Working Group 3: Change Leaders

Join the Network »

Private Workspace

Mission Statement

Change agents have many different job titles and come from many different levels of an organization. They may be in administrative positions with clear responsibility for undergraduate STEM education, but often they are not. Change agents need to have skills in leading initiatives without positional power, building consensus among peers, active listening, and "managing up" to others in administrative positions. Little is known about the best ways to develop these skills given the many demands on change agents' time. This working group will identify important roles and activities in the change process and articulate how people in different organizational levels and positions accomplish change. They will pay particular attention to who must be engaged in change efforts, what skills they need, and how these skills can be developed.

Knowledge Claims and Established Ideas

Our primary knowledge claim is that there is a broad knowledge base on leadership development and supporting many types of change agents, including many excellent examples of professional development opportunities, but that these resources are decentralized across many fields of scholarship, and not readily available to the stakeholders that this group represents.

In particular, we claim:

  1. Change leaders are not necessarily capital-L "Leaders". There are multiple types of change agents (formal change agents, informal change agents, administrators, faculty, postdocs, staff, etc.). There is increased attention to the need to support leaders who do not have positional leadership roles. Such people need permission to access data and resources to enact change, and a national community so that they do not work in isolation.
  2. Change leader skills may be distributed among individuals. There are multiple roles for these change agents (creating program vision, creating change models, analyzing data, acquiring and allocating resources, persuading and building political support, implementation of change, evaluation of change). It is incorrect to assume that any one person can embody all these roles. It takes many types of people to lead change.
  3. The skills needed are known, but scattered. There are many different skills required to lead change, and these core skills can be defined as the Knowledge/Skills/Attributes, or KSA, requirements for change agents, which include the affective domain of "change agency" - motivation and empowerment to lead change. These skills are scattered through the literature.
  4. The knowledge is not easily accessed. There is a substantial body of knowledge in how to support change agents which is inaccessible because (a) we do not publish our failures as a community, (b) there is a hidden "grey literature" from program evaluation studies, and (c) it is scattered across domains of scholarship (e.g., organizational change, business, STEM education, economics, etc.) and STEM disciplines.
  5. To support leaders, we need to interface across multiple disciplines. Many disciplinary societies and organizations (ACS, AAPT, NAGT, PKAL, CIRTL) offer leadership development opportunities for faculty and other change agents. If we are to support STEM-wide leadership growth, we need better coordination across these disciplinary efforts, starting with awareness of what is already done, and potentially leading to sharing insights and data across programs.

Key Questions

  • What kind of training do change agents need? How much? Where should they get it? 
Are skills for change agents different than other types of leadership skills? What skills are general and which are specific to positional roles (dean, provost) or non-positional roles? How does this training instill a sense of "change agency" – motivation and empowerment to enact change?
  • What kinds of ongoing support do change agents need? What kinds of networks and "learning communities" exist or should be developed? What kind of support can the ASCN offer in this? How does this support continue to drive a sense of "change agency" – motivation and empowerment to enact change?
  • How can individual change agent development be aligned with systemic change issues? What is the role of systems thinking, organizational dynamics, and succession planning in change agent development? 
E.g., how do we take into account organizational change practice research, administrative practice in higher education? How does the individual change agent connect and relate to various levels of the educational system (department, campus, intercampus, network)?
  • What knowledge is, and is not, appropriate to borrow from other areas of literature?E.g., what pieces of business models (like Change Management) can be adapted to higher education? What are the barriers to doing so?

Potential Outcomes or Products

  1. Map/competency model of change agent skills (for individuals, for teams, for programs), potentially to develop into publication.
  2. List of compiled professional development opportunities that specifically focus on change agency.
  3. A targeted resource list for change agents, such as the "top 5 articles" on change agency, or recommendations on best-practices for supporting change agents.
  4. List of quality metrics and measurements for evaluating change leader programs (formative and summative), in collaboration with Working Group 4 (Demonstrating Impact).

Action Plan for Moving Forward

We are currently engaged in the following:

  1. Identify an ongoing meeting time with topical discussions, to ensure better communication among working group members, a sense of "knowing," begin to see personal and professional impacts of ASCN membership, and develop products listed above.
  2. Make better use of the Working Group 3 email list (and follower list) to post notices and publications of interest to the group.
  3. Finish compiling professional development opportunities (formal and informal) that specifically focus on change agency.
  4. Provide feedback on evolving Change Leaders Competency Map (in development by Julia Williams' student) to serve as an organizer of the necessary skills in change leadership, with linkages to professional development opportunities


Group Leaders

  • Gita Bangera, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (
  • Madhura Kulkarni, Northern Kentucky University (
  • Jonathan Cox, University of Arizona (

Group Members