Paradigm For Social Change
As I look back over the many stories I have already written about my life and activities I feel there is something missing. That something, I feel, is the glue that holds all this together. I call that glue “A Paradigm for Social Change”. It is my way of looking at the world, at the social reality around me. My paradigm is a sociological one, one that is based on an awareness of social systems and the elements of social change.
First, what is a social system? I define a social system as an aggregate of social roles (job descriptions) that address a collective problem (need, concern, threat, lack) faced by individuals that cannot be taken care of by one individual alone. Every single social organization or social system is created to address a collective need or lack. The goal of that organization, the reason for its existence, is to solve the problem that justified using collective resources to address the problem.
Social systems are made up of roles and not of persons. Persons occupy roles for a period of time and when they leave that role it is filled by another individual. The system endures when the occupant moves out of the organization and a job opening is advertised. Social change occurs when the structure of the organization (the social system) modifies its role structure, changes the criteria for role occupancy, adds new roles, redistributes authority within the structure for the allocation of collective resources or makes any other change in the structure or process of the system.
The design of a social system is based on the knowledge extant in the society of the need it is created to address. The design of the system is also based on alternative ways to solve the problem (lack, need, etc.) There is an ongoing dynamic here though since the definition of the problem (e.g. contaminated water supply) changes as scientists become more aware of the nature of that contamination and its sources. At the same time, there is a growth in knowledge of alternative answers or responses to the problem as defined. Knowledge of how to address contaminated water is infinitely more complex today than it was a century ago. Consequently, the social system set up to address the old definition of the problem is no longer necessarily the most effective or efficient structure to solve the problem today and most especially so if that old problem no longer exists as originally defined.
Ongoing changes in our understanding of the problem(s) we are facing as well as the changes in the resources available to solve those problems necessitate an ongoing awareness of these two dynamics and a conscious intervention to restructure the roles and role requirements of the organization to meet the newly defined situation. Such is the underlying dynamic forcing social change. This requires the ongoing evaluation of organizational effectiveness, whether or not or to what extent the organization is solving the problem(s) for which it was created.
To evaluate organizational effectiveness or goal achievement one needs to have an operational measure of effectiveness. How would the organization measure success? Logically it would be a measure of the extent to which the problem that necessitated the creation of the organization (social system) in the first place was reduced or eliminated. To measure effectiveness one needs measures of ‘outcomes’ and not ‘outputs’.
Given the above dynamics: the changing nature of the problem and the change in available resources to address the problem, change is often called for but role occupants have a vested interest in the structure of the system as it currently obtains and will fight any change. Ipso facto change agents are trouble makers.