The River Diagram: Strategic community change management

I am always on the lookout for good simple visualisation techniques to support change management. Chris Collison has introduced me to The River Diagram - a great strategic tool for moving a community of groups forward via common initiatives and best practice sharing.

The River Diagram

The River Diagram idea is quite straightforward.

Say you have a number of groups which you are working with who all have common challenges. These could be separate groups or different teams or units in a big organization.

On the x-axis you plot the different behaviours to be addressed and on the y-axis you record a score for each behaviour on a scale 1 -5. In other words you start with a Maturity Model for the particular Change Management area you are working on.

First you assess each group individually across each of the behaviours.

Next you aggregate the scores of all of the groups to create the River Diagram - this can easily be done in Microsoft excel.

The example diagram below is taken from an Evaluation of the UNAIDS/UNITAR AIDS Competence Programme.

River Diagram - UNAIDS Example

The south bank of the river is the lowest score/maturity for any of the groups for each behaviour and the north bank of the river is the highest score/maturity for the groups.

What does it tell you - 3 things:

1. The South Bank
This reflects how much the groups as a whole have already achieved - this is the current community baseline.

2. The North Bank
This reflects the behaviours none of the groups have yet been able to address. Here is the best place for initiatives for all the groups. You would need to decide from the context whether these initiatives could be rolled out at the same time to all groups or whether they would need to be piloted with specific groups first.

3.The River
This shows you the leaders and laggers for each of the behaviours and therefore highlights the opportunities for the leaders to help the laggers move their performance towards the North Bank. The amount each lagger can move depends on their appetite - they can't all move to the North Bank in one move!

The River Diagram in Action
I asked Chris about his experience of what the River Diagram can really offer in practice:

"Everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to share. The shape of the river shows the potential for sharing knowledge and learning within the group. In a learning organisation, it should change over time, gradually 'eroding the north bank, and laying up sediment on the south bank', as some groups innovate new practices and others lift themselves up from the basics of level 1."

Watch Chris's excellent video on The River Diagram

Link to

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson delivers keynote conference speeches, workshop facilitation and in-house consultancy in four key business areas:

  1. Creating High Performing Teams in enterprises including Virtual and Mobile Teams (based on the Bioteams Book)
  2. Establishing effective Collaborative Business Networks enabling companies to co-operate effectively in areas such as sales and product development (based on the book - The Networked Enterprise)
  3. How to use the latest social media technologies including blogging and online communities to promote enterprises, brand, organisation or event
  4. Development of graphical on-line interactive Business Dashboards and What-if Simulators for organisations to support Performance Improvement, Strategy Development and Executive Team Development.

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What a fantastically versatile tool Ken, thanks for sharing.


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