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Enabling innovation and change – Part 1

By Clive Young, on 24 June 2012

At the ICA Network conference: Educating the Net Generation in the Life Sciences at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano last week one of the main themes was how universities can support innovation in today’s fast moving and emerging educational environments characterised by social media and cloud services. This is undoubtedly a challenge. I gave a keynote on our The Digital Department (TDD) project and how we were beginning to uncover a complex pattern of digital literacies and identities that needed to be developed and supported to enable any significant change in this area. I admitted this could be overwhelming but TDD also points to a community-based model of change which might help us achieve our ambitions.

I started by reminding attendees of an older model of change the MIT90s transformational model which was used a few projects in UK HE in the early 00s both to describe and benchmark where universities were in a technology change process.

Basically this model any innovation always started with localised projects then became co-ordinated in some way before becoming integrated with mainstream workflows in a transformative stage and eventually were embedded in the processes of the university (review, quality, finance etc). Only then could innovative change really occur at an institutional level.

Like any reductionist model MIT90s has its limitations but it does highlight the problem of moving from local to institutional innovation. Essentially it emphasises there are a number of steps to go through (whatever you call them) to enable this to happen.

To understand the steps better we can now apply the familiar Rogers 1962 model of diffusion of innovations. Rogers provides the human perspective of change and you can usefully align MIT90s stages to Rogers to see which groups of staff might be involved in each stage. In short the innovators initiate localised projects and but it is only when change becomes coordinated  and then transformative that the majority of staff become engaged.

It is now well understood to ‘break out’ change from the innovators to even the early adopters (i.e. go from localised to co-ordinated) is challenging first identified by Greoffrey Moore (1991) as the ‘chasm‘. Over a decade ago Jamie McKenzie (1999) noted that the chasm occurs because  ”the characteristics of late adopters are profoundly different from those of early adopters” and – after Moore – “crossing the chasm between these groups…requires a mammoth campaign that includes special attention to the vastly different needs, perspectives and demands of the late adopters. He concludes “what works for pioneers does not work for the later group“.

To me this begins to explains the ‘chasm’, why processes of change are slow in universities and the  persistent problem throughout the HE sector of why so many very good educational innovation projects fail to become mainstream and fade away as funding dries up.

In the next blog post I’ll suggest how these insights may be combined to provide a more sustainable, practical and perhaps productive approach of change drawing on what we have been  doing with TDD and other initiatives.

Credit: Rogers diagram