strategies. I think it will really help them to understand why and when it is important to decrease constraints.

  • That’s a great application–I look forward to hearing how it goes. Have you considered joining us for a certification course? We offer a ten-day, intensive training (split across two or three short sessions) that brings people together to learn about the theory and applications of HSD. Glenda teaches the courses, with support from Associates who have gone through the certification themselves. We offer them in lots of places–one is scheduled for here in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area starting next May. One starts in Ottawa next month, we are through with the first 5 days of a course in London. We are planning one soon in Israel, and considering a course in New Zealand. For more info, check out our website at

    It sounds like it would be right up your alley for learning and application. We can talk more offline if you would like.

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Royce, I would be interested in talking more about the certification course, and can follow up on your website and offline with you. Curious to know if you have done work expressly with foundations, or if you have any case studies about HSD and philanthropy.

  • We have done work with Foundations–for instance Glenda is currently involved in working with the McKnight Foundation on a project around international agriculture and sustainability. Glenda has written about one of her projects with a foundation here in the mid-west that is working on community development. I am also currently working with an Associate who works in a foundation that addresses school reform issues…we are working with them to plan a certification group focused specifically on education. We also have an Associate who is working on finding ways to talk with Foundations about evaluation that is less linear….Let’s do talk offline and see what’s up. You can get to me through the email address listed here or through the address.

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Royce, that sounds good, and I have a particular interest in the work you did around agriculture and sustainability. Look forward to learning more!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Love thinking about containers, differences and exchanges. Will think about specific applications in a couple of organizational diversity and racial jutice projects I’m working on right now. Also love the idea of an IISCer going deeper in this area. Peace!

  • Curtis Ogden says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. Please share with me/us as you apply out in the world. Even today I was thinking about patterns and containers and exchanges (oh my) while facilitating a team meeting. For me it is such a wonderful way of clicking into a systems perspective that takes the onus and spot light off of me in a most helpful way and helps me to be of greater service. Seeing all kinds of room for application. Interesting that while there are overlaps with Cynefin, I am finding this to be much more practical. Again, kudos to Eoyang, Holladay, and Quade!

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