The Meta-Model of Planned Change

This a model of managing change in human systems based on the classic perspective of organizational development developed by the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science. The classic perspective holds that the tasks of an organization-from planning to production to sales-are accomplished with the highest level of productivity when those tasks are supported by high quality of relationships among those responsible for them. With that in mind, the Meta-Model of Planned Change is offered. It is a model that believes in the empowerability of human systems and the people that live and work within them. Accordingly, it calls for collaborative strategies and tactics aimed at open communication and consensual decision-making.

A model is a descriptive system of information, theories, inferences, and implications used to represent and support the understanding of some phenomenon. Meta-, in the sense used here, is a context or framework. A meta-model could then be understood as a framework or context for a model-albeit, a model of a model. Therefore, a meta-model of planned change is a framework from which any number of more specific models of how to manage change in human systems can be understood and developed.

Our model is a three dimensional matrix with the horizontal axis describing the five iterative stages of any planned change project. The diagonal axis offers four levels of human systems-personal, interpersonal, group, and organization / community-to which the horizontal dimension can be applied. Though straight-forward these two dimensions can be difficult to use; that is, without the vertical axis. The vertical axis describes eight disciplines which can facilitate the success of any particular planned change effort. The last page of this article offers a graphic of the three dimensions.

The Stages of The Planned Change Process

The stages of the planned change process are contracting, data gathering, intervening, evaluating, and disengaging. They are not discrete-they overlap and are iterative. Often, they must be simultaneously orchestrated, as each can trigger the need for another. Any stage can lead to any other stage. Data-gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement can all lead to re-contracting.


People in any of several different roles undertake planning change efforts. This includes the person (s) with direct decision-making authority over a system or part of a system, as well as someone working or living within a system without direct decision-making authority. Someone from outside a system, called in for that purpose, could undertake planned change efforts. Regardless of the role they may be in, we will call those who undertake change projects change agents or change leaders . Again, in spite of the role, change leaders must contract for change with the other members of the system.

Contracting is the process of coming to agreement with those person (s) who are key to the success of a change project. If the change agent is the person in decision-making authority, the agent must contract for change with those who live and work under that authority. If the change agent works or lives within the system without …