The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Kate Hilton Discusses the Psychology of Change with The Rockefeller Center

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On Wednesday, May 13th, 2020, expert in community organizing and the psychology of change, Kate Hilton, spoke with Dartmouth students and community members at the Rockefeller Center’s sixth Rocky Watch event of the spring term. Rocky Watch is a weekly series of live broadcasts that the center hopes will foster a virtual common space for community discussion in this time of social distancing and remote learning.

Hilton studied at Dartmouth and Harvard Divinity School, and currently serves as leadership faculty in the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity program at The George Washington University and at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). Her talk covered how change can happen on an individual and systemic level. 

Hilton began her lecture with an acknowledgment of the significant changes all of us are facing in the era of the coronavirus. In our lifetimes, the coronavirus is “probably one of the most collective experiences of change [we’ve faced].” Inviting listeners to consider the kinds of changes that they have had to make during the pandemic, Hilton suggested that they were making “adaptive changes.” Adaptive change is change that impacts all of us, requiring learning, stakeholders, and experimentation. The coronavirus, because it is demanding widespread lifestyle adjustments, is causing many adaptive changes. 

Hilton says that to successfully achieve adaptive change, we need to “unlock others’ resistance to change.” To overcome resistance, Hilton believes we shouldn’t simply get people to do what we want, but rather, we need to help them realize that they want the change as well. In other words, we need to think about how we “can get folks to do what it is they want to do.” If individuals feel invested in changing their behaviors, adaptive change is much more likely to succeed. 

To accomplish that, Hilton advises that we try to understand where other people are coming from. When interacting with others, we should always “ask questions and stay curious,” and “explore how they feel and what they think.” 

As Americans are ordered to adopt unprecedented behavioral changes during the coronavirus pandemic, Hilton’s collaborative approach to achieving widespread change is more important than ever to consider. If you are interested in learning more about Hilton’s ideas, you can read her white paper on the psychology of change here

-Written by Ben Vagle ’22, Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistant for Public Programs

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