Implementation Process

The implementation process is a catch-all term for all kind of activities that are going on in society. Depending on the context looked at this includes projects, movements and grass-root initiatives. This is the place where experiences happen, where new solutions for wicked problems are initiated and put to practice. All activities in the implementation process have one thing in common, and that is being of relevance for society. This implies that all stakeholders concerned with the specific issue should be involved, including citizens, government, organizations, and companies. These are all members of society who can voice their concerns. However, there are parties, such as vulnerable individuals, oppressed groups, and nature, that can hardly express themselves or not at all, and their concerns should be taken into consideration as well.

The implementation process is seen as the place where mutual understanding should be reached: gaining a wider understanding of the situation at stake and the worldview’s of all stakeholders involved. The implementation process should give room for explication, for interpretation and reinterpretation, for truly understanding what is going on and finding room for change within the context of the ruling assessment framework. By gaining insight into worldviews the implementation process also provides the first step towards shared meaning, as meaning is, often implicitly, part of worldviews.

The Facilitators Guide provides methods and tools for an implementation process. This is by no means the only valid approach, but it does help facilitators to address important issues in the process.

Awareness – trust - connectedness

Within the implementation process we try to bring about change and keep things moving, for example by social innovation projects. When dealing with a complex issue within the implementation process it is important to gain mutual understanding of this problematic situation. This raises awareness amongst those involved. And by really understanding each other’s position, it makes trust possible, and hopefully, it eventually leads to connectedness. As true connectedness is needed to gain new insights and find new room for change. Trust and connectedness are not abstract, rational concepts. On the contrary, they can only be lived through on a personal level in the context of an implementation process. Trust and connectedness must be experienced to grow.

Assessment framework

An important notion in the SI process in general, but also specifically in the implementation process, is the assessment framework. All that happens in society is influenced by an ever present assessment framework, which is partly tangible in the form rules of conduct and partly concealed in our often difficult to explicate cultural values. This framework should reflect the ideas on what we as society believe is the right thing to do. It should reflect our social, cultural and ethical principles (as mentioned in the SI process). It portrays what we value most and how we ought to behave in generally accepted ways. It stems from our history, our traditions and experiences. As such it represents our cultural identity. It is not static but evolves over time. The framework should ensure an equal playing field for all involved by providing the rules of engagement.

It might seem an abstract notion but part of it is translated, mainly by government institutions, into concrete policies, rules and regulations that influence our daily lives. They regulate our activities and set the boundaries from which we can operate. This part of the framework is clearly visible.
Example: the last couple of years an intense debate has been going on the role of black Peter within the Dutch Saint Nicholas celebration. Over time, the way black Peter is perceived has been, and still is, changing. What used to be generally accepted, now no longer is. The Dutch cultural identity is slowly changing with regards to black Peter. While national government, until now, has not taken an outspoken stance nor has laid down specific rules or legislations with regard to black Peter, local governments are doing so. Local Saint Nicholas organizations, responsible for the public events with regard to the Saint Nicholas celebration, are mainly subsidized by municipalities. Local governments are now taking a stance and this is translated in specific conditions for these subsidies. Some municipalities for example have demanded all black Peter figures to be eliminated from public  activities, replacing them for multi colored Peter figures. Others have decided on a more phased approach in which a period of a couple of years will be used to slowly move from an all black Peter situation, through a mix of black Peter figures and multi colored Peter figures, towards a situation without black Peter figures.
The assessment framework should not be seen as something negative, e.g., an outside system that rules our behavior and that we cannot influence. It should be based on our shared meaning of what we as society stand for, and thereby guarantee that what we do, is also in line with what we agreed upon. And as such, it should be the result of a democratic process in which we together have determined what our cultural identity is and what the assessment framework should express. In practice, however, this often is not the case. The framework itself is usually not present in any tangible form in all its aspects, but disguised in policy papers and strategic/operational outline documents that often do not refer fundamentally to our reason of being, that is, our cultural identity. These papers and documents make it difficult to see which worldviews are behind them, what possibilities they offer, and what room for change they contain. In addition, an existing framework, if existing at all, is often limited in scope and typically does not address excluded worldviews explicitly and the inherent tensions they brings across.

The assessment framework is, or should be, the outcome of a democratic and strategic process. These two processes are influenced by our experiences obtained from implementation processes and reflections on them. So, we act within the confines of the assessment framework, but the framework is subject to change due to a critical assessment of the framework itself. To put it differently, the assessment framework is continuously validated and adapted accordingly by asking whether we are still doing the right things collectively or not.

Mutual understanding

The execution of an implementation process takes place within the context of the assessment framework. This provides the setting for accommodation of worldviews. The implementation process offers the chance to engage in an open dialogue in order to gain insights in both the worldviews of individual stakeholders as well as the more overarching assessment framework that influences the situation at stake. A process of reflection, of interpretation and reinterpretation, helps to reach this understanding. When understanding worldviews as well as the assessment framework that is based upon these worldviews, it will be possible to see new options for change within the existing framework. Often more room for change will be found than previously expected. And solutions that are both culturally feasible as well as arguably desirable (as they are in line with our cultural identity) can be implemented. In some cases, however, it will turn out that the framework does no longer represent what we together think is right and forms a barrier itself for sustainable change. In that case, an additional process must start in which the goal is to find (new) shared meaning, which is part of the reflection process.

Triple stroke

An implementation process should preferably yield a triple stroke:

  • making progress in a problematic situation in the sense that mutual understanding is obtained, and if possible, ways are found to take action;
  • acquiring new skills by all involved, on how to facilitate change in processes with multiple stakeholders dealing with wicked problems;
  • learning lessons from the experiences gained in the implementation process about cultural identity.

This is quite some list. Initially, skilled facilitators of change can help managing this, in essence, group learning process. Facilitators of change are supposed to be independent, and therefore can be trusted by all stakeholders. The government could fulfill the role of facilitator of change. After all, the government serves in the interest of society. Unfortunately, this point has not been reached yet because the government is looked upon with suspicion, partly caused by potentially conflicting tasks such as stimulating new initiatives and policy enforcement, and partly because of the inherent misbalance in power between the government and a civilian. As long as the government is seen as an outside party of society rather than an insider having distinct roles, rights and obligations, the government is not in a position to facilitate implementation processes. The government is a powerful institution, but it should not abuse its powers (or is perceived as doing so), and play by the rules set out in the assessment framework to evolve into a well-respected and trustworthy member of society. Implementation processes provide opportunities to do so.

Lees hiervoor: Social Innovation Process
Lees hierna: Reflection Process