Figure 3.1: Resource Acquistion Strategy

Stage 3.2 Acquisition Strategies

Each user has habitual methods of searching for and tracking down needed resources. Often these methods are efficient and reliable and at times they are not, but however effective they may be, they are probably going to be hard to change. The "rational" strategy described below should be seen in this light. It should be viewed as a model which some change agents will find compatible and others will not. However, many of the ideas about acquisition contained herein should be adaptable in part even if they are not adoptable in whole.

Problem-solving calls for four kinds of search/acquisition processes which parallel the purposes described above. The first starts with your point of entry into the situation, the initiating concern or catalyst which brought you to the point that you would do something to try to bring about change in this place, in this system, with these clients, at this time. Your search orientation at the outset should be expansive. You are learning about the environment that you are in, the levels of caring about different issues (Stage 0), the numbers and types of people involved and their inter-relationships (Stage 1), and how the client group works as a system, identifying the various needs of different stakeholders (Stage 2).

At some point you will feel you have enough raw data about what is going on. Then you will want to shift gears, setting yourself on a path toward narrowing the alternatives, the potential targets of change, the range of cares and concerns to be dealt with. In this first narrowing process, you will be tentatively setting a lot of things aside, not because they are unimportant, but because they cannot be reasonably accommodated in this first change effort. As you move toward a definition of the problem that you are really going to deal with in this first round, you will be engaged in a different sort of search, far more directed. You will now have a number of key words which can increase the efficiency of searches of websites, digital libraries, databases, and information services. You will also have some much more specific questions to put to various informants and key players, questions which will allow you to get underneath the surface of the problem.

Now with the problem situation, the need, and perhaps even some of the goals well-defined, you should shift gears again, expanding your search once more to take in the widest consideration of potential solution ideas.

The resource environment is extremely rich. Indeed, it is so rich that you can't possibly know all that is there. This resource environment presents you and your client with a bewildering universe of "potential" resources. Yet optimal problem-solving also requires a general awareness of potential resources. The key to success in matching problems with solutions is awareness of this resource universe. Users with a broad span of resource awareness are rarely stopped by a problem because they know where to go to start homing in on solutions. When they hear a problem stated, they say to themselves: "I remember reading (or hearing or seeing) something that pertains to that problem." Once that mental connection has been made they can start "homing in" on solutions, contacting the relevant people and orga­nizations, retrieving the relevant research, acquiring the relevant materials, etc.

Finally there will again come a point in the proceedings when it will be essential to limit the task of retrieval, and to settle on a sequence of steps which permits homing in on sources which have the highest probability of payoff. This "homing in" strategy is the fourth and final acquisition process that is required for problem solving.

Figure 3-1 may help to illustrate the four processes:

  • expanding one's awareness of needs and concerns;
  • narrowing the focus to one need or set of needs;  
  • casting a wide net for solution ideas; and
  • homing in on the specifics of the one, two, or three alternatives to which you want to give serious consideration.

Chronologically, Figure 3-1 starts at the far left with the client's situation at the time the change agent enters the picture. Moving right, we see the diagnostic information retrieval from the client's situation leading to identification of some specific problems and perhaps the statement of objectives in behavioral. These pin­-pointed problems feed into the awareness net of the change agent, and hopefully they trigger connections in his or her mind with various resources i.e. print, people, and products. With such resources in mind, he or she can begin to home in, acquiring a range of solution­-relevant items which can be used in choosing the solution alternatives, discussed in STAGE 4.

 Acquiring an expanded awareness of who the client is and what the universe of concerns could be.

 As you, the change agent, enters the scene, you want to start by setting aside as many assumptions and presuppositions as possible. You should be in a listening mode.  Make like everything is up for grabs, e.g.:

  • what the real need is,
  • who the client is,
  • what can or should be done,
  • even what your own role might be.

It is very difficult to be this open about anything. Humans are orderly beings. We crave definition and position, but as a change agent, you should try to restrain these tendencies at the outset. There will be plenty of time for them later. Here are four ways to begin an expanded search to determine where you are, who they are, what they need, and where you belong in their process:

Using the problem vocalizer as informant

If the change agent enters the client system by invitation of some individual in the system, that person is usually the one individual who has the most concern or the most acute sense of the problem. This person is necessarily your initial source for diagnostic information. Keeping in mind that he or she may not have the clearest, most perceptive, or most objective view of the total situation, you may still use him or her as an informant to obtain most of what you need to know. Above all, it is important that you make face-to-face contact with this individual, preferably at his or her place of work or residence or both. It is also important that you have a chance for extended contact so that you can get to know each other (see Stage 1) and so that he or she can really share perceptions of the problem in an honest straightforward manner.

 To get the most out of your informants you should follow a three-step strategy of (1) listening, (2) reflecting, and (3) inquiring.

(1) You should begin by listening, allowing your informants to tell as much as they want to tell and as much as they think you need to know. If they are very experienced and adept at using consultative help, they may give you all you need to know without any active inquiry from you.  

The "reflection" process described here, is also a good way to build a relationship or to resolve a conflict. The end product is "trust," in the literal sense of knowing where the other person stands.

(2) Once the initial contact persons have stated the situation to their satisfaction, you should tell them what you heard them saying to you, restating as accurately and concisely as you can what you thought they were saying. When you are done, ask them if that is what they meant to say. If you are really communicating with each other, they will agree with your reflection of their statement; however, there may be points of misunderstanding or unclarity.  Repeating the same statement-and-reflection process again and again, you and they will gradually move toward consensus.

(3) Finally, when you have consensus on their story you may want to make some more detailed inquiry or probing, especially to fill in gaps in your understanding.

Recording diagnostic information received from human sources (vocalizers, key informants, groups, etc.) can be a tricky problem. Most interviewers prefer not to take extensive notes while the interview is in progress because this interferes with their ability to listen, reflect, observe, and respond. If accuracy and comprehensiveness of the data are very important, there is no substitute for the recording, but if only highlights and overall impressions are needed, the simplest procedure is to record your summary of what was said immediately after the interview either on paper or into a tape recorder. An open-ended form such as might be generated from the diagnostic inventory described in Stage 2 would be useful for this purpose. Do not record more than you need.


Using key informants within the system

It is usually important to acquire this preliminary situation-definitional information from more than one source and, in a complex client system, from more than one level and more than one faction. The same general rules apply to the use of key informants as apply to the problem vocalizer described above, with one significant exception: you cannot assume that key informants will be eager to tell you their views of the problem because it is you, not they, who are initiating the contact. You need to establish your legitimacy and sincerity as a diagnostician and a consultant (see again Stage 1). You may have to start by telling them why you are in the system in the first place and why you are asking them questions. For this purpose, face-to-face contact is vital. Once you have established yourself with them as a trustworthy individual who is sincerely trying to help, you can proceed through the listening ­reflecting -inquiring sequence.


Group interviewing

When time is short and it is essential to get a variety of perspectives, the change agent may ask the spokesperson from the client system to bring together a representative group.  With the assembled group you can then proceed through the same listening-­reflecting-inquiring sequence, but there are important differences from individual interviewing: e.g., you should observe how the members of the group are relating to each other, the extent to which they defer to authority, and their reticence about disagreeing or speaking up to add to or to correct the story. The interviewer should be able to test the group's willingness to open up on what the real issues are. In order to do this, you need to have a good understanding of group dynamics and preferably some experience in human relations training. With such a background, you will be able to derive much valuable diagnostic information not only from listening to what members of the group say, but also from observing how they react to one another.

A possible alternative to group interviewing would be a blog site where individuals can interact and contribute information at will.  Unique in this environment is a digital log of the input and conversation, which may provide more insight into the issues.  Like group interviewing it is important to understand how individuals may interact in the digital environment.  Social media can open new doors to gaining information that will be helpful in the gathering of information.


Using human resources in face-to-face interchange as described in the techniques listed provides verbal/written information, but there is also an important dividend: the chance to observe the people in the system, how they relate to you and to each other, how they act and react in response to a number of situations. It is also sometimes valuable to make site visits solely for the sake of observing what is going­on, without asking questions. Early on you may conduct such visits without having a very clear idea of what you are looking for. However, being a good observer, requires training and experience as well as open eyes and ears. Be especially sensitive to how others will see you and whether or not they will accept your "observer" status. Usually, strangers have to have a pretty good reason for doing whatever they are doing to be accepted.

An alternative or supplementary source of observational information is other outsiders who have known the client system for a number of years. Other outside consultants who have worked with the system from time to time should also be able to provide valuable insights.

How to acquire more systematic diagnostic information

To narrow the search to a specific diagnosis, the change agent must acquire more detailed information about the client system and about the specific problem under consideration. This information should be acquired in a systematic manner and in a form, which allows quantitative comparison so that we know the dimension and importance of the problem relative to other problems in the same system and the same problem in other systems. In Stage 2 we offered a number of conceptual models and suggested a number of dimensions that could be applied in making a systematic diagnosis, but we said little about the actual mechanisms that could be used for acquiring information to put in these categories.

 Five such mechanisms in increasing order of complexity and difficulty are:

Observing and measuring system outputs (intended and unintended)
Hard evidence of the attainment of meaningful objectives is difficult to obtain from schools, non-profits and government agencies. Although there is much pressure to move toward systems that are "accountable" for attainment of measurable objectives, the availability of such hard data is difficult in some environments. However, there are some telltale signs that things are not going well, such as employee turnover and accounting reports.  Outputs of the system’s website, newsletters, catalogues, may reveal a good deal about the range of activities, the degree of participation and the orientation of the system. It is not possible to provide a detailed guide to varied sources for diagnostic information, but only to point out what a variety of potential sources there are.  Be flexible  and cast your net widely.

Organizing a self-diagnostic workshop for the client system
Change agents with considerable skills in human relations, group work, or conference management may want to initiate a series of meetings, physical or digital, throughout the client system where members representing all levels interact together to make an assessment of the problems of their system. This procedure, though complex and risky, has two special advantages:

  • first, it allows genuine confrontation of problems and involvement in initiating change on the part of members at all levels; and,
  • second, if done well, it provides a more detailed and more accurate accounting of the prevailing situation.

Using an outside diagnostic research team
If the system is very large and the problem is pervasive and if there are considerable financial resources available for diagnosis, the change agent might well consider contracting with a university, a social research center, or a private consulting firm to administer survey instruments for a TIMELY thorough, systematic, and scientific job of diagnosis or needs assessment.  The underlying problem will probably be perceived relevance. In spite of mountains of data and tests of statistical significance, it may be hard to convince a client that a diagnosis arrived at by a team of outside experts is really relevant and valid unless the client system itself is involved as a collaborator in the development of measures and the collection of the data.
Collaborative systematic diagnostic program
Probably the most elaborate and elegant procedure for acquiring diagnostic information is a combination of “Organizing a self-diagnostic workshop for the client system” and “Using an outside diagnostic research team”, wherein an inside-outside team organizes a program for system self-diagnosis using trained outside experts as trainers and instrument developers for the members of the client system. This strategy can have many variants and many components.

Continuous quantitative diagnostic monitoring
The most sophisticated type of diagnostic information is that which is carried on by the client system for itself on a continuous or periodic basis using objective behavioral criteria recognized as legitimate and valid by insiders and by outside experts. To design and install such a monitoring system is a major change project in itself, requiring the employment of all the skills, artistry, and know-how that a change agent could muster. However, a system with such a capability has moved a long way toward genuine self-renewal.


How to build an adequate awareness of the resource universe

Awareness is the key to an intelligent overall acquisition strategy. As a change agent you cannot be a universal expert. Rather you should be a knowledge broker, a linker to outside resources who can maintain a generalist's perspective in relation to specific innovations. You should be "a mile wide and an inch deep" when it comes to specific "facts," having the widest possible span of awareness of the resource universe while retaining your capacity to "zero in" on detailed sources when the diagnosis fits and the time is ripe.


Building Awareness

Usually "professionals" in a given field have a broad span of awareness within that field. They were trained in it and carry with them from that formal background a general set of categories associated with names and books and sometimes places. If you are new to a field, however, or if your training is outdated, you should build or rebuild that awareness memory bank by researching the Internet, joining a social media group, reading an introductory texts on the subject or, if possible, taking an introductory university course. Reviewing research  articles is truly a marvelous tool. Research articles are organized and indexed summary/synthesis of knowledge within a given domain, usually written to show how the various pieces of the knowledge domain go together and build on one another


Maintaining Awareness

For maintaining awareness, a different set of media and mechanisms is appropriate. The most useful tools for maintaining awareness are websites, blogs, social media sites, periodicals, personal acquaintances, and a knowledge of information systems and services.

Periodicals, Research Journals and Mass Media.

There are interesting periodicals / journals which cover a broad range of topics very concisely. They can keep yourself informed on what is new in the field, what is fully developed, and what is projected for the future. Periodicals, Research Journals also provide enough information to steer you to more specifics when you need them. Newspapers and, to a lesser extent, television should also be scanned for relevant items, but the coverage is likely to be spotty and sporadic.

A Personal Acquaintance Network.
Maintaining personal contacts with a variety of knowledgeable people is very important. Many studies have shown that the most innovative people in any field have numerous contacts and encounters with others outside their system, people who are different from themselves in background, role, perspective, skill, and knowledge. Maintaining a personal-contact network keeps the change agent aware of new developments in a variety of fields and within easy reach of people who can provide more detailed information when and if he needs it. Activities likely to build and maintain this interpersonal network are:

  • attendance at professional meetings;
  • visits to other locations, for whatever purpose;
  • phone calls to outsiders, for whatever purpose;
  • interacting with people who are in different roles and different systems whenever the opportunity arises;
  • maintaining good contacts and a habit of consulting with insiders and colleagues who work with you is also important; and
  • e-mail, blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook access to individuals with similar concerns

 For the change agent the critical factor is awareness of these sources, awareness of the types of information services and centers available, where they are located, and how they can be utilized.


"Homing in" on a specific problem and/or solution

As you and your client begin to focus on the problem and have some notion of possible solutions, you should develop a strategy for "homing in," acquiring the information and materials you will need for -E-T-E-I-M (Evaluation-Before-Trial,. Trial, Evaluation-After-Trial, Installation, and Maintenance). There are probably as many ways to "home in" as there are change agents, but the optimum strategy proposed below may contain elements you will want to adapt to your own needs. We suggest a six-step sequence:

 A Homing in Strategy:

  1. overview from websites or written sources
  2. overview from knowledgeable person
  3. observe "live" examples
  4. obtain evaluative data
  5. obtain innovation for a trial
  6. acquire a framework for evaluation-after-trial

Acquire an overview from a comprehensive written source or website.
Even if you have a very specific plan in mind, it is good policy to become generally knowledgeable about research, development, theory, and past practice in the area on which you have chosen to focus your attention. This usually means reading or scanning a current or recent scholarly review article in that domain. In many areas of reform there are conflicting theories and competing innovations. To be on firm ground, you should have an overview of the field even if you are committed to one or another of these competing forces.

A scholarly review article, a book, or a discussion list from the Internet, should give you a feel for: (1) the scope of the topic, (2) the work that has been done in various places at various times, (3) the level of solid research understanding of the topic, and (4) valuable leads to more detailed sources. However, such general review sources probably will not give you information such as: (1) the range of innovations available, (2) enough information to evaluate specific innovations, (3) enough information to diagnose specific problems, or (4) practical suggestions about what to do. These drawbacks can be remedied by referral to more popular books or articles and to knowledgeable human resources.

Contact at least one person who has had direct experience.
Usually there will be others who have successfully or unsuccessfully, done what you are contemplating doing. You should talk to at least one of them, preferably in person, as part of your homing in process. Such individuals will give valuable information for evaluation-before­-trial. They will give you leads as to relevance, workability, and problems which promoters of an innovation are unlikely to divulge voluntarily. If you, as a change agent, find this contact person to be articulate and informed, you should also consider him or her as a potential on-­site consultant and a resource for your client.

Observe the innovation in a concrete or a "live" form.
If the innovation under consideration is available online on a website or in a printed or packaged form which can be borrowed or sampled, you should obtain it. In recent years complex innovations have become available in packages which may give a more complete impression of how the innovation will really work when installed. In addition, if the innovation is installed and operating somewhere, you should go and look at it, asking yourself three key questions:

  • Is it really working for them?
  • Is it really benefitting them?
  • Will it really work for us?

Are there obvious differences between these users and our clients which might make it unfeasible in our setting? Conversely, are there positive advantages to our setting which might make the innovation more effective for us than it is for them?

Obtain evaluative data.
Even if you are really "turned on" by an innovation after observing it, you should still try to find scientific evaluative data to check out your impressions before you or your client actually make a commitment. Such data may or may not confirm what you have already concluded about the innovation and what its promoters claim. In looking for evaluative information, do not restrict yourself to one source if more than one is available. Too often evaluations are partisan and partial, especially when made by the innovation's author or promoter. The more disinterested the evaluation and the more the evaluator adheres to scientific rules of evidence, the more you can count on the results. Evaluative data are often found in formal reports or are reported in research journals. This means the language may be technical and the findings difficult for lay persons to interpret. If you cannot understand what is written or if the implications for practitioners are not clear, it may be worth your while to call or email the author/evaluator and get that person to communicate with you informally. You will probably find that they have thought a great deal about practical implications and can offer their informed judgment in a clear and non-technical way. You will also probably gain more cooperation if you indicate that you have read their research.

 If you find that no "hard" data are available to evaluate the innovative program you are considering, you should try to acquire "soft" data in the form of personal evaluations by at least two persons representing different perspectives, e.g., one who has tried it, and one who has critically observed someone else try it.

Obtain the innovation for a trial.
If your pre-trial evaluation data confirm your judgment to proceed, you should attempt to acquire the innovation or the necessary materials for use in an experimental trial-and­-demonstration in your client system. This will usually involve direct contact and negotiation with the developers and/or suppliers. In asking for materials or other resources on a trial basis, make sure you also inquire about the availability of written / internet materials on costs of installation and maintenance, performance specifications, and claims concerning benefits (short-term and long-term), supplementary materials required and provided (e.g., manuals), limiting conditions, guarantees of quality and reliability, and problems that might be encountered in terminating the innovation at a later date. There probably won't be many answers to these questions, but if you feel that the supplier is being evasive and you find you are getting none of your questions answered, it is probably a good clue that you should search elsewhere.

Acquire a framework for evaluating the results of the trial.
Even before an actual trial effort takes place, the client system should be committed to a plan or procedure for evaluating the trial and making a "go-no-go" decision. This is critical because all too often a so-called "trial" experiment results in permanent adoption simply because the clients have no plan for evaluating and, if necessary, rejecting what does not work; they accept it because it is there and for no better reason.

In establishing a framework for evaluation, your first information need is for criteria on which to base a judgment. In Stage 4 we will discuss some of the criteria which are relevant under three headings: "potential benefit" "workability," and "diffusibility." At the trial stage, you and your client should be collecting your own data, judgments, and impressions about installation costs and problems and maintenance costs and problems. The criteria used in available evaluation reports on the same innovation in other settings will also provide ideas for criteria to be applied in your setting.

Of special value, and special rarity, are research evaluations which use the fulfillment of specific objectives as criteria. Because of the specificity and observability of the measures in such cases, you will have little trouble adapting them for use in your setting.

If an innovation is expensive, complex, or unusually risky, you may want to acquire the services of an outside professional evaluator or evaluation team. A vigorous search should get you an experienced evaluator if you and your client decide that such help is necessary.

In laying out this proposed strategy for "homing in," we may have accentuated the positive intentionally in the belief that most change agents and their clients do not try hard enough to reach out for available resources. However, we also recognize that you will not always succeed in getting the information you want. This fact should not stop you, however, because there are always human resources, people with relevant experience and knowledge from which you can benefit. Moreover, as we shall explain in Stage 4, it is also possible for the client system to invent their own innovation to meet a specified need if they cannot find adequate outside resources.



"As you move outward from your own head, the first information sources you meet are other people-co-workers, family, friends. They may not know what you need to know, but it doesn't cost much to ask. People are 'switching mecha­nisms', they provide leads to in­formation they lack themselves."  Paisley 1

"Thanks to an emerging national network of information centers in most fields of specialized knowledge, and thanks to a new appreciation of the role of other people in the flow of information, the strategy of moving 'from people to print and back to people again' can yield information of any needed."  Paisley 2

"When people don't know the answer, the leads they provide are often to print sources. That's how we get 'from people to print.' The great encyclopedias, the specialized ref­erence books, and the scholarly journals deserve the respect our society accords them. If a visitor from another planet were to drop in, who can doubt that the collections of the Library of Congress would weight his opinion of us more than Saturn V on its launching pad?"  Paisley 3