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Strategies for Change

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THE RATIONAL APPROACH

This approach is based on assumptions regarding rationality which lead to heavy investment in basic and applied research and to considerable investment in the formulation, testing and packaging of innovations based on research. Havelock identifies five basic assumptions about change which underlie the Research and Development strategy. First, the R&D model suggests that dissemination and utilization should be a rational sequence of activities which moves from research to development to packaging before dissemination takes place. Second, this model assumes that there has to be planning, and planning on a massive scale. It is not enough that we simply have all these activities of research and development; they have to be coordinated; there has to be a relationship between them; and they have to make sense in a logical sequence that may go back years in the evolution of one particular message to be disseminated.

Third, there has to be a division of labor and a separation of roles and functions, an obvious prerequisite in all complex activities of modern society, but one that we sometimes ignore. Fourth, it assumes a more or less clearly defined target audience, a specified passive consumer, who will accept the innovation if it is delivered on the right channel, in the right way, and at the right time. Extensive scientific evaluation is needed to assure that this happens. Evaluation is to occur at every stage of development and dissemination. Fifth, this perspective accepts the fact of high initial development cost prior to any dissemination activity, because it anticipates an even higher gain in the long run—in terms of efficiency, quality, and capacity to reach a mass audiences. We can see around us plenty of examples of the rational change model. Cars and planes and other material “products” are made and sold that way.  Many federal government agencies have employed R&D assumptions in supporting the research and development of various programs ranging from agriculture to education, and from Internet technology to defense.

Change in many organizations is often supported by encouraging individuals, task forces or departments to formulate proposals based on the best reason and evidence available. We see this approach flourishing today in the emphasis on “evidence-based medicine,” “evidence-based psychotherapy” and evidence-based almost everything else. Review bodies, whether based in governance or management, then judge these proposals and decide for or against ostensibly on the basis of rational considerations. Although we all know too well that good reason and sound evidence are not the only grounds on which decisions to change are made, the formal system, the one we put on organization charts and admit in public, stresses the rational model. We formally act as if we all approach change rationally. This is particularly the case in organizations that are in the business of education, research and technology—that embrace the culture of what Parsons calls “cognitive rationality.” The leaders of these organizations find it hard to admit other approaches.

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