Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Viral (social) Change in action: The Chicago CeaseFire model



Viral (social) Change in action: The Chicago CeaseFire model
By Leandro Herrero (28.10.08)

I am just back from the annual Pop!Tech conference in Camden, ME, USA. This is my third time as a participant. This is a forum for exploring the interactions between technology and society. It is evolving towards a platform more focused on social innovation, social entrepreneurship and change. The audience, participants, speakers (mainly US people) are a mixture of people from arts, design, academia, engineering, social trends, entrepreneurship, socio-economic fields, health etc.

One of the presentations was by Dr Gary Slutkin, who is executive director of The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. I must confess my total previous ignorance of that work. Under the logo/slogan of ‘CeaseFire’, the project engages people from communities and neighbourhoods to literally stop the circle of violence by confronting individuals of gangs and ‘stopping the shooting’ (on spot sometimes) and/or stopping the frequent retaliation. The project is extremely successful achieving reductions in shootings up to 40% in the neighbourhoods where the model is operating
What is extraordinary for me is the obvious similitude between our Viral Change™ model and CeaseFire modus operandi. CeaseFire, like us, uses the language and models of epidemiology (Gary Slutkin day job is Professor of Epidemiology!). Like Viral Change™, the real work in CeaseFire is done by a selected small group of connected individuals called ‘interrupters’ or ‘Outrech workers’. In the graphic below I have attempted to summarise this comparisons.

Viral Change™ has been designed, developed and implemented with the organization in mind. The only reason for this has been so that I could focus on the territory of my daily consulting work as organizational architect. But the Viral Change™model is a social model, not constrained to those borders. Social change (communitarian, micro-social, social innovation initiatives, public health initiatives, etc) is a perfect territory to implement Viral Change™ as the Chicago ‘CeaseFire’ project shows.

I will be working on those micro/macro social areas as well in future to at least gather examples of implementations and broaden the Viral Change™ scope. Those of us who do organizational work are bound to learn a lot from the dynamics of social change. Similarly I believe that Viral Change™ can contribute to the further refinement of social initiatives.

Not all of those social change initiatives are Viral Change™ as I have described in multiple places including the second edition of the book. Most of them still follow what we call in Viral Change™ ‘Big Splash’, that is, ‘massive ( as massive as possible) reaching out’. In many of those programmes there is an implicit assumption that behavioural change will follow the right information or communication campaign (e.g. AIDS). It is a pity that money is largely spend in the communication/big-splash side versus the formation, development and training of ‘social activists’ that influence other people and ‘train’ other activists.

This is a summary of Viral Change™ and CeaseFire. I do not pretend to have all the CeaseFire facts right. I am hoping to be able to visit Gary Slutkin in Chicago at some point, soon to learn more and close the loop and hope to be able to contribute to them as much as they are already showing me how wonderful model the one of ‘small numbers’ is….

Sunday, 12 October 2008

New independent book review - Viral Change (2nd Edition).

New independent book review - Viral Change (2nd Edition). The alternative to slow, painful and unsuccessful management of change in organisations By Leandro Herrero; Meetingminds; ISBN 9781905776054; 402 pages; ₤ 19.95


Three quarters of all change initiatives in organizations fail. Are we missing something? Leandro Herrero turns common views about change upside down. He calls his approach ‘viral change’ and combines mechanisms from the behavioural sciences with recent insights from social sciences and the network theory. New ideas, processes, behaviours and changes are more easily spread through an organization when spread like a viral infection. Viral Change deals with this ‘infectious behaviour’, which first spreads slowly until it reaches a tipping point. Then, the new behaviour quickly becomes the norm. And it only takes a few minor behavioural changes in a limited number of people in a network. Four principles form the basis for infectious change: the only real change is behavioural change; behaviour changes the culture of an organization (and not the other way around); organizational and cultural change is not a long-term issue; and it only takes a few key items to focus the energy.

In the first part of his book, Herrero shows which persistent beliefs about change management leaders and consultants cling to, why he thinks many changes fail and why Viral Change is such an attractive alternative. To date, a lot of knowledge has been gathered about organizational life. And this knowledge helps to discuss and analyze conventional and traditional perspectives on how the organization works. Next, the author brings all insights together and stresses the differences between the traditional point of view and his viral approach. In summary, the first part contains theory for the pragmatists, because, all too often, they are too eager to grab ready-made solutions off the shelf without really understanding how organizations really function. These pragmatists really need to mull over one more time all that is known about organizational life today.

Part two focuses on practice for people who like to lose themselves in concepts and theories, as they could really use some action. Here, Herrero builds his viral approach around 4 components: language, new behaviour, creating tipping points and rules and routines. While in the first half of the book the author is stimulating, ironic and provocative, here he becomes more serious. His Viral Change-approach is developed in great detail. And it quickly becomes clear that this is definitely not a new trick for one-minute-managers. Organizational structure and big top-down change initiatives (and the communication circuses that go with them) become a thing of the past if the methodology is strictly followed. New behaviour is determined and applied by one or more groups of ‘change champions’ to important bottlenecks in the social network that forms the organization. The snowball of behavioural change is rolled around and around by the organization until it gathers such momentum that a tipping point is created and the new behaviour becomes the norm unexpectedly fast. Suddenly, culture change has arrived, and within six months!

This is a gem of a book for (change)managers and one that people in communication should definitely read, as the traditional linear communication plan can be thrown out. So these communication managers need to find a new role. How? Well, you can read that for yourself.


Nico Jong
The Netherlands

Viral Change interview: Sue Tupling and Leandro Herrero on organisations and Viral Change™

Sue Tupling has interviewed me in the context of my presentation at the Charter Institute of PR, which I hope to post soon. Sue is a wonderful interviewer who made the conversation very easy. I spent seventeen minutes in conversation with here and the outcome is, thanks to her, a good overview of Viral Change. But also, we talked about models of organisations, management education, collaboration and idea generation in companies, social fashions and the beauty of Viral Change™. Not bad for the 17 minutes! Sue, a successful change and communications consultant herself writes the changeworks blog, where you can read her comments and listen to the interview.