CHANGE AGENTS IN TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER
1. To increase awareness of the importance of the human element in the
process of change.
2. To describe the wide range of activities appropriate to change agents.
3. To outline the personal and professional skills necessary for a
successful change agent.
4. To analyze the many roles change agents play in their contacts with
the various audiences for any innovation.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER
Change and the spread of innovations rely upon the importance of the "human
element." Despite our high technology, certain kinds of information exchange
still require face-to-face contact. The "human element" is the foundation
of technology transfer; it is what makes technology transfer an art, not
The process of technology transfer consists of the linkages between
three groups: source, user and change agent. The source develops
or modifies new technology and attempts to spread information about such
technology to users either directly or through an agent. In either
case, the technology must be translated or redefined to address user needs.
The role of the change agent in maintaining and strengthening the relationship
between the other two groups is critical.
ACTIVITIES OF CHANGE AGENTS:
1. Matching particular user groups with specific technologies or innovations.
2. Translating highly technical information into concise, clearly written
formats. Developing effective ways to present technical information to
users with limited technical backgrounds.
3. Encouraging information sharing and networking among users in similar
4. Developing and distributing suitable materials that highlight new
technologies or techniques
Match Users with Technology
Part of the job of a change agent is to develop credibility with users.
Trust depends on the sensitivity with which the agent can respond to user
needs. This is a two way process and change agents must not only
match techniques with users, but also need to relay user needs back to
research and development.
Change agents have a responsibility for adoption of innovations.
This means that if a targeted user group fails to adopt a recommended technique,
then one of two things must be true:
1. The agent has not presented the case for change persuasively enough;
2. The agent has not adequately assessed user needs and the innovation
does not in fact address their problem.
Translate Technical Information
Few research reports are suitable for getting information on innovation
to user groups. Unfortunately, the translation of technical materials into
more readable forms is seldom done. Lengthy, highly technical reports
are often so numerous that they obscure worthwhile printed materials.
No effective transfer agent will pass on material that is unsuitable for
a specific audience. If nothing else, they will lobby for such translations
to be done at higher levels, or for specific programs to be created to
accomplish this task.
A network consists of links between people with similar professional interests.
Examples include professional associations and informal interest groups
made up of people with similar topical interests. These are very
important at the local level as a means to exchange information.
Networks, to a great extent, actually control the spread of innovations.
The opinions of peer group members are often highly regarded by other members
and can influence the adoption decision. Good transfer agents make
wise use of networks to facilitate their transfer activities.
Experience has shown that one-to-one communication between peers is
the most desirable channel for successful change. Once a peer network
has been established, it is then necessary to identify those members who
would be most receptive to new ideas. These individuals may adopt the innovation
and spread the word about it to their peers. Change agents need to be involved
in networks of their own peers and those of their user groups.
Communication --Develop and Distribute Information
People need to understand new technologies and methods before they are
willing and able to use them. The change agent often must develop
materials that answer user questions about the new method. Such material
may consist of simplified explanations of technical information perhaps
using slides, videotapes, films, reports, charts, etc. and should follow
good communication principles. Whenever possible, materials should
be designed to complement one another so they can be used in combination.
The best information is of little value if it doesn't reach potential
users in a timely fashion. Making sure the right people are getting
the right information at the right time takes a lot of effort. However,
if the change agent has already engaged in matching, translating and networking,
then developing and distributing will happen quite easily.
THE IDEAL CHANGE AGENT:
The ideal change agent is:
This list of characteristics may be summed up in the following five attributes:
outgoing and cooperative
persuasive yet broad-minded
articulate but a good listener
above but not insensitive to local political conflicts
energetic yet patient
curious but not undisciplined
intelligent but not intellectual
Change agents need to put user needs above personal goals. They also
need to be sensitive to vested political interests without being subservient
to them. They must be willing and eager to relinquish credit for
innovation when it is politic to do so. Too big an ego can poison effective
Enthusiasm is one of the premier qualities of a successful change agent.
Potential users are often caught in a bureaucracy that discourages change.
Transfer agents need imagination, patience, persistence, and a genuine
urge to serve the community.
Change agents must be all things to all people. They must be able
to deal effectively with a wide range of people including local officials,
bureaucrats, researchers, planners, skilled and unskilled laborers, etc..
Each of these groups responds to a different style and a good change agent
must be sensitive to the style appropriate to each group.
Innovation and change activities tend to be extremely varied and diffuse.
Change agents need to be able to set priorities and budget time effectively.
They must also have the ability to organize information into a form that
is most useful to potential users.
Change agents must be able to EXPLAIN TECHNICAL INNOVATIONS SIMPLY AND
CLEARLY. They must be able to translate technical materials out of
jargon and into a language users can understand.
Effective Chance Agents
Evaluate results, rather than activities.
Relish creative problem-solving.
Set specific goals and action plans for achieving them.
Actively seek responsibility.
Continually sharpen their communications skills.
Listen to others actively and positively.
Build on the strengths of others.
Are consistently candid.
Fight against cynicism.
Believe anything is possible.
Compete only with themselves.
Try to structure what they do to make it enjoyable.
Practice what they preach.
Continually try to understand users.
Build networks to help users help each other.
ROLES OF CHANGE AGENTS:
There is a wide spectrum of roles that change agents often play.
The linker concept refers to those people who pass information on needs
and solutions from group to another. All potential users have problems.
Only those with links to outside resources will be in a good position to
solve their problems. These links can be through professional groups,
universities, informal networks of friends and past associates, federal
and state agencies, and commercial vendors.
The champion is a person who actively campaigns for the product against
technical or bureaucratic objections. The champion role is often
discussed in conjunction with that of the Opinion Leader. The Opinion
Leader is someone influential in professional, research, or public arenas
who adopts or promotes the change.
Most products and techniques coming out of R&D do not arrive in a report
or format that is useful for local level diffusion. Somewhere along
the way, someone has to translate these materials into easy to read packages.
Often an innovation will involve more than one department within an organization
or will be more cost effective on a larger scale. A successful change
agent must be able to broker the interests and problems of the various
parties involved in the change.
The Advance Man:
Advance men are thought of mainly in politics and music. Their job
is to travel ahead of the candidate or the band and make local arrangements.
A change agent needs to smooth the way ahead of the innovation, getting
obstacles out of the way, finding the right people and place for it to
stay, making the transition as easy as possible, etc.
The Hand Holder:
Some individuals and agencies become extremely anxious in the face of change.
They need to be constantly reassured of the wisdom and advantages of the
innovation. They need to be checked up on to see if they are following
through on the necessary steps to accomplish the change. Holding
their hands through it all can be essential.
The Problem Solver:
Along with communication skills, group problem-solving skills are probably
the most important assets any change agent can have. Research on
organizational changes reveals that the way an agency or group goes about
solving its problems can mean the difference between success and failure.
Outsiders, with perhaps a little perspective on the group or problem, are
more often in a position to point out things overlooked by others more
involved. However, seeing the problem is not enough. A change
agent skilled in various forms of group problem solving can greatly speed
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