Figure 5.1 Matching Change Agent Action to the Client’s Adoption Process


At the beginning of your contact with potential users, your objective should be simple exposure, exposure to the concern, to the need for change, and to the availability of one t or more change alternatives. You want to make sure that they hear and see and that they develop some conception of what the innovation is all about. The image should be clear and positive. Most of all you want to instill curiosity, a motivation to seek more information. There needs to be something in this initial message that will turn them on. Therefore, it should be (1) brief, (2) interesting, (3) easy to understand, and (4) rewarding in some way.


During the "interest" stage, you should expect and encourage individuals to come to you for facts and to become actively involved in the search for information. If they are really interested, they will also seek information from any other source available, most commonly from their associates within the client system. You should promote group discussion, not only as a means of satisfying the need for information, but also as an opportunity to air doubts and to mold positive attitudes about the innovation.  



As potential adopters begin to make their "mental trial," they will continue to seek information, but now an attempt should be made to provide information that will enable them to envision the innovation as applied to their own situation. An aid to this type of communication is a demonstration of the innovation in the clients' home environment under conditions that are natural to them. If they are shown how the innovation will work for them, they will be more inclined to make a favorable evaluation.


Other types of special assistance will be necessary as adopters begin their behavioral trial. They will need training in to order to fulfill their new roles or to carry out these new, activities. At this stage the possibility of experiencing failure becomes very real; now the potential adopter needs maximum support and encouragement from the change agent. You should also do what you can to help the users evaluate their own experience; the results of their trial may not be immediately obvious or clearly appreciated unless you point them out.


After trial, the client is in a position to decide whether to adopt or reject the innovation, but a decision to adopt is not the end of the story. The adopters may still encounter difficulties in trying to carry out their intentions, and the change agent must be prepared to provide further training and encouragement. You must help them to adjust to the new situation, and you must be ready to provide your services when problems and unexpected obstacles arise.


After adoption there are a number of things a change agent can do to nurture integration of the new skills or materials into the day-to-day behavior of the client. Practice sessions, reminders in newsletters, and brief follow-up questionnaires on frequency of use and usefulness will all serve the purpose. Nowhere is the need for inside change agents more apparent than here. 


Take advantage of your knowledge of adoption phases to prevent failure

It should be noted that rejection of you and/or your innovation can take place at any stage along the way. Indeed, a decision to reject sometimes may be a good decision; the innovation may not, after all, be appropriate for a particular client. Assuming, however, that the innovation is, in fact, suitable, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of rejection:

Individuals must be encouraged to progress through all the adoption steps in sequence without skipping any. The six steps reflect the natural way in which people come to accept new ideas and practices and give up old ways of doing things.  The change agent should keep these hazards in mind:

  • Skipping steps (e.g., trial without evaluation, adoption without trial).
  • Changing the order of steps (e.g., trial before getting sufficient information or commitment to try).
  • Hurrying through the stages just to meet a schedule. (Most people need time to think things over before they make a change that will affect their lives in a significant way.)
  • Ignoring individual differences in adoption rates (e.g., assuming that everyone in the client system is aware of the innovation). Just because a message was sent does not mean that it was received.

You will have worked with some members of the client system in your initial planning and they may be ready for trial; others will not yet have enough information, while still others may not even be aware of the innovation.

Individuals must be allowed and encouraged to make a personal commitment; let them come to you once their interest is aroused. It is unnecessary and undesirable to provide help before it is needed.

  • Individuals must be allowed and encouraged to discuss their problems, and it is best to bring them out in the open.
  • The change agent should try to acquire and offer the client resources relevant to each adoption phase (consider again the D-A-E-T-E-I-M formula for the types of resources needed at different stages, presented earlier in the Stage 3.
  • Individuals need greater support from the change agent when the actual behavioral trial begins. This may be the point of greatest resistance since the implications of the change become apparent at this point, and such feelings as fear of failure and loss of previous security become salient and threatening. Be prepared to offer this extra support at the time of trial.



"The load on teachers at all levels and at all times is heavy, and it is difficult enough for them to conduct existing programs much less carry out new ones. With a person every little bit helps, workshops, materials, guides, consultants, and any one of these may make the difference between adopting and rejecting." Woods

"Effective facilitators must be able to take initiative. They need to be proactive and vigorous, rather than passive and reactive." Saxl, Miles, & Lieberman

Stage 5.1.1  Matching change agent activities to adoption steps

The change agent should try to facilitate each of these six processes. Therefore, in dealing with the individuals in the client system, try to coordinate your activities with what you know will be the adoption stages of potential users. Try to understand where they are at in the sequence at any given point in time. Think through these six phases so that you can try to be with them, not ahead or behind. Be prepared to go back as individual adopters slip back and to keep up as other adopters jump ahead. You should also know when to switch from one mode of communication to another with each adopter. Below we suggest change agent actions tailored to these adoption stages. See Figure 5-1.