Welcome to my blog. I use this space to share what I am learning about how to end violence in this lifetime.

Visualizing Lewin's 3 stages of community change.

Visualizing Lewin's 3 stages of community change.

I said this blog would be a place for my new ideas.  I will get there eventually.  This post, however, is about a big idea that qualifies as "an oldie, but a goodie." 

Kurt Lewin is known among community psychologists for coining the term "action research" in the 1940's.  Another bit of his legacy to the field of psychology is his statement that behavior is a function of the person and the environment:  

B = f (P, E)

If you are undertaking 21st Century social change, I think Kurt Lewin's 20th Century model for community change might still be of good use.  This model is applicable to changes that require community members to reject and replace prior learning.  In the visual metaphor shown here, squares will be replaced with triangles. 


I adapted this visual for Kurt Lewin's three stages to community change -- unfreeze, change, refreeze -- as part of a workshop I facilitated on assessing campus readiness for sexual violence prevention last year.  It was hosted by the The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault



The first step for community change involves unfreezing the status quo.  The unfreeze stage is inherently disruptive.  Here, change agents generally have to, as depicted above, start wiggling and shifting blocks around to create space for change.

The work of this stage includes raising awareness about the need for change, identifying champions, building capacity for the long-haul of sustained efforts, developing leaders, engaging diverse groups within the community, and allocating resources for the work.  

Unfreezing is a necessary precondition to successful community change efforts.  It is important to plan energy and time for the unfreezing process.  But, because unfreezing can be maddeningly incremental and/or not always linear, it can be hard to gauge how much time is needed, or where to start.  

Lewin's force field analysis is a tool for planning efforts to unfreeze any given community. 



The next stage Lewin describes is change.  Where, boxes can be turned into triangles -- a strong polygon with my favorite number of sides.   

FUN FACTTriangles are stronger shapes than squares.

Every change effort will be different, but one thing is sure.  Communities contain people, so changing communities will require individual-level changes in behavior.   

As a heuristic for the essential elements of change, I really like Jonathan Haidt's analogy of the elephant and the rider.  Since this analogy includes the heart, the mind, and the external situation, I like to think Kurt Lewin would approve, too.

I also really like Rogers' (1962) diffusion of innovations theory as a way to think about executing community-level prevention activities and measuring associated changes.  

You can use the diffusion of innovations theory to understand any community as comprised of different groups of people, who embrace innovation (including new ideas, behaviors, or programs) at different rates.  For example, near the beginning of a project, those who embrace change can be thought of as innovators, revolutionaries, champions, popular opinion leaders, early adopters, or first followers.  

Not only do groups of people in a community adopt new products, attitudes, and/or behaviors at different rates, they are motivated by different messages.  As change spreads through a community, you will need to encourage the changes in members of the early majority -- who watch early adopters carefully to see "what works" -- and the late majority, who are susceptible to peer pressure.  

The diffusion of innovations theory encourages us to alter messages strategically -- and helps me think about how to use evaluation to underline certain points.  



After change efforts have delivered desired results, actions must be taken to sustain the needed changes, resources, etc.  When what had been "change" is now common practice, it can be thought of as "institutionalized change."

I have a short list of tactics for refreezing following a change initiative:  formal policies (of course) related to the efforts, if they don't already exist; a permanent "line" in the budget whether via a staff position or an annual event; a tab on a organizational website; duties articulated into written into job descriptions; a standing line for the topic on monthly meeting agenda; a formal representative/champion for the cause on existing task forces.  

With any luck, acts to freeze little bits of the change within existing structures will become like the colorful little triangles holding the bigger triangle in place -- and keeping it visible.

Now, let's re-examine the square you can see at the very top of this post; and here: 

Apparent equilibrium

This square represents APPARENT EQUILIBRIUM.

At the beginning of a change initiative, there will be many conditions that create a state of equilibrium in the community.  This apparent equilibrium is represented above by sixteen small boxes that make up the larger square structure.  Prior to shuffling the metaphorical boxes around, you will definitely want to understand how they are currently held in place.  Lewin encourages us to do this by thinking about existing conditions in a community as opposing forces.

I am now borrowing a thought experiment from a different website to make this next point.

Are you sitting down?  The act of sitting in a chair can be used to demonstrate apparent equilibrium.  Picture yourself criss cross applesauce on a chair.  What keeps you seated in that position?  For starters, there is the force of gravity holding you to the chair.  Gravity is one (of many) driving forces that keep you from floating off into the atmosphere.

The chair is an opposing force that keeps gravity from pushing you to the ground.  That's a restraining force.

A good understanding or both of these forces can help make effective decisions about how to change the status quo.  Say, instead of you sitting on the chair, it was a small stuffed monkey.  If you wanted that monkey on the floor rather than on the chair, you could (somehow) increase the force of gravity.  Or, you could change the structure of the chair -- say, saw a leg off -- to cause the plush monkey to fall to the floor.

Chair. Imagine your own stuffed monkey.

Chair. Imagine your own stuffed monkey.

That's the concept behind a force field analysis (FFA).  You assess the status quo by articulating both sets of opposing forces, and then rating their respective strengths.  Actual change requires the driving forces to be stronger than the restraining forces.

Tallying up the two scores can quantify your situation statement -- and give you an idea of how difficult the change might be.  It can also be a good start for brainstorming activities to get unfreezing started by attempting to control or alter the factors currently contributing to this equilibrium.

Unfreezing work can be directed at any combination of the following:

  • Strengthening any of the driving forces
  • Adding new driving forces (possibly by transforming a former restraining force)
  • Removing or reducing any of the restraining forces.

Starting a project with a participatory FFA has been an easy and effective way for me to facilitate a group conversation that surfaces many underlying issues before starting the work of community change.  Any FFA will result in a list of situational factors that you likely already know about.  But each time I have done this, I learn a novel thing or two as well.

Simple instructions for conducting a FFA can be found at Gamestorm.com

Click here to see an example of a force field analysis conducted with the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault at their 2015 Statewide Sexual Violence Prevention Education Conference.  The math suggests that restraining forces are about ten point stronger than driving forces.  Thus, intentional "unfreezing" work (aimed at weakening the strongest of the restraining forces) will be an important part of  fully integrating the public health model into day-to-day prevention practices in Illinois. 

 P.S.  Some great triangles:

prevention-pyramid 2.jpg
I believe prevention is possible.

I believe prevention is possible.

My goal is better intervention.

My goal is better intervention.