Balancing theories of change during institution wide transformation in higher education
This paper discusses the case of implementing a system for student evaluation of courses (SEC) within a faculty (school) of engineering within a Scandinavian traditional university. The process for implementation took approximately two years (from conceptualization to operational) and 10 years in terms of being culturally embedded (Roxå et al. 2021). It is argued that an analysis of this process requires analytical tools for different levels applied with sensitive timing. In short, several change theories and theories of change are applicable for different critical phases in order to avoid distortion of the overall process, as often happens (Senge 2006). In addition to this, a concrete principle for change guides the process while it becomes messy, and from the standpoint of change managers appears overwhelmingly chaotic. SEC has now been in place for 17 years and has transformed the faculty and is used for evaluative, managerial, and developmental purposes, it is also used in teachers' dossiers while engaging in the faculty based incentive system for excellence in teaching and by the student union.
The need for multiple change theories to navigate institution wide change is advocated in Transforming institutions (White et al. 2020), published by the ASCN, and by Kezar and Holocombe (2019). In this paper we differentiate between change theory, wider frameworks; theory of change, a particular approach for a specific change initiative (Reinholz and Andrews 2020); and principles for change (Quinn Patton 2018), intellectual tools functioning as aiding compasses during complex and chaotic change processes.
The analysis displays instances when various change theories (Kezar 2018) are balanced: scientific management initiatives call for cultural influence, which in turn show the need for professional development (social cognition) leading to neo-institutional change. The need to balance these and to spot the need for a changed approach is especially emphasised.