Change Agent As Catalyst

Where Does The Change Agent Fit In The Process?

Individuals rarely become catalysts by deliberate strategy but rather because they have come to feel deeply on a particular issue. Either they personally feel injured, exploited, oppressed, or ignored, or they are deeply committed and identified with some subgroup which they feel is in such a state. Hence, they become advocates of the poor, the "kids," the gifted student, the slow learner, etc. Specific solutions are often advocated, e.g., black studies, community control, special classes, the abolition of special classes, and so forth. However, the essential point that the catalyst change agent stresses is the need for change and for special recognition of the interests of the disadvantaged group.

Nevertheless, catalysts can plan their activities to maximize their effectiveness. Basically, this means being sensitive to the points and issues about "process" raised in these pages. However much they care or feel about the oppressed and the oppressors, they should think reasonably about the steps that need to be followed to win support for their cause and to reduce resistance to the changes they wish to see come about.

Probably the hardest task for the catalyst is to see these situations from the point of view of the existing system leadership (sometimes referred to as "the establishment"). To understand a point of view is not to accept it, but such understanding helps the catalyst to know when and how he or she can be an effective influencer. The catalyst needs to know this because sooner or later he or she will be required to confront the leadership and either overcome their resistance or win their support.

Another task for the catalyst is cultivating indigenous leadership for change  within the system. For example, disadvantaged minorities are disadvantaged partly because they are disorganized, isolated, and powerless. Often they do not even recognize a common cause. The catalyst change agent therefore needs to be an organizer and a promoter of togetherness, one who can infuse a feeling of common identity and purpose.

 A catalyst must also be sensitive to the fact that he or she alone does not have the full range of skills to bring about the desired change.  This is one reason why it is important to form alliances with others who can take on different types of change roles such as process helper and linker. Teamwork, collaboration, and utilization of both inside and outside resources remain important aspects of change planning even for the catalyst.

A catalytic change agent may also be seen by many in the client system as a troublemaker and deliberate disrupter.  It may be possible to undo this image by reaching out to key members.

Finally, a catalyst must cultivate a sense of timing. He or she must be willing to wait for and be able to judge the most opportune moments for change. Several factors are involved in good timing. One is judging the likelihood of widespread support or sympathy either within the educational system or within the community; if an issue is not "hot" or if it tends to run counter to other current trends, it may fall on deaf ears, however worthy the cause may be. Another factor is general stability; if the "establishment" is secure and if there are few signs of unrest with no voices of protest but your own, then you are not likely to have much of an impact. Systems in such stable equilibrium are unlikely to be shifted by the acts of single individuals. In contrast, systems undergoing crisis, struggling to "hold on" in the face of many disturbances and disruptions, are more likely to become unfrozen and are more susceptible to organized change efforts.