Change is an incremental process, neither individuals nor organisations adopt a change overnight. Some change process theories describe the stages of a successful change process as consisting of three phases:
- Unfreezing: Creating the motivation to change by disconfirmation of the present state, creation of survival anxiety, creating of psychological safety to overcome learning anxiety
- Moving: Learning new concepts, new meanings, and new standards by imitation of and identification with role models, scanning for solutions and trial-and-error learning
- Refreezing: Internalising new concepts, meanings, and standards by incorporating into self-concept and identity and into ongoing relationships and groups
We would argue that change in real life is rather more organic than this. Rather than ‘refreezing’ at the end of a project a successful implementation will pave the way for a more change robust culture in which continuous improvement becomes normal. The model may nonetheless have some validity in the case of technological change where decisions taken as part of one project constrain choices in the future.
Innovation research is a field of research which suggests that the propensity of individuals to change and implement new ideas, products or processes differs. Rogers’ (2003) theory on the diffusion of innovations refers to change processes in relation to the individual and his or her decision process regarding the adoption or rejection of an innovation/change. He differentiates five stages in the decision process:
- knowledge occurs when an individual is exposed to an innovation’s existence and gains an understanding of how it functions.
- persuasion occurs when an individual forms a favourable or an unfavourable attitude towards the innovation.
- decision takes place when an individual engages in activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the innovation.
- implementation occurs when an individual puts a new idea into use.
- confirmation takes place when an individual seeks reinforcement of an innovation-decision already made, but he or she may reverse this previous decision if exposed to conflicting messages about the innovation.
Conner and Patterson (1982) propose a total of 8 stages (see figure below) for an organisation or a person to go through when becoming committed to a change goal. The authors claim that each stage indicates a critical juncture, in which commitment can be threatened. This is shown in the illustration below. If a stage is completed successfully, advancement to the next stage is possible. If not, the downward arrows indicate the result.
Innovation research (Rogers, 2003) categorises people in terms of their propensity to change, ranging from:
They are very eager to try new ideas. This interest leads them out of local circle of peer networks and into more cross-functional relationships. Communication patterns and friendships among a clique of innovators are common, even though their distance (functional, geographical, etc.) between the innovators may be considerable. In order to be an innovator, there are several prerequisites. These are control of substantial financial resources, the ability to understand and the ability to apply complex technical knowledge. The innovator must also be able to cope with a higher than average degree of uncertainty.
Early adopters (respectable)
They are a more integrated part of the local social system than are innovators. They have the greatest degree of opinion leadership in most social systems. Potential adopters look to early adopters for advice and information about the innovation. The early adopter is considered as individual to check with before using a new idea. They are respected by their peers and are the embodiment of successful and discrete use of new ideas.
Early majority (deliberate)
They adopt new ideas just before the average member of a social system. The early majority interacts frequently with peers, but seldom holds leadership positions. The early majority’s unique position between the very early and the relatively late to adopt makes them an important link in the diffusion process. They provide interconnectedness in the system’s networks. They may deliberate for some time before completely adopting a new idea. Their innovation-decision period is relatively longer then that of the innovators and the early adopter.
Late majority (sceptical)
They adopt new ideas just after the average member of a social system. They don’t adopt until most others in their social system have done so. They can be persuaded of the utility of new ideas, but the pressure of peers is necessary to motivate adoption.
They are the last group to adopt an innovation. They possess almost no opinion leadership. Decisions are often made in terms of what has been done in previous generations and these individuals interact primarily with others who also have relatively traditional values.
These types bear a lot of similarity to those identified by the University of Huddersfield in a large scale study of the adoption of e-marking.
Innovation research has also identified properties of innovations (in this case organisational changes) that are likely to meet with success. These are:
- relative advantage, the degree to which it is perceived to be better than the situation currently existing
- compatibility, the perceived ‘fit’ of the innovation with existing structures, procedures and values
- complexity, the degree of difficulty involved in learning about and implementing the innovation
- trialability, the extent to which an innovation can be tried by potential adopters without major investment of time or resources
- observability, the degree to which outcomes resulting from the adoption of an innovation are visible
In our environment we do of course have a significant pressure group who may drive change:
"There is a strong motivational element that can be tapped that comes from the students themselves. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that students who see other groups using the technology when they are taught without it produce a groundswell of concern and envy. Staff members are bluntly asked 'Why are we not getting to use the computers when other groups do?' "
Educational Technologist, FE College
"The students were the biggest driver for change – once exposed to innovative practices, they expected that they would get similar ‘treatment’ from every lecturer. This spurred colleagues into action more than anything else.
People who were thought of as barriers for the change in the beginning were eager to be trained and embrace ‘the new’, as the change wasn’t anymore perceived as the whim of a VC or a DVC, but was what students really needed and wanted. It all made sense. We saw the opinion changing influence that students as stakeholders of the teaching profession have."
From Changing Teaching and Learning styles Case Study
The Tipping Point
Rogers (2003) states that the adoption of an innovation/change will exhibit a normal distribution on a time graph but a concept of which is being increasingly used is that of the ‘Tipping Point’ (Gladwell 2000).
The Tipping Point is similar to the idea of the ‘critical mass’ which originated in physics and is defined as the amount of radioactive material necessary to produce a nuclear reaction. The ‘critical mass’ in innovation research indicates the point at which enough individuals in a system have adopted an innovation so that the innovation’s further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining (Anghern 2005).
This is especially relevant for interactive communications technology where a critical mass of individuals must adopt the technology before the average individual can benefit from the system.
"The whole department were given the same awareness sessions but only one became engaged… You have to motivate a lot of people in order to engage one."
ILT Co-ordinator, FE College