Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Positive group pressure as a way to change

If you want a way to show people how new ideas spread take a tip from Molly Melching, who works in Senegal. She has an interesting exercise that change consultants might find useful. She has everyone sit (someone could make sure that all participants are sitting before you enter the room). She introduces herself and explains that in her land (or in Cutting Edge companies, successful politicians or productive NGO's etc.) everyone stands when someone speaks before them (choose another behavior that fits your situation) and that it is normal to stand, people stand and listen when someone speaks. She goes around the room and spreads the message to a number of people that it is more comfortable to stand. One at a time people begin to test standing and they are encouraged to tell someone else nearby or a friend across the room. After a few have started to stand, Molly needs to speak to fewer and fewer participants. The new advocates for standing spread the word. Soon there are only a few left sitting. After a while all are standing.
This is an exercise that illustrates how an innovation (in this case a new behavior) becomes diffused throughout the group. Spend time with those who are most receptive to the innovation. Encourage them to speak to others. In this way, Molly Melching is raising the human rights of the women of Senegal beginning with those most interested and they pass it on. Her education program is presented only to volunteers. The concepts are broken into three levels with increasing sophistication and the innovating group stays in each village (department) for three years.