Design change for individuals in/and society

This post presents a series of contrasting models for thinking about how to change individuals, society, and individuals in their social context. It addresses the first case in the course Design for Living Complexities.

Consider the push to reduce carbon footprints. The model here is that some current behavior is identified which we realize is unsustainable or wrong. Then, through our will, we discontinue that behavior going forward.
This model does not pay much attention to the processes that led up to the current behavior. It is unlikely to be very effective, or to be effective only for a special group of people whose will is strong enough to change their behavior. That is because the intersecting processes that led to the behavior in the first place continue (as indicated by the arrows at the end of each layer in the schema).


This contrasts reminds me of a contrast in the field of transformative education (see this post for explanation of the schemas.)
The obvious question is: what motivates someone to change their platform? Some answers that we are always already changing over our life courses, we have to respond to changes in the wider social contexts, or we’re subject to what I call slow mode co-coaching.

The first contrast also reminds me of contrasting models of social change. On one side we have multiple, partial engagements that need to be linked together to try to modify the way things are working out.
(see post for explanation). On the other side we have strategic participatory planning, which brings together both parties, elicits. Insights, and develops new ideas and a plan that people are interested in carrying out.

strpartplanchartStrategic personal planning points to another contrast. It is about looking forward – the plan is one that the participants in the participants seek to carry out to change the future. In contrast, we might spend more time reevaluating the past, not putting it behind us before we have had a chance to air the truth and reconcile over the harms and hurts that have been done.

This last model of social change brings me back to models of individual change. We may need to identify past hurts, lest they retain their hold on our sense of self and interactions with others, limiting our ability to move in new directions. This is the emphasis of reevaluation counseling (RC). Notice: This fits more with the first model for transformative education, although it could be said that RC is one of the tools that someone built into their platform, indeed their ongoing platform building. In any case, the contrasting model is that we think of the multiple partial engagements without own ongoing development, not simply in the intersecting processes that lead to some undesirable outcome, such as, disproportionate contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012,

One Response to Design change for individuals in/and society

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    “We may need to identify past hurts, lest they retain their hold on our sense of self and interactions with others, limiting our ability to move in new directions.”

    This phrase resonates; I like to think about what to build from it.

    Something probably more unrelated than not:

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