Kurt Lewin’s 3-Phase Change Model in the Covid-19 Pandemic
Throughout 2020, the question of how the world would look like after the Coronavirus pandemic has been constantly repeated. The “status quo” has been challenged: our usual lives have been suddenly torn apart and life during Covid-19 has been described as “another normal” or as a “new normal”. Such a massive, transformational change is not commonplace, so the attempts of humanity to regain its balance are understandable. The Covid-19 pandemic ends up being a real case scenario for Kurt Lewin’s famous 3-phase change model, meant as a tool to resolve major social conflicts.
Lewin postulated that once dissatisfaction with a certain situation was created, it was about time to go through a process of change, starting with a stage of “unfreezing”, in which previous experiences and old habits are to perish and leave room for the creation of new ones. The creation itself, then, would be the actual “change”, the second stage of the process, in which a new way of doing things is born. Last, but not least, the “refreezing” stage is there to allow enough time for the changed, new way of doing things, to be internalized and practiced.
More insights on Kurt Lewin’s life and contributions to “change management” can be found here.
It is true that Lewin thought of the model as a path to social improvement, whereas the Coronavirus seems to be the opposite. But, on the other hand, despite the rather fatalistic view of the future engendered by this slow-motion crisis, we cannot know for sure if the problems of 2020 will not also have positive effects at some distant point in the future. Yet Lewin himself has come up with the social change model after he had experienced the atrocities of two world wars and of totalitarian regimes, so it can be said that the model – although having often been criticized and described as antiquated – is more current than ever before.
From a societal point of view, what people have experienced during 2020 is rather unprecedented. Remote working and cocooning have considerably reduced face to face interactions. As a social psychologist, Kurt Lewin firmly believed that human life was not only a given, but that the character of a person was constantly shaped not only by his or her behaviour, but also by the interaction with other people. And it is particularly this interaction that has had a lot to suffer due to the Covid-19 pandemic: either people did not meet each other any longer as they once used to do, or, if they “did”, then via telecommunication channels such as online conferencing platforms. Social interactions have been minimized, but even if the world is now estranged, people still hope that one day, sooner or later, they will be able to recover the old normal. At the same time, for example in what concerns labour behaviour, there are many voices which consider that the future will look rather different, with more remote working replacing at-the-office jobs.
It can be said with near certainty that this current crisis will shift certain human values. It is expected that once the crisis over, people will display some different attitudes and behaviours. As Lewin believed, learning was more effective when it was an active process, and Covid-19 has forced people to adapt and to learn new ways of doing things or even of existing. Lewin would have seen in the Coronavirus pandemic a social conflict that needed to be resolved. And a tool to resolve it is his well-known 3-phase change model.