Sustaining and Embedding Innovations - wiki JISC Sustaining and Embedding Innovations / Resistance to innovating
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Resistance to innovating

In the JISC Innovating e-Learning Conference 2010, Anne Miller (co-founder of the Technology Partnership - now one of Europe's leading technology innovation organisations) gave a keynote address “How to get your innovations adopted (and change the world)”. Anne discussed the important but much neglected topic of why innovations get resisted and what innovators or supporters of innovators, can do about it. It is often naively assumed that if you "invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door" but as every innovator knows, this isn’t true. Whether your idea is for an organisational improvement, a better teaching method or a cost saving, the more important and disruptive it is, the more deeply it will be ignored. Skilled innovators know this, so they don’t get demoralised, but apply their creativity to overcoming the four, very different stages of resistance.


Anne proposed 4 stages to go through to get your innovations adopted:


  • Blindness - in the first stage it is as if people are blind: they literally don’t see the idea.


  • Frozen - in the second and particularly frustrating "frozen" stage, people are at least aware of it, but they are not yet prepared to act so come up with all sorts of excuses like “it’s too expensive”, “it’s not my priority”, “it’s too risky”, “why change what’s worked for 50 years”, “there are no resources”.


  • Interested - in the third stage people are finally "interested" and are ready to be told about the idea, but the challenge is to get them to like it.


  • Embedded - in the final fourth "embedding" stage, the task is to provide support and help the innovation steadily become embedded into normal practice.


Anne gave a famous example of resistance: Open University “I had heard about [the idea] but regarded it as a political gimmick unlikely ever to be put into practice” (Walter Perry, first Vice Chancellor of the Open University).


The key to overcoming “blindness” is to enable people to see how the innovation fits in with their interests, beliefs and concerns and to stimulate them to develop new mental models.


The key to “un-freezing” is to:


  • Provide evidence that the status quo is not OK (e.g. National Student Survey results, unrealistic workloads).
  • Make connection with things that they care about (e.g. student’s experiences).
  • Provide a sense of psychological safety (e.g. convey that it is safe to take risks; create a culture of innovation).


With those who are “interested”, the key is to engage colleagues and leaners in learning activities and inspire/lead by example. A trick is to be concise and clear in terms of key aims e.g. “high-quality distance learning for all”, ensuring your evidence supports your message.


The next sections build on Anne’s four-stage model of getting innovations adopted and details different approaches and techniques that have been adopted by HE/FE institutions.


You can view the recording of Anne’s session and download the presentation.