Higher Education is an increasingly fast moving sector where change is pervasive but not necessarily always welcomed. So-called ‘resistance’ to change can be as much about previous experiences as well as valid concerns about the wisdom of the change and the negative impact on present practice. This ‘resistance to change’ can also come from experiences of imposed change as well as the norms and values of the academic culture in which work (whether research, teaching or administration) tends to be contributed through an individual lens and the reward for these efforts is often individualised. In such an academic culture with a strong sense of autonomy and a healthy scepticism towards the rationale for change there is the potential for disconnect and a lack of engagement, whereby initiatives are left for others to respond to.
However, while some of the above challenges may be the very ones that participants on the Academic Leadership Programme (ALP) face there are also change projects that successfully draw on academics’ and other colleagues’ desire to do things better, to work with others, to further the pursuit of knowledge and its application and to make our courses and the processes that support them better!
Our interest in developing and delivering this module ‘rationale for change’ within the Academic Leadership Programme stemmed from our own experiences of the challenges and opportunities a change situation can bring and a desire to create a module that we would have found useful in the early days of an academic leadership role, as well as later on. That is not to say we have all the answers but by working collegially within the ALP course design team and pooling ideas, experiences, expertise and resources we have been able scope a module that draws on our own experience of change.
This experience of change is one that comes from the practicalities of responding to, engaging with and leading change. It is in this sense, very much a hands-on experience, drawing upon our own experience of managing upwards, downwards and sideways, leading institutional and cross-institutional projects, and having at its core an understanding of the personal nature of change. We cannot pretend that we always got it right. Yet, on the other hand, neither can anyone else. Change is a process that one learns from. Our shared understanding of change led us to focus on developing a programme of change that had at its core a focus on enabling participants to better understand the forces that shape change, the people that are often involved, and how to best navigate change by reflecting on your own personal skills.
The process of change therefore requires an understanding of the underpinning factors that impact on the change, as well as an awareness of what successful (and unsuccessful) change looks like. Change also requires an awareness of your own skills and your own personality at work and how best to engage with, respond to, and also articulate the case for change.
It also requires the application of an understanding of the monitoring and evaluation processes and the data and information that might help to articulate the case for change as well as get ‘buy-in’ and champions for change. In turn such understandings can lead to a change that is sustained and sustainable and that of itself can change and adapt according to internal and external drivers and enablers.
We also hope that in keeping with the values of the Academic Leadership Programme and this module ‘rationale for change’ that we will share and learn from participants as they in turn share and learn from us and each other.