An Act of Faith

I’m interested to know what theoretical framework (or theory of change) is being applied in all of the talk, and the beginnings of action, on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) currently taking place in the charitable sector.

What behavioural, social and systems change theory is being applied?  Which experts in these fields are being consulted? For example: UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, School for System Change, LSE Department of Psychological & Behavioural Science, Social Change Agency, Behavioural Insights Team and others beyond London.

How are insights like theirs being used to maximise the likelihood that the current energy, effort & (hopefully) new action and investments going in to the DEI agenda will create substantial, speedy positive change?

Our default response to any call to action in our sector includes seminars, conference panels & consultations – followed by pledges of change, some research, production of toolkits & one-off training sessions.

Looking back over the last 20+ years – that is what our sector has done every time we have been challenged on our DEI deficit – and it has made very little difference – as illustrated here:

And while some of us might have knowledge of the current DEI deficits, or lived experience & expertise of the elements that are missing from our sector, or understanding of how to write a toolkit or put on a conference, or expertise in certain types of influencing –

I don’t yet see how we have looked beyond those important perspectives and skill sets – to consult experts in creating and sustaining change to find out how all of our sector’s attributes can best be harnessed to achieve change most effectively.

This time, if all we do is just what we always do (toolkits, conferences, half day awareness training, etc) we will be committing an act of faith: that the outcome will somehow be different; that the toolkits will by some unknown means  make our organisations behave differently than they have on every previous occasion; that the training courses will be so much better than any previous “Diversity” course that they will create cohorts of determined DEI changemakers in a single day (or half day awareness session).

Maybe things are genuinely different this time. Maybe the power of social media, and campaigns like #CharitySoWhite, Action for Trustee Racial Diversity, Beyond Suffrage etc, will make change irresistible – even if all we do is what we always do in each 5 year cycle of calls to action on DEI.

Maybe there is now a critical mass of people from “non-traditional” backgrounds in positions of power who are able to effect change – or allies who are willing and able to do so.

Maybe that insightful seminar will motivate many white male chief execs and chairs to stand aside and make way for equally skilled people who don’t look like us.

Maybe that rousing and cathartic panel session will cause our membership bodies to come together and truly collaborate to make DEI the default norm in our sector.


But it seems to me that real change on DEI – in a small number of years rather than a small number of generations – is going to be more likely if we design a comprehensive change programme which looks at how individuals, organisations, networks and systems change – particularly in relation to complex issues which involve questions of personal and organisational power, values, and hard (personally challenging) issues such as individual, institutional and systemic racism.

‘Faith’ is ‘belief in the absence of evidence’. Right now, it feels like our emerging response to the current call to action on DEI is a disparate set of acts of faith. Faith that doing what we’ve always done will somehow have different outcomes this time. And that is actually the definition of something else.


The Behavioural Drivers Model (UNICEF / University of Pennsylvania Social Norms Group)

Systems Change – a guide to what it is and how to do it (NPC)

From Transactional to Strategic: systems approaches to public service challenges (OECD – Observatory of Public Sector Innovation)

Theory & Techniques Tool – for linking Behaviour Change Techniques and Mechanisms of Action (Human Behaviour Change Project)

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