Change Is Not an Administrative Policy. It’s a Social Movement.

The following is a guest post by Technology Training, Technology Training Coordinator for Penn State University Libraries.  Technology Trainingblogs at In Clear Text and you also connect with her through TwitterLinkedInFacebook or SlideShare.  This is the fourth post of the .eduGuru Blogger(s) Search Contest.

It’s mid-November, and regardless of political affiliation, you are probably a little weary of hearing about change. But the thing about change is it doesn’t cease to exist when we lose interest; we just lose our relevancy.

You might also be weary of change because you’ve spent the better part of your post-conference enthusiasm trying to get your supervisors and directors to adopt some of the ideas they’ve paid for you to bring back to your departments.  But change does not follow org charts.  Just read Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations to see how change has circumvented the usual hierarchies.

You could also be weary of the change in your own department, when what you really require is a change in how somebody runs a service in another department.  Change can’t happen in isolation, can it?

If you really want change to happen, it doesn’t happen with supervisors or interdepartmental committee.  I served a year in an interim role until a new assistant director could be found, and I can tell you that if you are hoping to climb the ladder to effect change, you won’t find what you’re looking for.  All management is middle management. There is always some director, executive director, dean, president, donor, or trustee above.  There are always subordinates and hindrances to enforcement below.

If you think you will reap the benefits of official channels and an interdepartmental committee, you must be planning to retire in your current position.  Coordinating calendars, competing interests and replacing vacant committee members will delay decision-making and implementation.

So how can you make change happen?  The truth is, like Dorothy and the red slippers, you had it in you all along:

  • Use your social network to campaign for your idea. If you have a sizable network within your institution and a really good cause, you can publicize your ideas and people may respond.  For example, I tweeted, “Why aren’t we using our wiki space as a knowledge base instead of static Web pages with approved authors?” knowing my followers would get the ear of people involved in these areas.
  • Find evangelists. Try to gather a few people who are really passionate about your cause.  Get them to enlist others until enough buzz has been built around it that the idea precedes you or until the people who don’t buy into it are shrinking in number.
  • Just do it! In academia, we tend to favor inertia.  People are reluctant to change direction and stray off-course.  If you want someone to adopt your change, start practicing it, make it the norm, and eventually people will be reluctant to stray from the path you’ve created.  As an interim supervisor, when our communications policy got shelved because of a vocal minority, I implemented it informally anyway, until even that minority followed suit.

13 Responses to “Change Is Not an Administrative Policy. It’s a Social Movement.”

  1. Says:

    Great post Nikki.

    For me, finding evangelists on campus is key. It’s kind of like social proofing — the more like-minded people in your corner, the more credibility you gain with the crowd.

  2. Says:

    Excellent post! Well, at least much better than anything Founderhas ever typed up. :)

    Re: “If you have a sizable network within your institution” — I’d add, if you DON’T have a sizable network… help create one.

  3. Says:

    Great post to get people motivated. Truly speaks to issues that get people stopped up in creativity.

  4. Says:

    @Director of Web Communication: Thanks. I like evangelists as social-proofing. If you can create a snowball effect and make the adopters the majority, your idea will have merit. It also helps me keep my ideas in check to use the wisdom of crowds as vetting process.

    @Todd: Taunting of Founderaside, good point. Perhaps building your social network should be job #1. We have a really strong Twitter community at Penn State. Between my fellow PSU Twitter evangelist @Robin2go and I, we have quite a few resources on Twitter could look at look at making available to anyone looking to build a community.

    @Jess: Thanks much. I think it’s easy for us to feel we’re not empowered in our current positions to do what we want, but the best way to prove that we’re capable of more is to make things happen outside what we’ve been assigned to do.

  5. Says:

    Hey Technology Training-

    Awesome post! As you stated, being a change evangelist in higher ed can be scary.

    Sometimes I think we are preaching to the choir, though. The trick is to get an otherwise reluctant person on-board and turn *them* into an evangelist.

  6. Says:

    @Shelby: Thanks much, my friend! ;)

    Change is absolutely scary and the best thing we can do is surround surround ourselves with as many converts as possible.

    There’s a section in Here Comes Everybody that deals with “reluctant people” in social movements and how they’re just waiting for the crowd to get large enough to be safe to join it.

    Somebody has to be the one brave person to start the little crowd that rolls up the larger snowball. So many wasteful projects continue on the wrong course because of our fear of change and personal politics (see

    Ah, perhaps this is fodder for a future post…

  7. Says:

    @Technology Training& Shelby - I had to jump back into the conversation, I just can’t resist myself 99% of the time.

    What is happening here in the last year and specifically three months is that we have that community of converts and people who really believe and are passionate about the web and how it relates to higher education. I’m humbled by the success of this blog, but I think it’s a testimate to this passion in our industry and people working together.

    Web people are wired a little different and it kind be difficult to get other people to understand where our passion comes from and can be frustrating, but what is so great today is that we have this blogging, twittering, conference, and social network community of HighEdWeb rockstars! Everyone is so willing to jump in and help each other and no question is off limits.

    So I guess where I’m going with this and you have already introduced it is that when we need support and the strength to move forward with an idea WE are the community together to help each of us individually keep taking steps forward.

  8. Says:

    Nikki, I could not agree with you more. There is nothing that frustrates me more than people that will complain about things but never actually try to change them. It IS about change, and this new world we’re living in is constantly changing. I think your “Just Do It!” phrase sums it all up beautifully. Just DO it.. it won’t happen unless you do.

  9. Says:

    Thanks for an enjoyable post. I deal with the need to institute change on a daily basis, from an IT perspective and in Academia. Working in an environment in which there has been no previous policy statements makes this hard. I’ve found, in my work, that it’s easier to just make the call, deem it policy, and then see what - if any - resistance I get(your “Just Do It” recommendation). If it flies, then it becomes cannon, if there’s opposition, then that social networking thing kicks in and I see where and when I fight my battles. Sometimes you win, sometimes you can see the impending loss so you back off.

    Regardless, good to hear from you and hope to hear more from you again here soon!

    Best Regards,
    Adam Mikolajczyk

  10. Says:

    @ Shannon: Thanks much. I guess as more people realize that because of changes in the Web, they now have the ability to make things happen without organizing through official channels we’ll see less moping and more action.

    @Adam: Thanks. It’s got to be tough raising the level of tension in an environment where previous expectations were much lower. Any time you turn something new into established cannon, though, you’ve got the same itertia that worked against you now on your side.

  11. Says:

    Wow, I got a comment mention! Sweet! ;D

    That aside, a very well written post as always, Nikki. We talk about the power of community, and I think social networking is a very powerful beast. I’m a real believer in grassroots efforts, and the nice thing about social networking is that you are interacting with the majority. I love the fact that Penn State’s Twitter community is strong enough that it extends across multiple campuses, and even multiple universities. Our network bridges distance that physically separates our community, and that is a very rich community to mine for opinions, expertise, and even the occasional joke or rickroll. :) By extending a welcome to those who have yet to join the movement, by creating a community of like-minded individuals who are focused on being passionate and embracing change for the better, we create a very powerful force in our community. However, I believe that it is more than just what we can accomplish at work.

    I sincerely believe that a community allows us to create bonds and foster possibilities because we are stronger as a group than we are as single voices. I appreciate the fact that my social network is not only relevant to my work environment, but also enriches my life outside the workplace. We have encouraged runners in marathons, we have put together meals for families with newborns, we have run fundraising efforts, and we have supported each other in personal goals and successes. Social networks foster trust, and social movements foster change.

    We’ve said before that “no invitations are needed” to join the effort. But by extending our hands, by bringing new people into the fold, we continue the ripple effect that is change. By starting new ways of thinking, by extending it to new people in the fold, we continue the ripple effect that is change. Before you know it, there’s an entire community behind you as you lead the charge for change. And that is a very powerful thing-even against the inertia of the workplace.

  12. Says:

    It’s nice to see this third option in initiating change. Usually I only hear the old adage, “it’s easier to apologize than get permission” when discussing how to bring change to our organization. That was the choice previously, do it and say sorry later, or don’t do anything.

    Creating a social movement toward the change is not only less subversive than the do-it-and-say-sorry-later method, and more productive than the wait-for-permission method, it’s frankly much more fun than either. Not to say it can’t be subversive, mind you…it’s just less blatantly so. ;)

  13. Says:

    @Robin: It’s good to hear from one of my favorite proponents of social networking herself! It was good of you to point out that in our university, the Twitter community is pretty big, and as a result, participation in events that used to be perceived as niche events have become “no invitation required”. The social network has shown us that despite educational attainment, years in field, department, or role, we may have common interests or passions worthy of forming collaborative partnerships.

    @Michelle: I agree. Rather than being subversive, I see this tactic as persuasive, a la Dale Carnegie’s “Let the other person feel the idea is his/hers.” Shop your idea out to the crowd until the crowd has adopted it. Once you no longer own it, it becomes more palatable.