015 – New Year’s Resolutions

The IDEMS Podcast
The IDEMS Podcast
015 – New Year’s Resolutions


In this festive episode, Lucie and David reflect on the idea of New Year’s resolutions through the lenses of IDEMS’ three mechanisms for monitoring and evaluations: guiding principles, pathways of change and value creation stories.

[00:00:00] Lucie: Hi and welcome to the IDEMS podcast. This is our third festive podcast for this Christmas season of 2023. I’m Lucie Hazelgrove Planel. I’m an anthropologist and social impact scientist and I’m here today with David Stern, a founding director of IDEMS. Happy New Year, David.

[00:00:26] David: Happy New Year, Lucie. I’m looking forward to a discussion today. Are we going to discuss sort of New Year’s resolutions or something like this? What’s the plan?

[00:00:36] Lucie: I think that sounds like a nice topic of discussion. Yeah. Did you make any resolutions?

[00:00:42] David: I don’t know, but even if I did, it’s sort of not about my resolutions. That would not be of interest to anyone really, myself included. But resolutions is an interesting topic because of course resolutions are all about change. We deal with change, innovation. That’s a lot of what we work in.

[00:01:01] Lucie: It is. So, if we’re talking about change, there’s a lot, a lot of people tend to not keep their resolutions, I think that’s sort of a famous problem.

[00:01:09] David: Absolutely, yeah, maybe for a few weeks. But actually sticking with them whatever that resolution may be, it’s hard to stick with. Maybe they need some of the tools that we use when we think about innovation.

[00:01:23] Lucie: Ah, interesting, okay. Such as?

[00:01:26] David: Well, we’ve got a whole set of podcasts coming up at some point soon on principles and you know, principles is a fantastic way to actually make sure you’re guided in your decision making. I won’t go into the GUIDE aspect of principles, but

[00:01:44] Lucie: Principled, a principled resolution, then what…

[00:01:47] David: Yes, so did you have principles behind the resolutions you made? Were they achievable? That’s a good principle to have for resolutions. Is your resolution achievable? If it’s not achievable, you’ll obviously fail. So are you setting yourself up for failure at the beginning of the year?

[00:02:04] Lucie: But aren’t principles meant to be not necessarily achievable anyway?

[00:02:09] David: Ah, but no, I wasn’t suggesting that principles are achievable. I was suggesting you have achievable as one of the principles behind how you choose your New Year’s resolutions.

[00:02:19] Lucie: Oh, interesting.

[00:02:19] David: Because if you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

[00:02:22] Lucie: Yep.

[00:02:23] David: And then you end up feeling worse. So, should another principle of your New Year’s resolution be that they should make you feel better, not worse? That would be a nice principle to have when you’re making your New Year’s resolutions.

[00:02:37] Lucie: Yes, interesting.

[00:02:38] David: If you set yourself up for failure…

[00:02:40] Lucie: These seem too simple for principles. I’m used to principles having like a flip side, which…

[00:02:45] David: oh you are right

[00:02:46] Lucie: …can be…

[00:02:47] David: You’re right

[00:02:47] Lucie: …more challenging. In terms of the one you just mentioned, you know, it should make you feel better. There I can understand, you know, health things. Sometimes people don’t like doing sport. Or like sometimes doing sport will give them health like medical problems. I’m thinking of a broken leg or something.

[00:03:01] David: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Okay. That’s a good point. So let’s think about them more carefully. You’re right. So instead of achievable, there’s the question of, should they be ambitious or should they be achievable?

Oh, that’s a good one. Where do you lie on that spectrum? Is one of your principles to have ambitious New Year’s resolutions, or is it to have achievable New Year’s resolutions? That’s a good one. Those are good opposites in some sense. Maybe you can’t have both ambitious and achievable.

[00:03:28] Lucie: And I think that ties in with your discussion with Santiago too, where you’re saying that mistakes can be positive.

[00:03:34] David: Absolutely.

[00:03:35] Lucie: You know, being ambitious can actually lead to some new innovations or something.

[00:03:38] David: Absolutely. So maybe some years you want to have ambitious principles. So you want to have ambitious resolutions, and other years you want to have achievable ones. And maybe some years you’re wanting the resolutions to make you feel better, and other years you’re wanting your New Year’s resolutions to stretch you, and to challenge you, and to take you further, to make you better. Oh, that’s a good one. So either make you feel better, or to make you better. Oh…

[00:04:04] Lucie: Okay. And another one here, I’m going to suggest a principle of, again, building from IDEMS own principles, like, collaboratively created.

[00:04:12] David: Oh, that’s an interesting one. Who makes New Year’s resolutions collaboratively?

[00:04:17] Lucie: Well, exactly, but perhaps, you know, often you don’t know what you need yourself, so often you need an outsider’s perspective to suggest to you what actually… this would be a good thing for you to do.

[00:04:28] David: Oh, yeah, I don’t know. That’s why I’ve never thought of New Year’s resolutions as a collaborative process. But maybe if you did it collaboratively, you could actually get a group of people having the same resolution, which would give you a higher chance of success.

[00:04:41] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:04:42] David: But then you can only do the things that others around you want to do. And so you’re, you know…

[00:04:47] Lucie: Do you all need to do the same thing?

[00:04:49] David: Well, I would argue that some of the collaboration would come from that. You can have other things. So again, we haven’t got the opposite there yet. Remember, you’re absolutely right. You drew my attention to this, to get principles to work well. You’ve got to have a sensible alternative.

We’ve got ambitious versus achievable as being sort of both sensible, both a good choice, probably do one or the other. We’ve got make you feel better, versus make you better.

[00:05:19] Lucie: Yes.

[00:05:20] David: As again, an interesting goal for your resolutions. Maybe those two are actually quite similar to each other, so maybe I’m just making duplication here.

[00:05:30] Lucie: No, but if you’re, you know, if you’re thinking about sort of quitting an addiction…

[00:05:34] David: Sorry, but wait, wait a second. So can you think about it, ambitious versus achievable, make you feel better versus make you better? Isn’t. Making you better, something ambitious, versus making you feel better, something achievable.

If you take something which is not achievable, because it’s too ambitious, you’re a lot less likely to feel better. You might be better, you might have achieved something else, you might have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. So you might be better, but you might not feel better, because you feel like you failed, because it wasn’t achievable in the first place. So I think those two are just the same. We’ve not done very well. We’ve only got one sort of set so far. Because we still haven’t got a counterpart to your collaborative.

So I suppose the sort of inward looking versus collaborative could be internal, something where you know, it’s very private, and that could be very good, so it’s something you just keep to yourself, and you’re doing it for yourself, so all for yourself. Versus something you’re trying to do with others. Maybe that’s an interesting one. I don’t know whether that would be a principle, because you might want to have a bit of both of those. Maybe actually none of these are good principles, because you might want a bit of both of all of them.

So actually, I think we’ve established that principles aren’t great for New Year’s resolutions. Or, we’ve not been great at using principles. Let’s try something else. What about a pathway of change? Can we use that instead?

[00:06:53] Lucie: Okay, so a pathway of change to help understand how to make the change that we’re resolving to make, and to monitor whether we are succeeding in achieving our resolution.

[00:07:06] David: Absolutely. So if only when you think about before you make your New Year’s resolutions, those are your activities. The New Year’s resolution, you might even have more than one of them because, you know, if you’ve got a bit of complexity in your life, you might need more than one resolution to be able to get the changes you want to see.

You don’t actually want to see the change of going to the gym. That might be your resolution, but that’s not the change you’re wanting to see. The change you’re wanting to see might be to be healthier. But maybe going to the gym on its own isn’t enough.

[00:07:38] Lucie: So it might help if you ate a little, well, personally if I ate a little less chocolate or something, then potentially it might help.

[00:07:44] David: I mean, you could have something as specific as that. Or, more generally, isn’t that just an instance of eating better? So our activities could be eating better and you know, exercising better, and, you believe if you do those two things well, then you will feel better, or you will be healthier, or I don’t know.

[00:08:09] Lucie: Okay, and that will be the final goal, so…

[00:08:12] David: And you could actually look at your outputs and so on, and then you could evaluate at the end of the year, whether actually, did you implement your activities well? Did you eat better and did you exercise better and did that lead to your understanding?

I think that, you know, if your main aim of making New Year’s resolutions is to see actual change, then maybe the Pathways is a really frustrating and tiresome methodology to be able to help you to achieve your goals. I mean, it might help you, but maybe it’s a little bit over the top.

[00:08:48] Lucie: Well, before we leave it, I wanted to ask in terms of the activities, is it better to be, you know, do you think it’s better to be, give yourself some leeway? So, like you were saying, not only just not eating chocolate, but perhaps eating healthier in general?

[00:09:01] David: Great question. And of course, as we found when we work on pathways, well, the key thing is you might want to break it down. You might want to actually have eating better as being one of your outputs.

[00:09:11] Lucie: Exactly. How, how…

[00:09:12] David: How are you going to eat better? What are you actually going to do?

[00:09:16] Lucie: Who’s going to help you?

[00:09:19] David: How are you going to actually achieve that particular outcome? Well, your outcome you’re aiming for is to eat better because that’s one of your activities you’re going to be doing to help you to be healthier.

[00:09:32] Lucie: But we would need to specify eat healthier or eat better because eating better can just mean getting more enjoyment from eating.

[00:09:39] David: Oh yes, but that’s, this is, this is, this is all part of the definitions you need to have around what you mean by eating better. So yeah, that could be… you could get into some detail on this.

[00:09:52] Lucie: Could be eating in expensive restaurants or something too, which may not necessarily be a helpful resolution.

[00:09:58] David: It might achieve that particular goal, but have some secondary outcomes.

[00:10:02] Lucie: Exactly.

[00:10:03] David: Well, unintended and undesirable.

[00:10:08] Lucie: Which is how a pathway of change could be helpful!

[00:10:10] David: And, and yeah, identifying that that’s part of what happened and so on. But I think we’re getting to the fact that maybe pathways isn’t an ideal methodology for us to be using unless we’re really fixated on the change we’re wanting to see. Because that’s what pathways sort of help us achieve. So if it isn’t about the pathway and it’s not about the principles that we’re using, well, we only have one tool left in our IDEMS monitoring and evaluation toolbox.

[00:10:40] Lucie: The value creation stories of change?

[00:10:43] David: Value creation stories, yes, absolutely. Well, now you could think about your resolution. What’s the immediate value? Oh, what’s the potential value? I mean, you could think about that right now. This is my resolution and you can try and think the immediate value of having that resolution to me. This is what it is. It makes me feel like I’m going to achieve something this year or whatever that might be and you could actually capture that and you could say yes having made this resolution I’ve got some immediate value from it.

[00:11:14] Lucie: And that’s nice to feel, it’s nice to feel that you have got some value straight away.

[00:11:19] David: Exactly, you’ve got some value straight away. And you could then, at the same time, be thinking, you know, it’s not just the value I’ve got now from feeling good about having a resolution that I’m going to be better in the future.

[00:11:29] Lucie: There’s a potential.

[00:11:30] David: Potential value.

[00:11:33] Lucie: Imagine yourself in that future, living, living the dream.

[00:11:37] David: But you can actually then think this is the potential value that having this resolution, this is the me now and that’s who I will be through this resolution. Look at who I’m going to become. And so, yes, your potential value, you could get that and you could measure that now. And you could document it if you wanted. You could actually store it somewhere on a piece of paper…

[00:11:58] Lucie: I think quite a few people store that sort of thing on Instagram and TikTok nowadays.

[00:12:03] David: Exactly, yes. This is absolutely fine. But do they do the next stage? Do they actually take note when they have some actualized value. When they’ve actually done it. You know, when they’ve been to the gym every day for three weeks.

[00:12:21] Lucie: I think they do. I think the stories on TikTok or whatever, I think people do.

[00:12:25] David: Yeah, and they store that. They have that. They have that documented. This is what I said I would do, and this is what I’ve done.

[00:12:33] Lucie: Nice.

[00:12:33] David: Yeah, so you’ve got your actual value. Now, but what about the realized value?

[00:12:40] Lucie: Exactly what the… Oh no, wait, I was getting further.

[00:12:42] David: You are wanting to talk of transformative.

[00:12:43] Lucie: So what’s the realized value again?

[00:12:45] David: Oh, realized value! This is fantastic because your realized value, this is where not only did you do it, but look, I’ve lost weight! Or, look, I’ve done this other thing, I’m healthier!

[00:13:00] Lucie: Exactly, you can even walk faster or something.

[00:13:03] David: I can walk faster, and now I’ve entered a marathon!

[00:13:07] Lucie: Yes.

[00:13:07] David: And then of course you have your transformative value. Not only have I been going to the gym every day for six months, but now my little sister’s coming with me, or whatever it may be. That’s transformative value, that actually you’ve transferred, you’ve had transformation because of your self transformation, you’ve been able to share with others and, and, and bring that transformation, that wellbeing to others.

[00:13:34] Lucie: Transformative value isn’t only, about sharing it in that sense, isn’t it? Sometimes transformative value is also about changing the idea of success itself.

[00:13:42] David: Well, sort of. And so this is actually, they’ve reframed this sometimes in different ways. It is all about this fact that this is not about the… what you intended.

It’s not about realising your potential value. It’s something else. Something else which has happened because of that. Often, it is to others, or it’s actually, it’s sort of a knock on effect. It’s something beyond just something which has happened because you realised what you thought you would do.

[00:14:13] Lucie: Yeah.

[00:14:13] David: It actually becomes something else. It becomes something different. That’s the sort of transformation.

[00:14:21] Lucie: I was thinking, in our example of going to the gym, can it not be, well actually, again, someone has a medical problem, breaks their legs, and they realize that no, going to the gym, it was all wrong, that this isn’t, this was not the best thing for me, I shouldn’t be…

[00:14:35] David: That is certainly transformational, but, but I don’t know. One of the beautiful things, of course, of the value creation stories, which is obviously the right tool for this job, because it doesn’t matter, really, you’re not a failure if you don’t get the realised value, or the transformational value, or even really necessarily actualising it, there’s, there’s still value, there’s still that immediate value, and the potential value.

And so, actually, just appreciating the value that’s there, the added value that comes from thinking about this. And remember that this methodology, this approach comes from communities of practice. And so now we come back to your idea of actually maybe just sharing this with the community. Maybe that’s what’s needed. Maybe that’s the bit, that’s the real value, the sense of community you get from sharing and all having failed together.

[00:15:36] Lucie: Goodness me, this is feeling very positive and very festive and…

[00:15:40] David: It is a festive edition after all.

[00:15:42] Lucie: I think generally after the Christmas period people feel fed up with um, family and community.

[00:15:49] David: That is certainly true. So, you know, this may not be as appreciated as we might like, but it is… You’re right, by this point many people are not quite at that sort of level of..

[00:16:03] Lucie: Perhaps, wait, wait, wait, I just thought, perhaps it’s about finding your community. So, you know, perhaps your, your family for most people are not your community in that sense, but for perhaps for your resolutions, it’s about finding that community and working with them.

[00:16:16] David: But that’s about the resolution. The whole point is that it’s about building communities. So you’re right. And your family is a great community in many cases, whether it’s good or bad, it’s your family. But you’re right that for some of these, It is about having a community that you can appreciate with, and you can sometimes be appreciative in failure, just as you can be appreciative in success.

And it’s not necessarily the success or the failure which needs to define you. It’s maybe the sense of community that you get from the journey. That I believe. It’s all about the journey. It’s not necessarily about where you’re going, which is why value creation stories are the right methodology, because they’re built around communities of practice and the journey that you go along in that context.

I didn’t realise this was going to be about monitoring and evaluation, but hey!

[00:17:09] Lucie: Unexpected discussions of resolutions leading to monitoring and evaluation.

[00:17:15] David: An interesting way to look at that. I’ve enjoyed this.

[00:17:21] Lucie: A good start to the new year. Thank you, David, for your perspective and for the interesting discussion.

[00:17:27] David: Thank you, Lucie. That was fun.