While most will be familiar with the meteoric rise of French president Emmanuel Macron against the odds, few will realise that OD principles were at the heart of his campaign, which used OD principles to mobilise commitment to change at national level.
In this he applied key learnings from Barack Obama’s campaign for the US presidency in 2007. What helped Obama was the application of true OD to build a social movement for change. As an early adopter of social media, Obama used himself as a very effective instrument of change with the positive and inclusive message ‘yes we can’. This social movement was profoundly humanistic (featuring equality, hope, community in diversity…), driven by the creative energy of young people, demanded personal and political change, and focused on a clear strategic objective.
Macron too used himself as instrument to build a social movement and mobilise energised but inexperienced activists. Contemporary data-based targeting methods were used. Thousands of interviews were carried out by teams of volunteers with voters in districts and neighbourhoods that were identified through algorithms as most representative of France as a whole.
So the power of OD to affect positive change on a grand scale is evident. Yet as the founding fathers of OD were all too aware, and as history teaches us, galvanising people into action without a concern for humanistic principles, such as respect, can be dangerous. Other social movements underpinning recent political campaigns across Europe and in the US have used similar methods to sow the seeds of division. The key difference is whether OD methods are underpinned by inclusive, humanistic values, or misappropriated by those keen to foment polarisation.
Linda Holbeche is co-director of The Holbeche Partnership