The necessity for government executives to manage change, and achieve results, is an enduring quality of government work.
Two fundamental assumptions support this view. Every government program, regardless of its scale or scope, exists to serve a purpose, and often that purpose is to change some aspect of society, or conversely, maintain some aspect from changing. The second assumption is that change is constant, and this prospect implies that the work of government always remains an unfinished venture.
In either case, how governments approach the management of change, and define results, is not self-evident or uniform. The power of logic, however, can help us account for diversity, achieve focus, and manage the enduring prospect of change in a way that is coherent, principled and purposeful.
The logical way to manage change, and achieve results, begins by acknowledging two principles: every government action has a motive and a consequence. One way to systematically unify these principles is to think about government programs in terms of their guiding “theory of action” and “theory of change.”
In general, a theory of action is a descriptive account that identifies what an “intervention” does and what it plans to achieve. An intervention can be a task, a project, a program, a policy or a strategy. In any possible case, a theory of action states “x” is performed, so that “y” can be achieved; and the achievement of “y” holds a particular quality and quantity.
A theory of change, however, is a judgmental account that identifies how and why a particular intervention works to produce results. The logic applied here is more functional in scope, as the focus is placed on bringing coherence to the mechanisms of change, and more specifically, the context, conditions, assumptions and risks under which a mechanism of change will operate (or not).
If every action has a motive, and motives matter, then every attempt to expressly state what your program does, or will do, with an action theory is one logical step closer to achieving results that value: position fidelity, accountability, consistency, and loyal implementation. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation where public servants can be held accountable for consistently exercising the loyal implementation of a program that has no documented logic on what needs to be done and managed.
If every action has a consequence, and consequences matter, then every attempt to expressly state what your program intends to accomplish with a theory of change is one logical step closer to achieving results that value: resource maximization, efficiency, effectiveness, economy, and relevance. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation where public servants can intentionally maximize the use of finite resources and effectively deliver a program that has no documented logic on what proportion of resources are available for use and needed for an impact.
The logical pathway
In its simplest form, logic can be described as a science of reasoning that provides a particular approach for organizing our thoughts and orienting our judgments. As a particular approach logic is not the only game in town, and nor is it often the most employed approach in final decision-making. Other approaches that impact actions include the power of emotion, intuition, self-preservation, tradition, religion, and science fiction, to name just a few.
So the ultimate challenge for managing change in a logical manner is twofold. First, the logic models we create need to be robust enough to account for Albert Einstein’s idea that while “logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere.”
Acknowledging the relative context, conditions, assumptions and risks that impact the function of change is, therefore, critical. A logical narrative can account for the idea that the chief mechanism of change in many government programs is often the input of passionate people who volunteer their time, or conversely, people who are affected by a context that values self-preservation and tradition to avoid status quo changes.
Second, the logic models we create need to be robust enough to account for Alfred Whitehead’s idea that “the art of progress is to preserve order amid change; and to preserve change amid order.” We can facilitate the process of logical thinking with structure and templates, but in so doing we must also challenge ourselves to understand why a particular logic functions, or not.