We have looked generally at resistance to change and, whilst it often appears that there are particular issues when the change involves implementation of new technology, in fact the underlying issues are very similar. In the section on adoption of change we outline a useful model for the stages people go through in deciding whether or not to adopt a particular innovation and those stages remain valid whether or not the ‘innovation’ is technology related. There are two key points to this section:
- Recognise a change project for what it is and don’t be fooled by the red herring of technology. If the project needs somebody with change management experience, make sure you bring in those skills and don’t be tempted to saddle a technical specialist with these responsibilities
- Familiarise yourself with the discourse of resistance around the implementation of new technologies. You will no doubt hear it all for yourselves but forewarned is forearmed so read on…
It is tempting to ask “Who are likely to be the resisters?” but, whilst relatively small scale research for particular projects can often identify user related characteristics such as age, gender etc as factors affecting people’s confidence in using technology, it is overly simplistic to look for single factors such as this that characterise opponents of a ‘new system’. A range of other backgrounds, values and beliefs will inevitably come into play.
Similarly, whilst the characteristics of the technology itself are important (poorly designed systems and those with obvious bugs will induce resentment) more interesting are situations where a particular technology is loved by some and hated by others. Markus (1983) identifies common circumstances in which user and system characteristics interrelate to impact on resistance to the introduction of MIS systems:
- Systems are resisted on the basis that they centralise control over data within organisations that otherwise exemplify decentralised structures
- Systems alter the power balance within organisations such that it is resisted by those who lose power
- Resistance arises from the interaction between the technical design of a system and the environmental or social circumstances in which it is used
Tales of resistance
The University of Strathclyde noticed the above factors at play when it introduced a new system for curriculum management replacing a varied set of devolved, paper-based processes. The general impression of academic staff was that the system facilitated greater transparency of process which was actually empowering to academics and supported the sharing of knowledge and good practice. A significant minority however perceived that the system benefited administrators at the expense of academic freedom. An evaluator’s report noted:
"This view appears to be corroborated by anecdotal observations of academic quality processes at a number of faculties whereby it was not uncommon for incomplete or substandard curriculum designs to be submitted for faculty consideration. Designs often followed no particular template, omitted key information (eg number of student contact hours, resource implications, constructive alignment, etc), and were left for academic quality teams to ‘sanitise’.
Due process was also occasionally subverted at the behest of senior academics. The design process under the previous state therefore afforded some academics significant freedom in the curriculum design process, and this freedom no longer exists in the new state."
PiP: Principles in Patterns – Evaluation
The conclusion from a number of projects in the sector (particularly in universities eg Strathclyde and Huddersfield) is that taking a very directive approach to the adoption of technology can be counter-productive and that it is better to ease transition by accepting a variety of approaches for a certain period of time.
The University of Strathclyde notes:
"Emphasis here is on coaxing the ‘late majority’. Forcing such users to abandon familiar technologies can be counterproductive and the use of bridging options are often advocated whereby some choice in system adoption is provided, at least temporarily."
Although they go on to say:
"Such an approach carries several inherent risks, not least the potential for academics to subvert the process."