Typologies of Change

by | Apr 22, 2020

This article is part of our Local Week series, a collection of articles focusing on the challenges facing communities as they confront the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find the other articles in the series on our Local Week page.

As we begin to look forward to the world that emerges out of this crisis, there are three types of changes to consider. Each will need to be approached in a different way, using different tools and techniques.

Firstly, the novel changes, the things that are new to us now that we want to keep hold of beyond the crisis. Those things that our January selves would never have expected to see but that, despite all that’s around us, we’re actually quite grateful for, and might even want to grow or spread in the new world.

These changes need identifying, describing, and codifying so that we can notice them, recall how they came about, and record what made them great. They need nurturing, to grow, scale, spread into new areas. And they need celebrating, to recognise the change we’ve made.

Secondly, the evolving changes, things that have changed but that we’re not happy with yet. Things that we now understand to be malleable when perhaps they didn’t seem to be before. But crucially, we want to keep changing or adapting them – we don’t want them to settle down to be the way they currently are.

These changes need acknowledging as imperfect progress. They need bold new experiments to trial new adaptations and learn from them in different places and in different ways. And they need openly critiquing, honestly reflecting and bravely redoing until we find a better version.

Thirdly, the visionary changes, those that we now know we want to do differently but can’t yet. Things that our new way of living has made us re-evaluate and increased our need or desire to do them in the future. But they just aren’t possible yet, perhaps for physical, emotional or financial reasons.

These changes need imagining, designing and planning so that ideas of something different can be articulated and shared. They need communicating, mobilising and advocating for, to ensure they can come into being when the moment is right.

We are all living in very different circumstances, even as our lives are characterised by some stark similarities. So, for each person the things in each category will be different. But I’ve crowdsourced some examples to give a flavour. Do share your own.


Changes we want to keep hold of beyond the crisis

  • Caring for each other
  • Appreciating new experiences
  • Increasing access to culture and entertainment


Changes we’re not yet happy with

  • Valuing essential workers
  • Decreasing carbon emissions and other pollution
  • Understanding our place in the world


Changes we want to see but that aren’t yet possible

  • Reimagining the economy
  • Celebrating human connection
  • Devolving decision making

Novel Changes

  • Caring for each other: Neighbours are meeting each other, sometimes for the first time, and coming together to support each other. People are genuinely asking “how are you?” and listening to a fuller reply. We have seen visible demonstrations of solidarity and increased volunteerism.
  • Appreciating new experiences: Being home in the day means we value more the everyday things closest to us, perhaps the sound of birds in the garden and experiments in home baking. And we’re exploring connecting digitally to friends and family through video, games, and virtual dinner parties. 
  • Increasing access to culture and entertainment: From Andrew Lloyd Webber and Phoebe Waller-Bridge to Joe Wicks and all the independent artists, makers and storytellers in between. Suddenly it’s possible to learn about new things and experience culture that was previously out of reach.

Evolving Changes

  • Valuing essential workers: We clap once a week for the care workers, leave notes on the door for the bin men and delivery people, and every parent of school-age children has a new-found respect for teachers – and yet they are still among the lowest paid professions. We have a way to go to realise our values here.
  • Decreasing carbon emissions and other pollution: In many places, the air is cleaner, the roads are less congested, and the water is clearing. We now know that we can pedestrianise streets, cycle more, and shop locally. But we’re doing these things because we have to. As we emerge from lockdown, can we design our return in a way that reduces the risk of climate chaos?
  • Understanding our place in the world: The virus came across our national borders, but so do the workers who harvest our crops and staff our hospitals, the medical equipment that keeps us safe. Hopefully, someday we can add to that list treatments and vaccines. And yet, while in some way our common humanity is fundamentally exposed, we are still seeing a rise in nationalism and protectionism.

Visionary Changes

  • Reimagining the economy: We know already the global economy will take a hit as big as – or bigger than – we have seen for decades. Millions of people are newly dependent on the state for their livelihoods, and many industries and activities have been dormant for longer than ever before. We have a choice about how we restart our economies, and we will need to deliberate options that we cannot yet see. 
  • Celebrating human connection: There are lots of very long overdue hugs, handshakes and high fives, and several street parties that will have been months in the planning. But there may also be new ways of connection that we want to embrace – new rituals more suited to a contagion-aware culture with a new-found respect for an experience we were deprived of.
  • Devolving decision making: In an emergency we need executive decisions to give rapid, consistent, and unambiguous direction. But this crisis is also exposing the weaknesses in that method – if authority doesn’t have sufficient information or if the impact depends on unpredictable responses, or if there need to be different decisions for many different groups. As we move out of the first phase of the emergency response, we will need new ways of involving the people affected by the decisions that are taken.



  • Elle Dodd is a consultant, helping people with a public purpose to achieve it. Her work draws on economics, systems thinking and social psychology. She has worked in international relations, negotiating the UN Sustainable Development Goals and supporting the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Advisor. And in local government, leading on devolved economic and social policy for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. She has a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School and is a coach in Adaptive Leadership. Elle lives in Liverpool with her partner and tweets @elledodd.