CHANGE AGENTS IN TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

Objectives

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.

Outline

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 a science.

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 situations.
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; or
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.

Networking

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:

Unselfish:

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 technology transfer.

Enthusiasm:

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.

Sensitivity:

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.

Discipline:

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.

Clarity:

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

ROLES OF CHANGE AGENTS:

There is a wide spectrum of roles that change agents often play.  These include:

The Linker:

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:

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.

The Translator:

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.

The Broker:

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 innovation adoption.
 

DISCLAIMER NOTICE

This information is disseminated under the sponsorship of the United States Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, in the interest of information exchange. The United States Government assumes no liability for the contents or use thereof. The United States Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trade or manufacturers' names appear herein solely because they are considered essential to the contents of these reports.