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.



".. .any new resistance is usually a symptom of more basic problems underlying the particular situation. To focus attention on the symptom alone will achieve at best only limited results." Judson

"In certain situations the participation of defenders in the change process may even lead to the development of new 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  Group Acceptance

How Groups Come to Accept Change and Adopt Innovations

It is impossible to understand how individuals adopt without also considering the social relationships and group structures, which bind individuals together. The communication of innovations depends upon a vast network of social relationships, both formal and informal; a person's position in that network is the best indicator of when and whether that person is likely to adopt an innovation.

Common things and key people

One overriding characteristic of groups could be called "commonality." A group can be defined as a number of people who have something in common. Typically they have common backgrounds, common interests, common circumstances, common values, common problems, and, most of all, common needs. A social system is a group of people who have pooled their resources to satisfy needs they have in common. These common things bind them together psychologically so that "mine" becomes "ours" and "self-interest" becomes "our common interest." This arrangement is usually very beneficial for all concerned but sometimes it gets in the way when new ideas and new ways of doing things are introduced from outside. When this happens, the members of the group have to decide individually or collectively whether or not the new thing threatens the common good. At this point, all these common values, beliefs, interests, and backgrounds become potential barriers to change.

Social organization, by its very nature, is conservative and protective; it is supposed to keep some potential "innovations" out for the preservation of the common good, and when it lets them come in they are supposed to be "acceptable," which usually means "what we are accustomed to." Thus, the structure of the group is a kind of filtering mechanism. Various members are needed to "sniff out" new ideas, to expel dangerous ones, or to make the final decisions about "acceptability" for the group as a whole. Sometimes different people are appointed or self-appointed to fill each of these filtering functions.

It is worth noting that all biological organisms, even down to the single cell, have these boundary-maintaining characteristics and have sub-elements with similar sniffing and expelling capabilities.

The first step for the change agent who wants to gain the acceptance of the group is to find out what kinds of barriers are most important and what kinds of filters are used to maintain the status quo. We cannot generalize too much beyond this for all groups because some are very open to new ideas while others will admit almost nothing new.

Diffusion of an innovation begins with the acceptance of the idea by a few key members of a community. From there on, it begins to spread more rapidly, usually through word-of­-mouth contacts between friends, neighbors, and relatives. This person-to-person process is very effective; once it has started and there are clusters of people who accept the idea and are "talking it up," it gathers momentum. A chain reaction seems to be generated once this "critical mass" of key individuals has formed, and there is a rapid upswing in the rate of acceptance until a large majority has been won over.

Three types of people playa significant part in generating group acceptance. These are the "innovators," the "resisters," and the "leaders." Because the characteristics of these three types of people have been studied extensively by social scientists, we are in a position to understand who they are and how they work regardless of the particular innovation we are concerned with.

The Innovators

The innovators tend to be intelligent and risk-taking; they travel a lot, they read a lot, they depend on outside sources of information, and they are usually very receptive to influence by outside change agents. They also tend to be marginal to their home communities. They may be viewed as "odd balls" or mavericks, and they do not usually have a great deal of direct power or influence. Hence, they can be both an asset and a liability to the change agent. These people will have commitment to a new idea and are willing to stand up and be counted even though they may be risking the scorn and ridicule of others, but if they have stood up too often for lost causes they may not be an effective ally. Usually, inside members of inside-outside change agent teams can be recruited from this group.

The Resisters

Many social systems also contain some members who assume the active role of resisters or critics of innovation. They are the defenders of the system the way it is, the self-appointed guardians of moral, ethical, and legal standards. Although these people are "conservative" in a strictly logical sense, they may wear all kinds of labels from "radical" and "liberal" to "reactionary."

Resisters of various orders have been very successful in preventing or slowing down such diverse innovations as the fluoridation of community water supplies, urban renewal, legal abortion, the integration of neighborhoods, and the invasion of certain civil liberties by such means as wire tapping and indiscriminate school testing. From the diversity of these issues it should be evident that the resisters do not all march under the same banner. They are a mixed group ideologically even though they tend to function in the same way. As preservers of a social order these innovation resisters playa big and very often useful part in our society by resisting intrusions from outside influences; they are the antibodies in our social blood stream.

The Leaders

Many studies of how groups accept innovations have singled out one very important social role that they have identified as the "opinion leader." Opinion leaders are found in any community and they are the key to the growth of any movement. Study after study has shown that there are certain influential people who are held in high esteem by the great majority of their fellows. They tend to have control of the wealth and power of society. They are usually not the first to tryout new ideas because they need to maintain their standing with their followers. These opinion leaders always have a finger on the public pulse, but at the same time they listen to both the innovators and the resisters so that they can better size up a developing situation. They watch the innovator to see how the idea works, and they watch the resister to test the social risks of adopting the idea. Indeed, in many case they are eager to observe these changes because their continuance in power rests upon their ability to judge innovations. They want to be the champions of the innovation whose time has come. Therefore, they must be able to adopt changes at the point at which they become popularly feasible but before they are fully accepted by the majority.

Leadership of any kind has critical strategic importance in a change program, whether that leadership be formal, informal, administrative, or elective. The school superintendent, the principal, the esteemed senior teacher will all have a great deal of "opinion leadership" on a wide range of innovations. Some act as legitimators, making the majority feel that it is okay to try something out without having the axe fall. Others serve as facilitators, approving and rewarding the innovators and encouraging others to follow their example, getting clearance, providing funds and release time, and generally making it easier to be an innovator. Still others serve as gatekeepers, opening up (or closing off) access to needed resources, funds, outside consultants, training courses, etc. The gatekeeper is often not the top person in an organization and may be function-specific, e.g., the business manager, the training director, or the boss's secretary.

There is some dispute in the research literature as to whether opinion leadership is general or topic-specific. The great field theorist and social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, ran a series of group experiments on how to induce changes in eating habits during World War II. He found that for such behaviors at that time, the female head of household was the gatekeeper, doing all the food buying and cooking.


How the change agent can work 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 which fills these needs and you want to win the support of large numbers of people. Broadly speaking, you now want to address two questions:

  • 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 which 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: 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.

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.