Two Levels of Change

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Larry Victor:

"Level ONE change maintains the initial view of the world and the systems to be changed: abandoned, phased out, fixed, replaced, tuned-up, expanded, or downsized. We remain "in the box", with changes that only "tweak" at the edges of the box. Level TWO changes moves us to consider going "out of the box". Systems are created, constructed, reformed; they develop, evolve, and emerge. Construction and reform could be included also as type ONE change. There are varying degrees of level TWO changes, from those that will appear to some to still be "in the box" to radical and awesome shifts that are terrifying to those locked "in their boxes".

These two levels need not be competitive. Older systems are needed as platforms for the launching of new systems. Once new systems emerge, level ONE changes will be needed to maintain their functionality. At times, a level TWO type change can be applied to a component of a larger system undergoing primarily level ONE changes." (


Larry Victor:



Some systems and activities not only have no merit, but actually cause harm or are a drain on resources. These should be abandoned ASAP.

The only reason for their continuation would be if their abandonment would have consequences even worse than their temporary continuation.

Those persons working within systems to be abandoned must be given special consideration in preparing them for work in new positions.


Some systems and activities are determined to have no utility and are eventually to be eliminated. Because of inter-dependencies with other systems and activities they cannot be abandoned. They are reduced and eventually phased out, with the consequences of this phase out accounted for throughout the larger system.


Some systems are broken; they fail to meet their intended objectives and many prescribed activities are either not performed or improperly performed.

If the objectives remain sound, the system is studied to see why it became broken.

It would be a waste of time and effort to attempt to fix a broken system when the forces that initially broke the system remain in place.

A system can become broken because of external forces that prohibit competent persons from implementing a good and workable program.

The design of the system may be faulty; where, even when all activities are performed as prescribed, the objectives cannot be met. Quantitative factors and problems of fit may lead to an impossible design. The design may be appropriate but the selection, training, and monitoring of personnel and task performance may be inadequate and activities are not performed as prescribed. This may reflect back on an inadequate design that didn't sufficiently account for the needs of generating and maintaining personnel competency . Employing the procedures of engineering change, a scheduled program of actions is implemented, with feedback, to bring the system to design specifications.

Before major efforts to fix are undertaken, the function of that system as subsystem or component in the larger systems should be considered, in view of alternatives. Even though a system can be fixed, it may be best to abandon, phase-out, or replace it.

More comprehensive models of the larger system may call for alternatives that don't include the type of system that needs fixing. Or, a system may need to be fixed -- so that it doesn’t continue to contribute to higher level dysfunctions; while alternatives for replacement are under construction.

Examples here are curricula -- both in dire need of fixing, but eventual replacement.


To replace a part, one must have, in hand, the replacement part. In the world of machines, it is often easier and more economical to replace rather than fix. It is more difficult in the domain of social systems (even when they are viewed as machines) to simply replace a broken social system with a fully functional new social system.

In most cases, the larger system cannot be shut down to enable the replacement. It may be that any replacement attempt will cause unwanted effects elsewhere. The tuning of the replacement to fit its niche may also have unwanted effects that override the benefits of replacement.

The only way to successfully replace systems in social systems is to operate the two in parallel, tuning up the new system, doing comparisons, and then phasing out the old system as the new system is phased in. In spite of the need for replacement, the old system might be kept in reserve for a while - as it may be needed in an emergency if the replacement system fails for some unexpected reason.


Tune-up may be viewed as advanced fixing. It also is needed for systems maintenance in the face of changing environments and system degradation.

For some systems, extensive efforts at tuning may have no overall effect on system performance -- degrading may be too rapid. At other times, the effect of fine tuning may be extra-ordinary -- where the performance leaps to a level considered impossible by original designers. Synergy effects can emerge if tuning crosses thresholds.

The initial design of systems is often incomplete in final detail to insure adequate functionality. Parameters need to be adjusted to make better fit of components.

The tune-up of social systems can often be achieved through advanced training of personnel in ways of more effective interpersonal interaction and collaboration.

Tune-up can also be achieved by providing appropriate tools (to which personnel are properly trained to use).


This seemingly simple model has hidden traps, often leading to disaster.

To expand is to increase in size and population, scaling up; but without any significant alteration of system structure and processes.

All system designs have a size range for functionality, and for sizes outside that range, dysfunction increases rapidly.

Many small businesses fail after their initial success, when they attempt to expand without examining needs for changes in system processes. For example, small organizations where face-to-face communication is primary often fail when expansion demands a new means of mediated communication.

Before any major expansion is undertaken, it would be wise to examine how the functionality of the system may be effected by the expansion.

If an expansion drains resources from other parts of the larger system, will this loss have a negative effect on the whole system -- often negating an gains intended through the expansion? Computer simulations of complex systems can demonstrate these "limits of growth".


Everything said about expansion applies equally to contraction. Too small may lead to severe dysfunction. To reduce some parts more than others may also create a functional imbalance.



"Reform" is a variation of "transform", which is sharply distinct from "emerge", which will be discussed later. The focus is on FORM, the structure/process of a system. Reform is a process that starts with a system in some existing, "initial" FORM. Through operations applied sequentially to the system, sometimes with feedback, the system has its FORM slowly altered by gradual step-by-step increments until a new, desired FORM is achieved.

One can include all of type ONE models of change as reform. However, the term "reform" is usually used when a more radical change is envisioned, a change "out of the box", where the new FORM will be significantly different from the old FORM.

In that modern science and technology deny the process of emergence (where novel form becomes manifest where there was no prior form existing to be transformed), all change (even the evolution of the cosmological universe and of life) are taken as variations of transformation.

The reform of large, complex, dysfunctional social systems is very difficult, and in many instances objectively impossible.

Since emergence provides an alternative (see below), we need not bloody ourselves in futile attempts of reform. Yet, since "emergence" is not even in the imagination of most people, the futility of reform is very depressing and sometimes leads to a withdrawal from any effort to change.

A convincing explication of the impossibility of reform in most cases where it is attempted, is beyond the scope of this document. Basically, subsystems and component systems are so inter-dependent in real systems that any attempt to reform a part causes instability of the whole, which usually results in a backlash against the reform, often rendering its accomplishment null or even less than before.

Only when ALL parts

1) are aware of the present states of ALL other parts, and

2) are aware of the planned reforms of ALL other parts, and

3) have the facility and time to interact with ALL other parts, and

4) act with a commitment to significant re-learning and allegiance to the whole -- can the reform of large, complex, already highly dysfunctional systems be significantly reformed.

One can make the case that these conditions are objectively impossible at this time. Again, the "day is saved" by the existence of a model of change alternative to reform: emergence.

Reform, in spite of the above pre-cautions, can be a very successful process -- evidence the progress of contemporary science and technology.

Many subsystems or system components can be changed significantly by reform IF it is intelligently facilitated by the larger system and the pitfalls of reform are accounted for.


This is a hybrid tool. In application, a wholly new social system is imagined and then created (sometimes by reforming, using level ONE tools on a system currently outside the whole), often by putting together (constructing) components from the environment to make a new system. This new system is then integrated into the larger system.

Level ONE example: A new degree program or course is created and added to the curriculum.

Level TWO example: a system of educational experiences is designed that are not added as courses in the contemporary curriculum, but which have their own competency-based means of assessment leading to a competency transcript for mastery. This alternative is created as an autonomous entity within the institution and then integrated (via means of mapping competencies mastered to courses when needed). Such an alternative may prove far more successful than traditional courses (for many reasons, not to be discussed here). This seemingly isolated activity could eventually move the whole institution to this mode of curriculum.


The term "develop" has so many different meanings, that it is necessary that I specify how I will use the term. I use "develop" in analogy to the Bio-psychological processes from conception to maturity -- where there is an interaction between the unfolding of prior design (inheritance) and tuned adaptation within an adaptive environment (learning).

This is a meaning distinct from "development" as the "D" in R&D, or "development" as in "Under-developed Nations".

Note that the environment (or larger system) is also adaptive -- it can and will change as the result of the system's continuing development. System and niche (environment) co-develop.

Development can occur with or without size change (expansion or downsizing).

Development is often implied to follow the completion of a system's creation. The initial state of an established system is often viewed as only temporary and often only in rough form. The system is expected to grow and develop, tuning up as it integrates with larger systems and its environments.

Typically, this process is not well thought out, and often assumed to just happen. Development is often confused with growth.

Development is a very powerful and important type of change. Yet, it is little comprehended and seldom adequately facilitated.

Development is usually given low support and grossly underfunded.

Human participants in development seldom understand or accept the real nature of the development process. Human components of developing social systems will, themselves, have to develop -- that is to alter fundamentals, going beyond simple adaptive learning.

This points to the crying need for an Advanced Developmental Educational Program for the "already educated", who have been conditioned to believe that they are no longer in need of "development". And, "developmental education" has been captured by the "remedial education" people, giving it a negative connotation. Indeed, "remedial" is not a politically correct term, which has only increased the negative connotation for "development", without enhancing the productivity of education for those in need of developmental remediation.

Development is often over-controlled, which violates the underlying self-organizing processes essential for development.

Enabling development requires trust.

Development never follows a smooth progress track. Temporary "failures" are often necessary organizational learning experiences.

The outcome of development will never be exactly what was initially anticipated.


The term "evolution" has different and distinct meaning for different populations. For some, it simply labels very long-term change; however the processes involved in the typical long-term changes of biological evolution can be applied to shorter term change. The neo-Darwinian model of evolution is again in ascendry, and is being applied to the neural organization of the brain from fetus through childhood, to the basic learning processes involved in enculturation and socialization, and to the changes within the psycho-neuro-immunological system.

The neo-Darwinian model for evolution posits an intrinsic random variation in a population and a deterministic selection for survival/reproduction in a niche/environment, with the survivors passing on their intrinsic traits to the next generation. Random Variation and Deterministic Selection are the only two forces considered in the neo-Darwinian model. Any creative or self-efficacy action by the entity evolving is not allowed in this model.

The evolution of social organizations is, today, viewed almost exclusively within this neo-Darwinian model (although naively conceived). Adapting and coping with environmental changes is the best that an organization can do. This adaptation and coping can be "creative" if the organization does environmental scans and plans ahead for alternative contingencies. The changes in the environment of the organization are not precisely predictable (even if taken as strictly deterministically chaotic).

Typical of the most forward thinking gurus of organizational change and management is the total abandon of any concept of taking action today to influence changes in their future environment.

For example: projections of energy resources are made and plans are formulated to account for shifts in the availability and cost of energy. But the idea that actions could be taken to change the availability of different energy types (other than to make more profit if the organization promoting one type of energy over another) is beyond their imagination and consideration. Radical ecologists can make such proposals, which are dismissed as faulty thinking by the "real experts".

On the educational front, educational institutions limit their horizons to adapting to environmental changes (including the political and economic environments). "Proactive" has come to mean creative adaptation. The more radical proactivity, as discussed in the 1933 publication, The Educational Frontier, where the actions of educational institutions can radically alter the nature of their environments, appears to have been totally suppressed and forgotten. Why this is so is beyond the scope of this document. In part, this blind spot is related to the absence of any efficacy or creativity on the part of the evolving entity in the neo-Darwinian model.


The term "emergence" has gained in popularity, with a variety of diverse meanings, over the past decade. It refers to the appearance or manifestation of a new form, within a substrate or medium within which there was no prior form to be transformed. This phenomenon is now common in the computer simulations of so-called non-linear chaotic systems. However, this is not viewed as "magic" or "miracle" because -- in these simulations -- the processes within the computer are strictly causally determined (even if never predictable).

The more "liberal" meaning for "emergence", as evidence for an essential and objective role of an entity in its self-efficacy and intrinsic creativity is rejected by contemporary science -- which drove this process from human consideration in its historical attack on "magic" and "miracle". As we emerge from the clutches of modernism we should be open to again consider the "reality" of self-efficacy, will, and creativity, In the post-modern context, to consider this "reality" is not to make claims for the objective truth of "magic" or "miracles", as the concept of "objective truth" no longer exists in postmodernism. This statement will have meaning only to those who personally have a post modern perspective.

Once accepting the reality of emergence, as an alternative for transformation. we will discover that to seed and nurture the emergence of new social organizations can be quite practical and rewarding.

On the educational front, I claim that there are no means by which our contemporary educational systems can be transformed to meet our needs. Significant reform of contemporary education is impossible! The boxes of contemporary educational practice preclude doing what needs doing, and preclude consideration of the basics of learning and organization. However, there are many variations of models for the emergence of new and better educational systems -- many orders of magnitude more relevant, effective, efficient, enjoyable, and elegant (REEEE) than our contemporary best. Our contemporary best is inadequate. Even if our educational institutions functioned perfectly as to their intent and design, they would fail tragically in providing the human population with the competencies and perspectives required to insure multi-millennial survival/thrival of the human species and GAIA.

This is obviously an unsubstantiated claim at this stage. It will take more than the reading of a few books to bring a person to comprehending this to the extent of accepting it and beginning to act within it. Our contemporary educational institutions are not about to abandon their attempts at level ONE change, pushing harder for basic reform. If they are honest in examining the track record of prior serious efforts at reform, they may be realistic to consider supporting the emergence of totally new educational systems, as a backup strategy in case the next wave of reform also fails. All that is requested of contemporary educational institutions is that EMERGENCE be included as one of the many models of change applied. What would be lost if emergence actually worked?" (