The steps as suggested by the figure are as follows:

  • Stone One: introduce the innovation to a core group of "innovators." Get them to tryout the innovation, to become sophisticated in its use, and to demonstrate it to others
  • Stone Two: begin to work with some of the concerned play of citizens who are potential but not-yet-vocal resisters, answering their questions and showing them by demon­ stration that the innovation does not violate established values and does not threaten the survival of the system as they know it. If you are not able to receive any cooperation from resisters and if they are already vocal and mobilized, you should at least do what you can to protect the innovators and to make the innovation less vulnerable. This means being hard-headed, realistic, and scientific in your approach and having sound and well-reasoned answers for legitimate questions. With these safeguards, you may not be able to silence your detractors but in many cases you may be able to disarm them and prevent them ­from turning the rest of the community against you.
  • Stone Three: bring the innovation to the attention of the leaders, allowing them to observe live demonstrations by the innovators and to sound out the reactions of potential resisters.
  • Stone Four: allow the leaders to lead the way to acceptance by the rest of the system. If possible, get them to publicly commit themselves and organize themselves into ­supporting and endorsing committees.

In following any strategy to gain group acceptance, do not forget that groups are made up of individuals and that each individual has his or her own step-by-step process of moving toward acceptance. Thus, while you are working on "evaluation" or "trial" with innovators, you may need to be working on "awareness" and "interest" with leaders. A good program should be planned to provide each set of individuals with the kind of information they are ready for at a given point in time.


"In certain situations the participation of defenders in the change process may even lead to the development of more adequate plans and to the avoidance of some hitherto unforseen consequences of the projected change ... He should encourage the inter­play of advocates of change and defenders of the status quo."  Klein 

Figure 5.2: Stepping Stone Strategy for Gaining Group Acceptance​

Stage 5.2.3  Working To Gain Group Acceptance

The change agent can use knowledge of the group to plan and carry out an effective strategy for gaining group acceptance. But in order to plan a strategy you must first have the knowledge. This means once again making a diagnostic analysis of the client system.


Identifying the forces for and against the innovation

In Stage 2 we described the diagnostic process in which the change agent and the client define needs and objectives. However, you may find that you have to make another kind of diagnosis when you already have an innovation that you think will fill these needs and you want to win the support of large numbers of people. Broadly speaking, you now want to address the two questions posed in 5.2.1 and 5.2.2, namely:

  • What are the most important common things?
  • Who are the most important key people?

To answer each of these questions you may find it helpful to draw up a rating form on which you can identify and compare the forces that are acting for and against the desired change. To analyze the "common things" you might make two columns on a sheet of paper, one marked

  • "forces probably favoring this innovation" and the other marked
  • "forces probably opposing this innovation."

Under these headings you would then list as many of the group characteristics as you can think of which might affect acceptance: e.g. commonly held values and beliefs, characteristic modes of thought and behavior, shared circumstances, common needs, and commonly perceived group objectives.

Having identified a number of such characteristics, you will then want to rank-order them in terms of relative importance and the relative ease with which they could be altered. Such a list would then provide some good guidelines for an action program to improve the chances of acceptance.

This sort of exercise is ideally done by a change team or a group representing key stakeholders. In that situation, the change agent becomes the group facilitator, eliciting suggested points for each column and listing them on a large sheet of newprint.

From your previous examination and analysis of the client system, (Stage 2), you should also be able to draw up a list of individuals who could fit under each of the headings:

  • innovator,  
  • resister,
  • and leader.

Consider the pros and cons of each type in gaining group acceptance.


The innovators are probably the easiest people to identify. Some of them will already be working with you as "inside" members of the change team. Others will have been in touch with you and will have been vocal in their support. Still others may be identified as leading spokespersons for one or another of the issues listed under "forces favoring."

The utility of "innovaters" as helping to bring about system-wide change might be rated on a number of characteristics such as:

  1. their degree of understanding and sophistication in using the innovation,
  2. how much they are representative of the client system as a whole,
  3. the amount of direct influence ("opinion leadership") they have on others, and, most importantly,
  4. their contact and influence with the formal and informal leadership.



Resisters may be identified for having spoken out previously on the innovation or from having come to you with objections. They may also be identified as spokespersons who personify some of the issues which are "forces against." It is important, however, to try to identify resisters before they become vocal and committed on this particular innovation. Resisters, like innovators, should be judged for relative sophistication and influence.


 Finally, as part of your analysis of the "acceptance" problem, you should take an inventory of the leadership.

  • Who are the formal leaders and gatekeepers for this type of innovation?
  • Who are the informal leaders?
  • Who are the example-setters?
  • Who are the facilitators?
  • Who are the legitimizers?

The leaders could be rated on such dimensions as (1) their attitude towards both innovators and resisters, (2) their visibility, (3) their relationship to one another, and (4) their ability to lead.

Using the key people as stepping stones

A number of social scientists have described innovation diffusion as a two-step process. In the first step, outside information about the innovation reaches the opinion leaders. In the second step, the opinion leaders pass on the information to their followers by word or example. This formula sounds elegantly simple but will only work if two conditions are present in the client system: first, the opinion leaders must be innovators or innovation-minded; and, second, these leaders must have very good follower connections throughout the client system.

As a change agent, you usually cannot count on either of these conditions and it would be dangerous to assume them. However, you can use this basic concept of "steps" effectively if you put together all the information from your analysis of the key people and key roles in the system. A good strategy might include not one but four stepping stones to gain group acceptance. How this   might work is suggested in Figure 5-2.