What share of a population doing something is "sustainable"?
February 14, 2017 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Let's say you are trying to change cultural practices in a workplace. You get some share of your community to begin modeling these new, desired behaviors. But of course you have turnover in your community. Are you aware of any research that shows a percentage of participation that would make it "sustainable", broadly speaking?

Bonus points for citations to academic literature.

Thank you!
posted by rachelpapers to Education (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you searched for the term "critical mass" in the social science literature? Critical mass : how one thing leads to another by Philip Ball (2004) is a decent introduction, but it's not going to give you a percentage; it's going to give you a lot of information about why such a percentage isn't calculable.
posted by xylothek at 9:45 AM on February 14, 2017

The academic search term you're looking for is "group dynamics," and it's a complex interdisciplinary field. You might find some interesting reading through the Research Center for Group Dynamics at University of Michigan, or the Network Dynamics Group at UPenn which has some good infographics.

In less technical reading, another book you might enjoy related to this concept is The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference. Gladwell, M. (2002).

Essentially, it's complicated, because while we follow herd behavior and once a sizeable minority goes in one direction we'll all follow, not all people "count" the same, some people are change agents and have an outsize influence on a group. So researchers are still working on the answer to your question.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:06 AM on February 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

xylothek, thank you! Just dipping my toes in the waters. Haven't read the Ball book but will check it out.
posted by rachelpapers at 10:24 AM on February 14, 2017

Seconding The Tipping Point.

In a workplace, hierarchy can help provide you with built in change agents. If you can convince the bosses to do x, that will carry more weight in most cases than if some low level office drone is the one doing x (but not always -- a specific low level office drone might be the kind of personality that people just adore, and then whatever that person does can become mysteriously popular).

You could look for research on "pecking order" to find some of the science related to that piece (about how what leaders do gets popular much more quickly than what low ranking members of a group do).
posted by Michele in California at 10:40 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, I notice it's way more often about who than it is about how many. Like MiC says, your first job is to bring the influencers on board. I think it's also more often that the real influence of general attitude-type culture isn't usually the bosses. There are usually a few well-liked extroverted "cool kids" who know everyone - those are the people you want to focus on first, because they make it easier. And if they're actively against you, you're probably doomed.
posted by ctmf at 9:29 PM on February 14, 2017

Another variable is how much the business is committed to the change programme - is it funded for a period after the initial change, to help stop "the grass growing back", or are they going to leave it be and hope for the best? That would affect the number of people you'd need - you could make do with fewer if an ongoing change management programme was funded, to keep nudging more people into the new behaviours.
posted by greenish at 2:22 AM on February 15, 2017

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