Change: Is Information Enough?
Recently I was involved in a meeting about what makes for an effective educational experience. The group did agree, perhaps in theory only, that for the educational experience to be effective there would need to be some kind of change; either a change in one’s behavior or a change in some conditions of the situation. I came away from the discussion with the sense that many individuals in the group held the perspective that to arrive at this effectiveness of the experience all that is needed is good, proven data. All that is needed for the experience to result in a change is to provide people with this good, proven information and the participants will then decide to change.
I don’t know about anyone else’s experiences, but this has not been my experience in education, counseling, and change agent work. It seems to me that it is much more complex than to just present information. Of course, I believe accurate and proven information is a part of the change process. However, it has been my experience as an educator/counselor/change agent that information alone cannot bring about change.
In The Dance of Change by Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross, George Roth, and Bryan Smith, the authors point out how a significant number of change initiatives end in a failure to produce the desired outcome. The authors state; “Our core premise in writing this book is that the sources of these problems cannot be remedied by more expert advice, better consultants, or more committed managers. The sources lie in our most basic ways of thinking. If these do not change, any new ’input’ will end up producing the same fundamentally unproductive types of actions.”
So, just providing information is not enough. The educator/counselor/change agent must know more than lots of facts and figures about a content area. The educator/counselor/change agent must be more than a content expert. To be effective and produce the changes desired, one must understand the dynamics of the human being and how the human makes decisions to change. It requires the ability to design educational experiences that cause the human being to interact with information in such an environment that leads to a change in the way we think. It requires us to understand how individuals learn.
Some of this understanding is presented in the work of John Kotter in two of his books; Our Iceberg is Melting and Leading Change. In these very well written practical resources it is clearly described that changing one’s thinking is needed to bring about behavior change. Kotter also states that another and maybe, even better way, to bring about behavior change is to get individuals to feel differently. And the way to cause a change in feeling is through an interaction with the information, an experience of the information.
Kotter describes this experience with his “Eight Step Process of Successful Change.” First we need to set the stage and create a sense of urgency for the change. With the help of a guiding team we need to develop the change vision and strategy by clarifying how the future will be different. Then this vision and strategy must be communicated in such a way that individuals accept it. By doing this we now have people ready for the changes that are desired. The next step is to then empower others by working to remove the barriers that keep the changes from happening. When people actually make the change and behave differently we then need to recognize those quick “wins” and keep the pressure on for more change. By keeping the pressure on to make the desired change we are now creating a new culture so that the new behavior will be the new norm.
When you prepare your next educational experience, ask yourself this question; have I created an opportunity for the participants to meaningfully engage with the content that I plan to share? Then you will have a much better chance for that information that you believe is needed to result in the change you believe is desired.
Until next time, stay warm and visualize spring. We need it.