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What is Cultural Assessment?

For many people, "culture" is something that seems to defy definition. As a normal experience, it seamlessly blends three things: the way things are expressed, the criteria for what is included or excluded, and the expectations that make up what is seen as "the norms"...

Most often, a comparison of one presumed culture versus another is what most quickly exposes the things that seem to be culture's basic "material", as the differences in values, events, activities, and beliefs pop up. Eastern, or Western? Youth, or Adult? Jazz, or Classical? The differences may be small or large, but their persistence is what makes us able to "characterize" one culture distinctively enough to separate it from another.

A deeper look may begin to explore questions about why the given culture has those characteristics. What generated them or supports their persistence? What could change them, and how much change can be absorbed before we say it became a different culture?

If we think we have identified the causes of the characteristics or the influences that could change them, we also readily think about how those causes or influences might be intentionally used. It starts to become apparent that a culture might be designed or engineered, not only experienced as something inhabited and maintained.

An assessment investigates the current state of something from a particular point of view. The assessment has a goal of identifying how much something resembles or represents certain ideas or conditions. If those ideas or conditions are considered to be a "necessity" then the assessment becomes a discovery of how compatible or compliant the subject under assessment seems to be.

Management is, if nothing else, the intentional influencing of conditions such that the gap between the preferred and the actual is minimized. This immediately gives us also a way to refer to conditions that are under-managed or unmanaged.

In an environment that is recognizable and familiar, we find that preferences, behaviors and knowledge underlie most of what seems "characteristic". If those factors are variable, especially under intentional influence, then we may presume that they can be managed.

Of course, we already know that those very things are manageable. But what ultimately makes an environment into a culture is that those are factors of interactions. Patterns of interactions are the basis of most expectations about experience within a culture.

Patterns of interactions are precisely what makes up an organization. Because of that, if we want the organization to change, our management focus in an assessment is mainly on what influences those patterns, and on whether the patterns themselves are likely to help or hinder change.

In organizational change management, the most powerful influence on interactions is the people who comprise the organization. On the one hand, people have expectations based on being influenced by interaction patterns; on the other hand, people ultimately decide whether those patterns are going to stay the same, be altered, or be replaced.

Typically, in any social environment within an organization, people decide what they are going to do, based on what they believe they know. This is the working hypothesis and model in cultural assessment that ChangeBridge brings to enabling organizational change.

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