Making change happen, one small step at a time

5 December 2017

Dawn Langley talks us through the principles behind Small Change®, and tells us about the pilot programme run in partnership with A New Direction

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It’s made me see everything as solvable and possible just by making things smaller.

Set yourself a goal that stretches you, have a big vision, take a long-term view. These seem to be the familiar and accepted approaches to change. This can be a successful approach, but increasingly I have found that it leaves people feeling overwhelmed in a world of work which is already pretty full on. After all, how many of us have ever stuck to our New Year Resolutions!

Small Change® was developed in response to working with individuals and teams that want to make change happen; for those who want to have an impact but who need some practical tools and support. It is a deceptively simple principle based on starting where you are and taking the first small step. It helps move you towards that big vision but makes it feel more achievable by chunking the process up into realistic milestones and goals.

It is also designed to allow a more flexible approach that is not based on, what I would argue, is an outdated approach to managing transition and understanding change. Many of the early change models, which are still in use, are based on a neat, linear process. This assumes change can be ‘managed’ and is a time-limited process. In a world where change is often fast-paced, where it can come from any direction and is where it is multifaceted, this approach is less useful.

Between July and November 2017, I worked with A New Direction (AND) and a wonderful Small Change® group to test the process and support individuals that are involved in different forms of change in cultural education. Each of the four sessions lasted three hours and was formed of a ‘sandwich’ of small change, change theories/models or tools, and the next small change.

The sessions follow an action-learning format where a public commitment was made to undertake some form of action between sessions, and the group members were asked to provide support and feedback to each other. We started by talking about the larger changes that people wanted to make to have an impact on their field of cultural education. These were then broken down into the smallest possible steps; one small change at a time.

I think people are often surprised about how small I suggest this first small change should be, but given that we met every two weeks it was important to make sure it was realistic. The basis of Small Change® is to give people permission to succeed and often to achieve change at no or low cost. By taking these small and realistic steps we can start to see that it is possible to make a difference and that small change can have a big impact. If you need an example just take a look at the work of Selina Juul in reducing food waste - her impact started with a single banana. Louise from AND also gave an example of how asking parents and children from Kurdish families to bring objects, food and stories to fill a suitcase led to growing confidence in the community and a stronger relationship with their local museum.

This was a pilot Small Change® project and we are very grateful to all of our Small Changers for entering into the spirit of the programme with enthusiasm, energy and generosity. Their feedback has encouraged us to offer the programme again in 2018.

We will soon be releasing details of how to join the next cohort - sign up to the AND newsletter to stay up to date.

You may also be interested in our Big Change Series, click here to find out more.

This programme has changed more than any other CPD I've done. It's made me take charge of the things I'm finding difficult and I even used the small change method in my personal life.

I feel like I have permission and am 'emboldened' to make change [happen].

Picture credit: Roger Brown

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