Getting Change in the System
by Monique Prevost Lloyd
1. Understand the difference between system wide change (change within the existing system) and systemic change (changing the system).
2. Use the system and the expressed public goals of the system as tools to get change. Think of complaints as positive tools. They are only as negative as you choose to make them.
3. Be aware of any internal policies that can be used to keep the system accountable. Also, be aware that the accountability may be very limited. Examine all the disadvantages for if you choose to use this option you will be using the system as written and interpreted by others. Playing by their rules leaves you at a distinct disadvantage and often once you have accessed it, you may find your options have become circumscribed.
4. Devise a plan, preferably with multiple goals. Choose not to use the internal system. Be creative. Make others play by your rules. The advantage is that they will not know what your rules are and you have the advantage of changing them at any time, giving you the flexibility you need. Hold others accountable on your terms.
5. Surprise is an effective technique. Timing is everything.
6. When going into a meeting, go in well-prepared and with well thought out strategies. Don't be pressured into making any decisions you're unsure about or uncomfortable with. If you feel a meeting will be or may become adversarial, bring someone as a support person who will also take notes or inform all parties that you will be tape recording the meeting. Excuse yourself politely and leave if things become too heated. Do a self-evaluation of how the meeting went.
7. When you enter into negotiations make sure all points are clearly defined and explained in writing. Go into the meeting with ideas about what you want to accomplish. Don't allow anyone to pressure you into agreeing with or signing anything which makes you uncomfortable.
8. Recognize that not everyone in the system is working against you. Expect to find allies in unexpected places.
9. Document everything in writing. A paper trail is essential. Keep copies of all correspondence. Keep notes of meetings and summarize phone calls including dates, time, people present, and what was said or agreed to. Send a letter after a meeting thanking those present, listing what you believed was agreed to and accomplished, if necessary. That way no one can later claim a misunderstanding. Use three-ring binders to keep papers organized. Include names, titles, addresses, phone, fax and e-mail numbers, as well as any copies of relevant laws and policies.
10. Be clear. Be concise. Be pleasant. Be polite. Be persistent. Having well defined goals can help you remain clear and concise. Being pleasant and polite is just good manners. Persistence is essential because most people will give up after a few roadblocks are put in front of them. If you want to effect widespread changes you must be willing to go back again, again, and again until everyone understands that you are serious about seeing it through.
11. Send one brief letter that will cause an official to have to defend what he/she is doing--or not doing. Send copies to others as appropriate. If anyone has to write numerous long letters let it be someone else. Letters should always be businesslike but can vary in their intensity. A very formal letter, quoting laws and rules, discussing complex issues needs to be organized carefully with ideas presented sequentially, in a clear, analytical and dispassionate way. Analyze for style and content all letters you receive from others and add any effective techniques to your repertoire. Allow them to teach you. Build your arguments on their points.
12. Educate yourself about federal and state laws as well as any written policies that may deal with the issue. (Copies of the laws are available in university libraries and law schools. Law schools also allow you to access court cases which may be applicable. Don't be afraid to ask the librarian for assistance if you need it.) Using state and federal laws can be very effective because the possibility of losing state and /or federal dollars gets attention.
13. Be aware of psychological ploys. You are dealing with professionals here. If you file a formal written complaint every psychological tool will be used to try to get you to withdraw or modify it. You need to decide on the minimum you will accept.
14. Keep your eye on the prize. Have long and short term goals with timelines but be flexible and adaptable. Be clear about what you want to change. Don't allow yourself to become distracted. Focus on the law, the policies, on what needs to get changed. Don't become involved in personal vendettas. Be hard on the problem and soft on the people. Bureaucrats think the way they do because they are trained to make and follow rules and regulations. It's part of who they are and how they think. Give them ways to think differently.
15. Develop a strong support system. Talking things out with other like-minded people helps keep everyone focused. Analyze when things go awry and determine new tactics and directions. There are no guarantees when you are breaking new ground. There are no rules except those you set. Be a risk-taker. Humor and not taking yourself too seriously are essential. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. A supportive spouse is a definite asset.
16. There will be financial costs (phone, copying, postage, child care, gasoline). Budget for them.
17. Share ideas, resources, and what you've learned about the process with others.
Last updated September 2002