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Strategies for Change

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Certainly, there should be participation by those whose attitudes and behaviors are aligned with the rational model, but this should not be the sole source of building a case for change. Research conducted over many years has found the rational model inadequate in several respects as a way to go about the introduction of change in human attitudes and behaviors. In the main, criticism has focused on the isolation of R&D from its audience—the stakeholders, the people who supposedly are going to use these new fangled ideas or behaviors. Rational systems may be good ways to research and develop change, but they do not explain all the motivations and activities by which those new things get used.

The dynamics of local implementation are especially critical to the actual use of planned change. Organizations, like the individuals and groups in them, do not operate simply as rational systems thoughtfully buying the latest innovations. If a change proposal threatens individual or group security and status, it is in trouble no matter how elegant its reason. Informal systems of communications and social status may be far more potent than formal communications in persuading members whether or not to do the new thing. Certainly reason and evidence are part of the change equation. You will not get very far off lousy evidence and flimsy reason. But an adequate strategy for change must include much more than clear and compelling reason.


We live in social networks. One connects us to professional colleagues; another unites us with family and friends. Through these connections we get news and views about what’s happening in the world around us. We can gain security, status and esteem from these informal systems, just as we can from formal organizations. Some researchers maintain that these contacts are essential to change, for new ideas get communicated and validated through social networks; Everett Rogers is most frequently identified with this school of thought. Agricultural extension agencies are the change agent units which best represent this approach in contrast with research and development centers.

Everett Rogers (along with his Diffusion of Innovation colleagues, including Floyd Shoemaker) find that most empirical studies of innovation identify a few consistent types of “potential adopters” and a few specific stages in the adoption of new ideas, practices or objects.  In every organization or community, there will be a few Innovators, eager to try new things and usually uncomfortable with the status quo (which in turn is uncomfortable with them). These have also been called by Sally Kuhlenschmidt, the “explorers” who boldly go where no one else has gone before (to borrow from the intro to “Star Trek’) and map out the newly discovered territory. They are the innovative thought-leaders and daring practice-leaders in organizations.

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