What's a circus got to do with evaluation of behaviour change?

iStock_000008780927We’re having our conference dinner at the National Institute of Circus Arts in Prahran. It’s an amazing space and the circus students will be providing entertainment throughout the night.

The dinner itself is designed to enable continuing conversations and building of relationships. That’s because one of the key principles underpinning Show Me The Change is “conversations first, relationships, then transactions”. Why? Simply because transactions without a foundation of relationship are doomed to failure at worst, compliance at best.

The circus has transformed itself, from the use (and abuse) of animals to modern theatre, that still applies the ancient improvisation of clowning and physical theatre. It’s this transformation that is of interest to us as evaluators of behaviour change in complexity, and the concept of liminal space, that is so well articulated in the trapeze.

I wrote about liminal space here. Here’s a part of that post.

When you’re asking me to change a particular behaviour (even if it’s for my own good, or for the well-being of others, or even the planet) you’re asking me to let go of something familiar and take up something unfamilar. That space between letting go and grabbing on to something new is called liminal space. You’re asking me to enter a space of unknowing, of uncertaintly and of change. Is it any wonder I’m reluctant?

I’m more likely to enter liminal space if I think it’s OK, if I feel safe, and have some idea of what I’ll be grabbing onto. Think of it this way. If you were a trapeze artist, would you let go of the bar if there was no safety net and no-one on the other trapeze to catch you? Or if the trapeze is a bit of a stretch for you, think of monkey bars at the playground. Spend some time watching kids playing on them. There you can see liminal space in action. It’s not possible to make any progress on monkey bars unless you let go of one bar before grabbing hold of the next one. In fact, that’s probably an even better analogy for behavior change, because on the monkey bars, you usually hedge your bets – holding on to the previous bar with one hand while grabbing the next one with the other. Sooner or later though you STILL have to LET GO to progress.

So in our behaviour change programs, what are we asking people to let go of and how are we supporting them in liminal space?

So I’m looking forward to some great conversations and some great entertainment at the circus on Tuesday May 6. How about you? Click here to book for this great dinner.

Viv McWaters

| April 13th, 2010 | Posted in Behaviour Change, Conference design & details |

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