Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Force field analysis is a very useful tool when considering the case for change.
The technique was developed by Kurt Lewin (1951) and is based on his insight that any particular set of circumstances is sustained by a network of forces that are in equilibrium.
Let’s start with a simple experiment.
You’ll need to sit down for this one. Are you sitting? Good. Now, what’s keeping you in your chair or sofa?
Well, there are two answers. One is gravity which is pushing you down into the chair. A driving force and another one.
The other is where you are actually sitting, which provides an opposing force, pushing up against gravity, and stopping you from falling to the ground.
The two forces keep you there…
Now you have someone ringing the bell in the front door, then unless you could ask someone to open the door, you will actually need to do an effort to stand up and do it.
When it comes to change management, it could be interesting to seek who or what is currently driving the force and who or what is attempting to maintain the status quo (resisting the change).
Lewin observed that in many human situations an increase in one force creates a reaction in other forces, seeking to maintain the current conditions, he used the term ‘homeostasis’
Lewin developed the use of a diagram in which the current condition is being maintained by a range of driving and resisting forces.
To move more quickly to the desired situation, then either the driving forces need to be increased or the restraining one needs to be decreased.
Actually, both need to be addressed.
Instructions (Note that the process could also be adapted accordingly)
It is best when carried out in small groups of 6-8 people. Use of flip-over papers or a whiteboard to make sure everyone can see what is being discussed.
Step 1: Agree on the domain of change to be discussed. This could be a desired (policy) goal or objective.
Step 2: List all supportive forces at work. These are driving forces moving the current state towards the new desired state. List all sources, regardless of their level of interest (even seemingly small or not).
Step 3: List all constraining forces at work. These forces hold the current state back from the desired state.
Step 4: Check if some of the forces can be clustered in common themes.
Step 5: Score all forces or themes of forces based on their level of influence, using a numeric scale:
Example: 1= extremely weak – 5 = extremely strong
Step 8: By adding up the scores on both sides, the feasibility of the desired change can be evaluated given current and potential forces at work.
Step 9: Discuss how the change could be influenced, from strengthening/capitalizing on the supportive forces and by weakening/eliminating the existing restraining forces.
Throughout the exercise, rich discussion, debate, and dialogue should emerge. This is an important part of the exercise, so time should be allowed for this. Encourage participants to distinguish between concerns, problems, symptoms, and solutions. It is useful to record these, including the consensus level on an action or a way forward. In regard to policy influencing, the aim is to find ways to reduce the restraining forces and to capitalize on the driving forces.
In conclusion, carry out a Force Field Analysis at the very beginning of a project with a diverse team. It will help you to see the bigger picture, identify and overcome obstacles, and develop a plan which will significantly increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.