Building Community Capacity for Transformational Change

A conference speaker asked the audience, ‘Who thinks the world is changing at a rate so fast it’s hard to keep up?’ Of course, many hands went up. To which he responded, “You know, it’s never going to be this slow again!”.

Too often, in my experience, the so-called ‘change management’ process associated with a new learning environment is commenced too late in the process.

One time, I arrived to speak at a high school for their whole staff PD day. It was held in the newly completed shared Year 9 space. This was the first time most teachers had even set foot in the door of the new building, and everything was already in place. There I stood, the embodiment of change, the representation of their professional fear. This should have started earlier.

If you’ve heard me speak you might remember another story about a school community’s unpreparedness for change. The building project with future-focused learning environment which soon returned to walled classrooms with the aid of cupboards and bookshelves.

Much of my work as a consultant, facilitator and speaker is centred around the process of encouraging and equipping for change. Learning, at whatever age, is primarily focused on preparing for and navigating change.

We may have knowledge about our fast-changing world. Today’s learners, in decades to come, will face immense opportunities, along with significant challenges. We know that this means we need provide an education that equips them to solve wicked problems, those that are both complex and paradoxical. We know that they require a broad set of adaptable skills to successfully navigate the intricacies of life in the 21st century.

Yet for many students, school remains rote-repeat-regurgitate. We know what they need, why isn’t it done? Because ‘knowing isn’t doing’, but I think you’ll agree that

  • Talking isn’t doing
  • Remembering isn’t doing
  • Data collection isn’t doing

Time after time people understand the issues, understand what needs to happen to affect performance, but don’t do the things they know they should.

(Pfeffer & Sutton, 2000, p.11).

This is called the ‘knowing-doing gap’, and research by Pfeffer & Sutton backs up what we all can confess – that transferring what we know into action isn’t as simple as it sounds. What can we learn about turning our knowledge into action?

  • Why comes before how
  • Planning isn’t doing
  • There is no doing without mistakes
  • Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps
  • Measure what matters

The success of most innovation “largely depends on implementing what is already known” (p.14). And this is why I love the facilitating. It brings out the ‘gold’ in people, their knowledge and experience, encouraging them (or putting-in courage) and providing a co-created framework for action.

Transferring knowledge into action takes courage, because change and stepping into the unknown can be scary. A new building project, as it reaches completion is a constant reminder that change is coming. Working with schools I often hear fear expressed as:

  • How will we teach in this space?
  • The kids will be distracted.
  • Will the noise just bounce around?
  • How do we manage the different activities?
  • What about the kids on the spectrum?
  • Our parents won’t be happy!

It doesn’t need to be that way. As the building starts with the foundation, to supporting walls, to the over-arching roof, and finally completed internally, we can use this as a metaphor for the change:


Ref: Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R (2000) The Knowing-Doing Gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action. Harvard Business School Press:

One thought on “Building Community Capacity for Transformational Change

  1. Oh boy…this is me at the moment. Thanks for a super reminder Anne.

    Manaakitia- be blessed.

    Mandy Heim, B.Prim Ed, Dip Special Ed, B. Ed (Hons).
    Executive Leadership team, Learning Design

    Y13, Y12 English
    Y 10 English , Y10 Social Studies

    09 538 9503 • 021 1261472
    Twitter: @HeimMrs


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