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OPINION: Evolution or revolution transforming a community?

by By John Newby ‘Building Main Street, not Wall Street’ | September 19, 2023 at 7:00 a.m.

Every community comes to a crossroads. Should they transform via evolution or revolution? Make no mistake: Transforming a local community is a complex undertaking that can be approached through either evolution or revolution, and both methods have pros and cons. Your choice between them depends on the specific circumstances and goals of the community.

Let's explore the advantages and disadvantages of both the evolutionary and the revolutionary approaches in the context of community development and transformation.

Some of the advantages of the process of evolution might be greater stability and continuity. Most often, evolution tends to be gradual and incremental. This provides the stability and continuity that help not to jolt a community. This will mean lower resistance as people are generally more receptive to gradual change versus a more radical approach. These smaller changes usually equate to less resistance.

Evolutionary changes often involve community members in decision-making processes, fostering a sense of ownership and inclusivity. This can lead to more democratic and participatory governance. Evolutionary approaches are more likely to preserve and respect the cultural identity and traditions of the community, as they allow for adjustments that take local values and customs into account.

A disadvantage of the evolutionary process is that it can be slow, which may not be suitable for communities facing urgent problems or crises that require immediate solutions. Some community members may resist even gradual changes, particularly if they perceive them as threatening their interests or values. Evolutionary approaches may be less inclined to embrace radical innovations that could bring significant community benefits. Incremental changes may not address deep-seated issues or inequalities within the community, leading to persistent challenges.

For communities needing deep-rooted change, the revolutionary process can bring about dramatic and rapid change, which is advantageous when a community faces severe problems or needs to respond quickly to crises. Radical or revolutionary change can break through the inertia of the status quo and challenge deeply ingrained systems of power and inequality. Revolutionary change often encourages new ideas and innovative solutions, pushing the community to think beyond traditional boundaries. A successful revolutionary change process can inspire community members and create momentum for further positive changes. Revolution can potentially address systemic issues and inequalities more effectively than evolutionary methods.

While I am firmly in the camp of revolution for transformation over evolution, there are some things to consider when going the revolutionary route. Revolution can lead to chaos and instability for many. Humans are usually adverse to change; the revolutionary approach will jar many out of their comfort zones. You will find that some community members may strongly oppose revolutionary change, leading to division and conflicts within the community. While this can occur, it is one of those necessary evils communities must tackle head-on. Revolutions are inherently unpredictable, and their outcomes can be uncertain, leading to unintended consequences. If a community fails to address the long-term ramifications of the revolutionary approach, it might miss out on some long-term solutions.

Whether to transform a local community through evolution or revolution depends on various factors, including the community's current state, the nature of its challenges, and the preferences and values of its members. Both approaches have their merits and drawbacks. Evolution is often more suitable for stable communities seeking gradual improvement and sustainability. At the same time, revolution may be necessary in crisis situations or when deep-rooted issues need to be urgently addressed.

A combination of both approaches, tailored to the specific context, may offer the best path toward positive community transformation. Ultimately, the success of any transformation effort hinges on the active participation and engagement of community members, regardless of the chosen approach.

John Newby is a nationally recognized columnist, speaker and publisher. He consults with chambers, communities, businesses and media. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in 60-plus newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected].

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