The joke on the right sums up the difficulty of actually sustaining a change that has been made and ensuring that it becomes embedded in normal working practice. All too often once a project is over people simply slip back into old ways of doing things.
The University of Strathclyde experienced the reluctance of staff to give up familiar ways of working when it implemented a single source of curriculum information (known as C-CAP) to replace disparate paper-based systems. It experienced what it describes as “unexpected system use behaviour” whereby academics continued to work as they had always done and attach documents to the online system rather than completing the information online.
"This preference among academic participants for using MS Word was found not to be just theoretical but was also observed during C-CAP piloting. Piloting of C-CAP revealed unexpected system use behaviour whereby certain sections of course and class proposals were left incomplete; instead, the requested curriculum information was contained in a number of separate MS Word attachments, uploaded at various sections of the proposal. The consequence of such system behaviour for the other approval processes C-CAP supports is catastrophic. Important curriculum information or data cannot be captured in a structured manner, thereby compromising subsequent information extraction or reuse and subverting the underlying process."
University of Strathclyde, Principles in Pattern evaluation final report
In examples such as this staff need to be aware of the wider consequences of their activities and to understand how the data may be used in other parts of the organisation as well as for fulfilling their element of the process.
The University of Central Lancashire had a similar experience following a major restructuring exercise in 2008 which removed its faculty layer and devolved greater responsibility to its schools.
Faculty services such as marketing, programme administration, finance etc, were moved to existing central services that provided support across all schools. Post restructure however the University noted a growing trend for schools to request the creation of new roles, to undertake duties that should be completed centrally.
Some of these requests related to differences between the disciplines eg, nursing students require significant placement support, while lab-based students require greater technical supervision but others related to a failure to update business processes following the restructure and a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities.
Central services noted they had to do the same task a variety of ways depending on the schools’ demands and schools themselves admitted that
“some of the variance is down to personal preference”.
A change project was instigated to address this and you can find out more in the project case study.
To be properly embedded change must be reflected in our organisational strategy and policy, be operationalised in the form of business processes and be supported by information systems and infrastructure.
Change can be subverted or reversed if it is not adequately supported by all of these elements or if the reasoning behind it is not communicated to, and accepted by, stakeholders.
Q. How many consultants does it take to change a light bulb in HE?
A. Only one, but the culture will change it back again as soon as they have left.