By WiT, Jun 5 2014 10:57AM

Working with organisations on various projects around complex change, we have found the concept of Three Horizons, developed by the International Futures Forum, to be a really useful framework, and one that helps people make sense of the complexity of change, and how we can think about the future.

Put simply, the three horizons are:

Horizon 1 is business as usual, using the same thinking we have always used, thinking that is no longer adequate to help us adapt to the changing world around us.

Horizon 2 is a zone of experimentation, exploring new possibilities in response to the limits of the first horizon, and the potential of the third.

Horizon 3 is the future pattern. As Bill Sharpe writes in Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope - 'exploring the third horizon is a skill in working creatively with the unknown, the partially known and the uncertain'. We need to use systems thinking here, and part of this process is learning to see everything as patterns - exploring processes rather than structures:

'Three horizons thinking is based on consciously making this shift to bring processes into the foreground and explore how they are shaping the structures of life around us, making a sort of figure-ground reversal in our awareness. Instead of seeing a world of stability to which change and uncertainty 'happen', we instead become aware that everything that seems fixed and stable is just part of a slow process of change, embedded in other processes that extend out as far as we want to explore.'

This got me thinking about the idea of figure-ground reversal.

By WiT, Apr 10 2014 04:58PM

‘If... our premise is that the community already has the answers, the task becomes one of facilitating self discovery. Seemingly slow starts acquire astonishing velocity once a community takes ownership of its own problem and discovers its own proven remedy.’

Positive deviance (PD) is an approach that ‘upends conventional wisdom’, suggesting that we don’t need to look to external experts to solve apparently intractable problems, but to identify individuals in the community – positive deviants – who have already found their own locally appropriate solution.

The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems, by Richard Pascale, Jerry and Monique Sternin (see website for more information) tells the fascinating story of how this approach has been used on projects as diverse as childhood malnutrition in Vietnam to reducing MRSA in American hospitals.

We have recently been working alongside a third sector health organisation supporting their bid for funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s A Better Start programme which ‘aims to deliver a step change in preventative approaches in pregnancy and the first three years of life to improve the life chances of babies and young children’.

As we worked on this we became interested in how the learning from positive deviance projects might help shape new community based approaches to improving outcomes for the 0-3s.

Positive Deviance is an approach, not a replicable programme: it is intimately rooted in its context. It is not an approach to use where there is the possibility of a technical fix – it is for helping to resolve adaptive problems, characterised by social complexity and requiring behavioural change.

The positive deviance story is told as one of learning and discovery – learning from reflection on the successes and failures of real life projects. Much of this learning seems, to us, to be particularly pertinent to the A Better Start programme.

PD projects are bottom up, not top down – ‘tapping the distributed intelligence of the community to discover its own latent wisdom’. They require that the community defines its own problems and identifies its own solutions. Only through this will the community take ownership and develop its own strategies for change.

PD projects work on the principle of ‘acting into a new way of thinking’, they rely on the social learning of people coming together to discover and share new approaches and solutions through active engagement – through living out new ways of doing things, with families, friends and neighbours,.

They are rooted in their local context, or ecology - no two solutions will be the same: we can learn from the principles of how something has been done, but can’t simply replicate the solution. This has real importance for the concept of ‘scaling’ or ‘best practice roll out’. With PD you can scale ‘broad’ – communities can use their new found collective learning skills to solve other problems – but not ‘wide’ - the solutions cannot be simply applied in other communities. This is a major challenge to much current thinking around ‘evidence based’ programmes delivered with ‘fidelity’.

PD solutions are often characterised by apparently small changes – ‘incremental in a moment of time’ – which become much more profound – ‘radical over time’. This is described in the book as nature’s way – looking at system change as analogous to evolutionary adaptation over time.

All of this has major implications for the role of professionals, practitioners and leaders in initiating, shaping and developing projects in the community, and how communities are engaged with this process – shifting

‘...our emphasis from teaching people what to do, to engaging them as pioneers in discovering how to do it.’

Much to think about – and much to be inspired and excited by.

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