Change Strategies

Once you have identified the Desired and Current States it is time to think about how to move the system from the Desired to the Current State. We recommend starting with the big picture (Change Strategy and Mechanism for Change) and then moving to the specific tactics.

Change Strategy

A Change Strategy represents your overall vision of how and why the desired changes will take place. A key purpose of a Change Strategy is to guide your development and alignment of change tactics (specific actions) that will take your institution from the Current State to your Desired State. You probably have a change strategy, whether you know it or not!

There are four basic types of change strategies (adapted from Henderson, Beach, & Finkelstein, 2011). These four types represent the quadrants presented in Figure 2:

  1. Prescribed-Individual (disseminating curriculum & pedagogy)
  2. Emergent-Individual (developing reflecting teachers)
  3. Prescribed-Environmental (developing policy)
  4. Emergent-Environmental (developing shared vision)

For the purposes of the Dashboard, we are primarily interested in the type of change strategy. You simply need to circle the type of strategy you will be using. This requires determining which quadrant of the foursquare represents the overall goals of your change project by answering two questions:

  1. Is the change more focused on directly changing individuals or environments/structures? (the vertical axis);
  2. Is the desired outcome of the change largely known in advance (prescribed) or is it expected to be largely designed during the change process (emergent)? (the horizontal axis).
Vertical Axis: Individuals vs. Environments
If you are pursuing a change project that you want to have an ongoing sustained impact on your institution, it is likely that your change strategy will fall on the environment side. There will be aspects of the project that are aimed at individuals, but the overall strategy to reach the Desired State will require a focus on the environment. Changes that only involve individuals can sometimes be easier to implement, but these changes are also typically much less likely to be sustained.
Horizontal Axis: Prescribed vs. Emergent
Whether your change strategy is prescribed or emergent depends on how pre-determined your final vision for the project is. Do you have a strong vision of what you want the want things to look like after the change initiative is successful, or do you expect important aspects of the project to be identified and shaped during implementation? Your vision will likely fall somewhere on the continuum shown in Figure 3. Adoption and adaptation are more prescribed. Reinvention and invention are more emergent.

Environment Focused Change Strategies

Because a strong change strategy is likely environment focused, you likely have only two types of change strategies to pick from:

Prescribed-Environmental Strategies

In this type of strategy you start out with a clear vision of what you want things to look like. Your project, then, must figure out ways to shape the environment in order to align structures and cultures with your vision. Although you often want individuals to behave differently, we do not consider this strategy as one that is focused on individuals because the levers used to create behavior change are designed to minimize individual autonomy. For example, an individual-focused prescribed strategy might be to tell instructors in the physics department about a new instructional strategy and hope that they like it enough to adopt it. An environmental-focused prescribed strategy might be to provide individual and departmental incentives for instructors to adopt the desired strategy.

Emergent-Environmental Strategies

In this type of strategy you start with a problem or general area for improvement. Your project, then, must figure out ways to shape the environment in order to bring people together to develop important aspects of the new vision. Although this type of strategy often involves individuals working together and sharing ideas, we do not consider this strategy as one that is focused on individuals because, unlike strategies of the Reflective Teachers type, Shared Vision strategies require the individuals to come to agreement on a vision. An environmental-focused emergent strategy might be to create an instructional development team to develop a new sequence of introductory courses in the department.

Advanced users may wish to identify a specific change strategy within the chosen quadrant. However, we have found that simply identifying the quadrant is sufficient as you begin to work with the Dashboard. Specific types of change strategies are available for those who are interested.

Selecting an emergent change strategy when the project goals are really prescribed is a common failure mode. This type of misalignment can occur because change leaders feel (often correctly) that people in their institution will be resentful of a prescribed change strategy. In these situations, the change initiative is rolled out as if participants have significant autonomy in determining the outcome. However, participants eventually figure out that the outcome has been predetermined and that they have wasted their time thinking of possible alternatives that will never be seriously considered. This leads to significant resentment and a failed change initiative. If the goals of a change initiative are actually prescribed – and this is quite common – it is best for the change agents to acknowledge this and follow recommendations for rolling out a successful prescribed change initiative. Kotter's (1996) 8-stage change model is a great place to start.

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