8 Simple Rules for Successful Change Efforts

The philosophy that guides our work

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By Lena Selzer

At the heart of Civilla is a determined team that works collaboratively across research, design, and operations. Together, we’re on a mission to positively impact one billion people by designing institutions that are fit for the future. After many years leading successful change efforts, our approach is grounded in a shared philosophy. Here are some of the simple rules that guide our work:

1. Put humans first

Enduring change efforts are facilitated by a community, not directed by an expert. We seek out the deeply held perspectives of community members by building real relationships on the ground, listening carefully to what people have to say, and lifting up solutions that are grounded in community wisdom. This approach allows the individuals who are most directly impacted by the work to shape the design process, the final outcomes, and the stories of the work itself.

2. Commit to longevity & patience

No impact occurs if change is not implemented – and sustained. This takes time. We’re committed to finding partners and funding models that bridge project phases and ensure our change efforts are able to get pulled all the way through – no matter what. 

3. Practice generous orthodoxy

Too many of today's change efforts are either limited by current constraints or dismissive of what has come before. We’re committed to honoring the history and context of the organizations we partner with while also pushing the boundaries of what they think is possible.

4. Arrive with humility

The very nature of change requires us to start with “I don’t know.” We spend time understanding problems thoroughly before defining and acting on them.

5. Pursue key dominoes

There are many options for where to start investing time, energy, and resources when bringing change into institutions. We orient our efforts around “key dominoes,” tightly scoped interventions that have a disproportionate impact on improving service delivery.

6. Tell emotive stories

We use storytelling to bring our work to life and rally the hearts and minds of all who are involved. We leave PowerPoint behind in favor of immersive experiences so that people can not only understand the work, but truly feel it. 

7. Forge true partnerships

We invest our energy in developing personal relationships with the individuals we work with. This ensures that we can operate from a place of mutual understanding, respect, and trust. 

8. Learn from nature

We believe that the most scalable and enduring change efforts are rooted in what nature has discovered over the past 3.7 billion years: emergence. As we pursue change in institutions, one of our top priorities is ensuring that solutions are based in an understanding of the way change scales in living systems. 

Adam Selzer