With a well-defined problem and an assemblage of relevant resources, the system is in a good position to choose a solution or a set of possible solutions. There is much more to be said about how this choosing or fabricating process should go forward. One of the biggest mistakes of change agents is to jump on a solution without thinking through how it would apply in practice, how it might need to be adapted to fit the special circumstances of this system, and what its various consequences might be in the short and long term.
FROM KNOWLEDGE TO ACTION
With a problem and a lot of relevant information, the client needs to order the facts and decide what to do. Although this can be the most creative and interesting stage of a change process, but it is often short-changed in the rush to solutions. Very few people are really skilled at generating solution ideas and choosing among them, even when they have a clear idea of what they need. Stage 4 provides a few guidelines for helping generate solutions and making the right choices. We suggest a six-step sequential process that could be followed, starting from the Stage 2 and 3 diagnosis and information retrieval, and working through to the point where we are ready for implementation. Stage 4 is organized around six steps as illustrated in the figure.
There is no one sure path to the "right" solution, and there is going to be no one solution that will be exactly "right" for any given problem. There are usually many possible solutions and many possible paths.· The processes should therefore be viewed as one potential route among many. Our intent in presenting this sequence is to suggest a number of steps that might help the client make a wise and informed choice.
T-1: "Assemble and order the relevant findings" is the summary outcome of Stage 3; you have collected information from a number of sources. Now put it together in a meaningful way so you and the client can look at it all together.
T-2: "Deriving implications" is an activity that should always accompany resource acquisition, particularly when the resource information is in the form of research reports and abstract analyses. In this step we ask the question, "What does this information say about this setting and this specific problem?"
T-3: "Generating solution ideas" moves you from description and analysis into the formulation of action alternatives. Some of these will be suggested by diagnosis (Stage 2), some others by implications derived from the assembled knowledge base (Step T-2). Still others may be generated by the client working with the change agent in brainstorming activities. Step T-3 should leave you with a range of possible solution ideas in various stages of completeness. Having this range of possibilities puts the client in a better position to make rational and meaningful choices.
In Step T-4, "Feasibility testing," you evaluate these alternative solution ideas according to a number of criteria. The three primary considerations in evaluation are benefit, workability, and diffusibility.
By asking these questions you should be able to reduce the number of possible solutions to one or two.
In Step T-5, which we call "Adaptation," the preferred solutions are shaped to the specific needs and circumstances of the client. Hopefully your screening process will have eliminated the less developed and less relevant solutions, but some work may still need to be done to "customize" the innovation for your own particular client. Sometimes such adaptation can only take place after installation and diffusion activities have begun (i.e., in Stage 5) of the overall planned change sequence).
Finally, in Step T-6, you "Act," you commit yourself, your client, and your innovation to action; you make the trial a reality. In real life, choosing and trying out a solution is not likely to follow such a clear-cut 1-2-3-4-5-6 sequence. For example, you may find that after feasibility testing you need to go back and generate some additional solution ideas, or that in adaptation you need to derive some more implications from research studies. This recycling applies equally to the previous stages of "diagnosis" (Stage 2) and "resource acquisition" (Stage 3).
Figure 4-1 tries to suggest these sequences and the ways in which they relate to each other. As illustrated in this diagram, choosing the solution cannot easily be separated from diagnosis and resource acquisition activities. At each step in the selection process you may have need for additional diagnostic information and additional resources of various kinds. You may even have to cycle back from Stage 5, e.g., when you meet unexpected resistance in the client system, you may have to do more work on adaptation, or you may even have to select another innovation.
"Our everyday experience tells us that our insight into the cause of a problem leads us spontaneously to take the right remedial actions. But the literature of change shows that this is far from being true in most efforts of social or psycho-dynamic change." Lippitt Watson, & Westley
Change projects typically will have a focus, a particular change idea or innovation that the receiving system will be expected to adopt. The range of focus types can be classified as:
There is a rich quantitative research literature regarding the diffusion and adoption of specific innovations, much of it filed under the heading, “marketing.” When considering a specific product (e.g. a new movie) and a specified audience (e.g. “consumers, moviegoers”), there are fairly clear and established roads to success and the problem-solving steps are relatively obvious. Indeed, we can trace the steps from ‘care’ to ‘try’ to ‘extend’ and the box office receipts tell the story of success or failure. That is why focus #1 and #2 are easy to understand as a process, even though they are not necessarily easy to accomplish.
The challenge of #1 is to get through the process to have a good product that is good for that particular person or group
The challenge of #2 is to go from the one to the many, employing appropriate media
The challenge of #3, 4, 5, & 6 is to build a change team with linkages to all levels of the system and to create a coherent message which reflects a sensitivity to the complexity of the client system and the need to acknowledge the importance of each stage in the process.
You begin Stage 4 by building on Stage 3. Bringing together all the findings that you have acquired regarding the nature of the problem and the underlying characteristics of the client system, including strengths and weaknesses, the readiness for change, etc. You have identified opportunities and key persons who might help the change process either as informants, as facilitators, or as active participants. You also have assembled a number of facts about possible solutions. Some are merely ideas or hoped for outcomes offered by members of the system, reflecting their cares and concerns (Stage 0). Others are more substantial, reflecting the experience of people at other sites. Some change ideas may come pre-packaged with specific step-wise implementation strategies, materials, and even expert "consultants" who can fly in or drive over to help put the innovation or innovation project in place.
It is always helpful to put down in writing or in some other organized form what you now know that is relevant to the change effort. This will not only help you to organize your thinking and planning but will also help enormously in working with your change team and subsequently with the client system leadership and membership.
The elements of the knowledge base might be arranged as follows:
D-1. Major concerns of the system as a whole, perhaps listed in apparent order of intensity or numbers of people who are concerned.
D-2. Research findings related to these types of concerns as documented in the literature.
D-3. Major features of the system relevant to this change effort.
D-4. The major stakeholders relevant to the change process with an estimate of their current stance: pro or con, resistant or open.
D-5. Strengths and assets of the system and various members that can be brought to bear on the change effort.
S-1. Solution ideas from members of the client system.
S-2. Documented history of innovations and change projects within this system relevant to the one(s) under current consideration.
S-3. Documented innovations or change projects from other systems.
S-4. Research studies documenting and evaluating innovations and tried solutions related to those under consideration.
S-5. Names of experienced practitioners or experts who know about the type of change being considered.
S-6. Materials that are relevant to solutions under consideration, including packaged programs, tapes, manuals, brochures, etc., perhaps with a rating of the relative costs and quality of such material and evaluations of the extent to which materials work with what ease and what results.
Most of the information that comes to us from outside sources requires some translation or reformulation before it is meaningful as a basis for solving specific problems.
This is especially true when the information comes from research reports. The standard research report is an efficient and appropriate medium for communication among researchers, but it is not a good vehicle for communication from research to practice. Therefore, change agents can rarely "accept" a research report as written and expect it to be immediately useful and relevant for their purposes.
The change agent, as the linker between research and practice, should ask questions such as:
A great deal of research is relevant and can be useful if you work hard to think through what it means in terms of the situation you are confronting. It is also worth the effort because research-based information is more likely to be "valid' (facts you can count on as being true) and reliable (equally true at time one and time two, situation one and situation two) than information from non-research sources. Research findings deserve more attention than opinions and conjectures, since they are (or should be) based on systematic observation and measurement of real events.
Approach the task of derivation in as organized a way as you can, starting from the retrieval of relevant materials and proceeding to the formulation of solution ideas. One possible sequence would be as follows:
Research reports have various purposes (see again the D-A-E-T-E-I-M formulation in Stage 3), but when you are looking for solution ideas the most important part of a research report is the summary, particularly the statement of conclusion. The change agent can't afford to spend countless hours checking through procedures and data analyses, and it is inappropriate for you to use your time in this way at this stage. What you need are ideas stated as concisely as you can get them. Therefore, you should focus your acquisition efforts on abstracts or review articles that give the most abbreviated statements of "findings." If you cannot lay your hands on good summaries, you should try to get someone to help you who has a good grasp of the literature and can find and organize such summary statements for you.
Once you have a good list of "findings" generally relevant to your concern, you should discuss with your client what the research is trying to say. Try to summarize what is being said in your own words. It is only in this way that you will begin to have a feel for what these findings mean. If you can get the client actively involved in the process of summarizing, so much the better.
When you have figured out what the researcher was trying to say (Step 2), you should then begin to match these statements with your diagnosis. The question now becomes, "How does this finding relate to, or explain, what we have observed as a problem in the client system?" Again, it is a good idea to proceed systematically from point to paint, discussing each finding and writing down summary statements of these paints of relevance. This exercise will further serve to internalize and concertize your understanding of the research findings.
The most important part of derivation is stating implications in concrete behavioral terms as ideas for action and problem solution. This is a challenging and difficult assignment, and researchers usually do not give us much help with it. Researchers tend to be very cautious in drawing conclusions, in part because they want to make sure that what they say is thoroughly based on observed fact. Nevertheless, change agents and their clients can use research-based generalizations to stimulate their own thinking. Again it takes some practice to learn how to derive action possibilities from research, but it is usually worth the effort.
In Step T-2 we stress the utility of abstracts and brief summary statements of research findings as the raw material for building research-based solutions. Although many other parts of research reports, procedures, data analysis, interpretations, etc., may sometimes stimulate our thinking about solutions, the summary is the best starting point for deriving implications.
T-3: "Generating solution ideas" moves you from description and analysis into the formulation of action alternatives. Some of these will be suggested by diagnosis (Stage 2), some others by implications derived from the assembled knowledge base (Step T-2). Still others may be generated by the client, working with the change agent in a brainstorming exercise. Step T-3 should leave you with a range of possible solution ideas in various stages of completeness. Having this range of possibilities puts the client in a better position to make rational and meaningful choices.
Ideas for solutions can come from a variety of sources. They may come from research findings as discussed above. They may also come from other client systems or from commercial sources. Some solutions will be suggested moreor-less directly by the diagnosis or by the statement of objectives, while others will be suggested by the kind of resources we have available. Where good solutions are readily available from other programs and projects, it is probably wise to use them, but it is also possible and sometimes advantageous for a client system to generate its own solutions. This may not be a matter of "reinventing the wheel," but rather of adapting and combining ideas from various sources to produce something that is appropriate for one's own situation.
Regardless of the sources of these solution ideas, it is important to generate more than one alternative. A range of alternatives gives the client freedom of choice and an opportunity to make rational and meaningful decisions. In assembling this range of alternatives, practicality or feasibility should not be the first consideration. Rather this should be a mind-stretching experience for the clients. They should be led to start thinking of possibilities that may never have occurred to them before.
Foremost in their thinking should be the question, "What would be the ideal solution?" or "What would do the most good?"
In beginning to generate solution ideas, you should not be too concerned for details of how something works, how much it costs, and how hard it is to install and maintain. You are really looking for "awareness" information, i.e., information which will give a rough idea of what the innovation can do or is supposed to do. For this purpose films, live demonstrations, field trips, and even testimonials from other change agents may be appropriate. At the earlier stages of selecting the innovation, alternatives should not be ruled out too quickly even if they seem to come from nonobjective sources.
Two strategies discussed in Stage 2 as a part of diagnosis are particularly relevant in generating solution ideas. One was the emphasis on opportunities in contrast to problems. As noted earlier, a focus on areas of internal strength adds a new and hopeful dimension for many clients. These "opportunities" may suggest solution possibilities already available within the client system but not previously seen as relevant to problem areas. The second strategy recommended as part of diagnosis was the construction of an "ideal model." Members of the client system should now be given the chance to think through an "ideal" solution to their problems even i'f they have no immediate prospect of attaining such a solution. The exercise is mind-stretching; it opens up new vistas for the clients and gives them the notion that solutions to their particular problems are at least conceivable. This can be a SITUATION AND GENERATING tremendous stimulus to constructive thinking.
Brainstorming is a specific technique for generating solution ideas in a small group. There is probably no faster way of freeing up thinking and creating bright images of potential solutions. Brainstorming involves four steps:
Those who are to participate should be briefed or stimulated with information about the problem area, including diagnostic data, research derivations, etc. Before starting a brainstorming session, participants should be reasonably well informed, although they do not all have to start from the same information base. laying this groundwork is very important. Even though participants in brainstorming may feel that their ideas are spontaneously generated, in actuality they are almost always based on knowledge they already possessed. Hence, prior acquisition of resources lays the basis for brainstorming.
To be useful, brainstorming sessions should have a specific focus, which is usually the problem or the diagnosis which has been previously determined. However, a mere statement of the problem may not be enough to trigger creative thought processes. The change agent should try to set the stage by suggesting an image of some future time or set of circumstances that releases the participants from the reality constraints of the here-and-now. For example, you might ask them to think of the kind of school they would like to have in the year 2010 or the kind of educational environment they would build if they were suddenly granted several million dollars without strings. Of course, the stage set will vary with the type of problem and should be directly relevant to the problem. The more vivid and imaginative the stage setting by the change agent, the more likely the brainstorming will take hold.
Brainstorming literally shows the power of positive thinking. Brainstorming groups temporarily but deliberately suspend critical or negative thinking about possible solutions. Hence the most important ground rule is "no criticism" of ideas (your own or others) on grounds of feasibility. The only criterion is relevance to the problem or to the stage set. This kind of free associating to solutions does not come easily; it requires practice and discipline-in-the-service-of-freedom to ward off the natural tendency to slip back into a traditional task set.
Comment on the ideas of others is allowed, but it should be in the form of "piggybacking, i.e., adding to a previous idea or suggesting another variation on the same theme.
It is also important to include a recording function as part of the ground rules. In other words, it is just as important to "get it down" as to "get it out." The organizer may want to appoint a recorder to make sure that at the conclusion of the session, a list has been generated which adequately represents the thinking of the group. This "recorder" function is vital and should not be slighted because the written record will be the principal "product" and the key element in linking "brainstorming" to the overall problem-solving enterprise.
Summarizing and synthesizing are really post-session activities but are necessary in making the brainstorm truly productive. Members of the group should try to put together their various ideas in a series of more-or-Iess coherent solution possibilities. This fourth step is necessary to reduce redundancy and to make the product manageable. Feasibility questions are still out of bounds, however, at this point.
Brainstorming had its earliest applications in the field of advertising, a fact which may have inhibited its use by other groups. Nevertheless, it is a very useful "unfreezing" method which is applicable in all kinds of situations. There is no one method of brainstorming and probably any method will have to be adapted or modified for working with particular types of. clients. This process can be the turning point of a change program and is well worth trying, particularly if you feel reasonably secure in your role and in your relationship with the client.
When the change agent and the client have several potential' solutions before them, they can begin the task of choosing in earnest. "Choosing" really means testing and comparing, applying criteria, eliminating some possibilities, accepting others, and modifying still others on the basis of comparative judgments. There are three broad categories of measurement which should concern us during this phase: benefit, workability, and diffusibility:
There is a considerable body of research literature on the characteristics of innovations. Such research is relevant to the task of selection. These studies provide us with a number of criteria, yardsticks against which to measure and compare potential solutions. The following listing summarizes the main factors that should be considered in evaluating any possible solution or innovation under the three main criteria.
PRIMUM NON NOCERE is the first rule of the Hippocratic Oath. It means "above all, do no harm!" Applies equally to change agents!
These are all questions which should be asked before final decisions are made on the selection of innovations. However, all questions need not be answered affirmatively. Choosing usually is a matter of compromise and trade-off. among a number of advantages and disadvantages. There is as yet no precise way of evaluating these criteria. The advantages will be different for different clients in different situations and, in large part, the determination of advantages and disadvantages is something only the clients themselves can judge; they know what questions are most important and least important for the people in their system.
Even though precision is impossible, it is important to ask these questions in some form. All too often when we survey the wreckage after an innovation has failed, we find that some critical feasibility question was not even asked prior to the decision to adopt.
Many readers may feel that terms like "performance reliability," "installation," "maintenance," and "servicing" apply only to technological change, but increasingly in recent years this same terminology has been used to describe all kinds of innovations. There is a growing recognition that social, behavioral, and technical innovation can be described using similar concepts.
Because a selected innovation will not meet all criteria, you may want to consider further changes and redesigning to make the innovation "better." You may want to make improvements, either to increase the amount of benefit or perceived benefit, increase workability, or increase diffusibility. If the change team has a lot of resources at its disposal (dollars, time, and staff with creativity and appropriate skills in research and development), you may be able to reshape the innovation completely so that it is "custom made" to fit your clients and their specific problem. Usually, however, you will not have such resources, so that the less adaptation you have to do, the better off you are. This is why it is so important to be a good utilizer, taking maximum advantage of existing innovations that have proven to be effective.
A large number of university centers and laboratories have put effort into what is sometimes called "educational development" so that change agents and their clients will have a range of fully developed and pretested innovations to choose from in the future. Many of these efforts have been going on since the mid 1960s, spurred by the federal education acts of that era. Therefore, in many topic areas, the would-be user may have a lot less adaptation to do. There are good reasons to adopt "off-the-shelf" innovations, whether developed by academic researchers or by private sector developers and publishers. You will probably have more assurance about what the innovation will accomplish and more security that it will not fail or disrupt the situation it was designed to help. Home-grown innovations are inherently riskier in that sense. However, in taking the development and adaptation of others in these "off-the-shelf' innovations, you need to think through carefully whether they make a good match to your situation, especially asking yourself these questions:
When these questions are answered in the negative, then we know that some amount of redevelopment and testing in our setting is required. The change agents and their clients may then have to "invent" or "reinvent" one or more aspects of the innovation, thus becoming developers themselves. You may even have to create your own innovation from scratch, but before you do, you should make sure that you have done your resource acquisition job as well as you can (Stage 3) so that you have some assurance that you are not "reinventing the wheel."
You have now come to the point of action: the concern has been identified, the relationship established, the dimensions of the need examined, resources acquired, and an action selected. Whether it is home-grown or off-the-shelf or somewhere in between, it is now time to act. As you proceed, treat your action as an experiment, learning as you go along, improvising as necessary, and keeping track of what you are doing so that (a) you can do it again, not repeating your mistakes, and (b) so that you can teach it to others or show them how to follow in your path. The trial itself has three phases which answer the same feasibility questions you asked earlier but in reverse order.
Your very first foray into the real world of change starts with words and images, the label and the package. These are the first visible, comprehensible stimuli to hit the client. If they are stimuli with positive connotations for your audience, that is fine; they probably can't hurt and they may help, provided they (a) don't mislead, and (b) don't lead to false high expectations.
If the labeling and packaging is neutral, i.e., "black boxes" without labels, that is also probably OK; you are not hurting yourself with most and perhaps helping yourself with the naturally curious among them. However, if there is no label, then "change" is the label, and if the package is a black box, then you are the package. Therefore, review again what was said in Stage 1 about first encounters. What you look like, what you say at the outset, the image you cast as a person, may determine the fate of your change effort regardless of its inherent value!
If the label is a turn-off for your audience, there is nothing to do but to change it before you start, and if the package is ugly, messy, confusing, blurry, repackage it before you start.
If you are doing something new for the first time there is always a degree of uncertainty about whether it can be done at all, or at least done by you or done by the designated innovators. This is where "off-the-shelf' innovations have a big advantage. It is also where "old hands" and self-confident hands make a big difference. Remember the first time you ever tried to do something new. What was the foremost question in your mind? Certainly it was not whether anyone would benefit from what you were doing but could it be done at all, and more particularly could it be done by you in this situation with this group here and now? More generally, you want to know if the innovation will work more or less as you expected it would. What are the glitches? What are the supporting elements that are required to make it a reality? It is something like the difference between reading a good play and putting the play on before a live audience.
The trial to see if it does what it was intended to do
Finally, you want to know if the innovation really has the benefits it was supposed to have. Does it respond to the concern you started with Stage 0? Does it fulfill the need that you had defined Stage 2? Before the trial you need to have thought through what signs you might be looking for as evidence of effectiveness. Is the mere satisfaction of the users/audience enough? Will there be spontaneous recognition that the need is being met, or do you need to ask? How long is it reasonable to wait before you can have such feedback? Is one trial enough to determine benefits
Whenever you have the opportunity, you should plan a pilot test of an innovation before making a final decision on selection. Limited tryouts on several innovations can give additional data on several of the criteria listed above to help in making rational choices. Above all, the trial demonstrates the degree of relevance and suitability to the problem at hand. Because the trial phase can also be seen as an aspect of "installation" and "gaining acceptance," it will be discussed again in Stage 5.
"Change is a highly personal experience-and everyone of the teachers who will be affected by change must have the opportunity to work through this experience in a way in which the rewards at least equal the cost." Fullan 8