Higher Education: Effectively Implementing Institutional Change

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Ten months ago, I re-located to the Southeast from the Northeast to work for an institution of higher education in an office of equity and inclusion. Conversations about change were often debunked with comments such as, “That will never happen because we work in [insert conservative state here]” or “I’m not willing to lead that fight.” These comments are foreign and unacceptable to me but they also open my eyes to the unrealistic, blanketed expectation that I used to have for higher education as being a progressive entity in society. I use this new realization to grow as a professional and understand that change must be approached subjectively but paired with the foundational idea that professionals cannot afford to be complacent.

Matthew Clark authored an article entitled, “A Practical Guide for Institutional Change,” which discusses steps to create effective change at an institution. Clark emphasized two factors needed in order to be effective: (1) the importance of be-friending change makers; and (2) the importance of approaching institutional change as a personal endeavor. Clark makes an accurate analysis by recognizing the need to be passionate about institutional change and understanding the politics that play a role in implementing said change.

Clark continues by describing the steps of addressing a problem in order to accomplish a solution (i.e., identifying the problem, analyzing the problem, identifying potential solutions, creating a plan of action, and implementation of said action plan), which aligned closely to Knefelkamps’ Practice-Theory-Practice (PTP) model. The PTP model provides folks with an eleven step design for best practices in applying theory to problems in hopes to aid student affairs professionals in finding a solution. As professionals, we use this model as a structure to address the difficulties of achieving certain solutions while taking into account the student and environmental factors that could potentially challenge (or support) the anticipated change. In theory, the model provides a road map to success; realistically, it provides a manageable and structured approach to address problems.

Below is a list of six steps professionals can take to effectively implement change based on Clark’s input and Knefelkamps’ PTP model:

1. Identify the problem

Professionals should ensure that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and/or a STEPS FOR EFFECTIVE CHANGE Copy Copymore effective way of doing something.

2. Assess the climate and collect quantitative support for change

Before change makers can move forward with solving their problem, quantitative data must be collected in order to make a case for the needed change. Data will also help with steps two and three (see below).

3. Develop the goals and the strategic plan to accomplish change

It is very easy to identify problems but it is important for change makers to take an extra step and identify solutions. Professionals should create strategic plans that are based in theory and include practical action items.

4. Use the diffusion of innovation to be-friend change makers

A theory called the diffusion of innovations can be used to effectively implement change by focusing on the recruitment of change makers. In 1962, Everett Rogers, a professor of communications, popularized a theory called the diffusion of innovations. The theory maps out an effective approach for folks to accomplish the adoption of a new idea or invention. It states that there are five categories of adopters: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1 Diffusion of Innovations 


By focusing on the early adopters and early majority, innovators can accomplish change more efficiently. It is important to note, student affairs and faculty innovators approach this process with various techniques. Some may take a more political route while others may be deemed as more radical. The data collected from step one will facilitate the recruitment of change makers. It is important to note that “be-friending” change makers is one of the most important steps when dealing with a controversial issue in higher education.

5. Analyzing potential challenges and supports that will aid/prevent change

Change agents need to ensure that all of the challenges and supports are brainstormed before implementing a solution to a problem.

6. Reevaluate the goals and strategic plan to ensure all of the challenges and supports have been addressed

A reevaluation of the goals and strategic plan needs to be done once technique five is accomplished. This is to ensure that the change agents are prepared for all barriers that might surface once the strategic plan is implemented.

After step six is accomplished the only thing left to do is implement the change! It is important to note that a reevaluation of the problem must be done to complete the cycle and to ensure the problem has been solved.

This list is not exhaustive. Leave a comment below with some other steps or techniques that can be used to implement change!


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