Stage 6.4  Creating a Self-Renewal Capacity

A great deal of what has been said so far in this Stage contains an implicit message: clients can and should learn to be change agents for themselves. You, as the starting change agent, should be able to teach them how to do this or at least show them the way. This is the key to "self-renewal." A self-renewing client system will have to have four built-in features:

  • a positive attitude toward innovation in general;
  • an internal subsystem with a specific change-advancement mission;
  • an active inclination to seek external resources; and
  • a perspective on the future as something to plan for.


A positive attitude toward innovation

The reason that many "successfully adopted" innovations seem to fade and disappear in time is that the systems which adopted those innovations failed to fully incorporate innovative norms and attitudes which are fundamental to innovative behavior. Consider the history of your clients in this regard. Are they typically on the forefront of new developments in education? Do they seem to look forward to change as potential improvement rather than potential threat?

If you answer these questions in the negative, then the major issue becomes: "How can I instill an innovative attitude?" Adequate answers to this question are hard to come by but there are some partial answers.

  • First, make the positive results of innovating as visible as possible.
  • Second, provide as many secondary rewards, praise, financial aid, recognition of achievement, as possible to people in the client system who do innovate.
  • And, third, encourage and assist the innovators in becoming more influential and in assuming more leadership.


An internal subsystem with a specific change-advancement mission

It was not until after World War II that a number of large corporations decided they should have their own research departments to do advance planning and design on new products. These early "R & D" units were the first attempt to create a change agency within the organization, a group of people who were supposed to work on innovation as a full-time job. Through the 1960s and 70s this idea caught on across many types of organizations, including school districts, so that "research departments" became an accepted part of many systems. Unfortunately, however, such units were not typically given either the freedom or the resources to experiment extensively with change/innovation projects, and as budgets were tightened these units came to have more and more restricted missions. Nevertheless, where vestiges of such institutions remain we have the possibility of developing or recreating internal change agencies. Such agencies or sub-agencies can then become the home base of continuing change and system self-renewal activities.

A subsystem for innovation ideally should incorporate such features as:

  • full-time change agents or consultants who understand the innovation process and can work easily with other members of the client system
  • built-in competence to train all members of the client system in the skills of identifying concerns, building relationships, examining needs, retrieving resources, and selecting and implementing changes.

A fully developed change agency, has all these features and more. We doubt that most change agents will be able to bring together all the resources, but at a minimum, a self-renewing system should be one that includes some sort of structural entity, e.g., an office, a part-time staff member, a budget line item, etc., especially set aside for innovation.


An active inclination to seek external resources

"Innovativeness" cannot simply be viewed as a passive receptivity to new ideas. Self­renewing systems are habitually aggressive in seeking out new solutions. They have an active faith that outside resources will be useful and a willingness to walk the extra mile to get them. Rural sociologists discovered a long time ago that innovative farmers took more trips to town. They were more "cosmopolite," willing and able to go outside their immediate environment. The same is true for educators.

If your clients have a habit of visiting other systems, attending all sorts of meetings and training programs, they will keep coming home like Marco Polo, bringing all kinds of new ideas and new products to their colleagues.

There are many ways in which the change agent can encourage an external orientation in the client system. Above all, you can encourage and facilitate the use of social media,  travel and outside visiting. The important thing is to get clients used to the idea that digitally networking, visiting and conferencing are not only legitimate but also enjoyable activities. Developing this cosmopolite orientation is a good reason for taking the time to set up site visits and demonstrations away from home. What your clients learn about the specific innovation may turn out to be less important in the long run than the fact that they got out of their rut and began looking at the rest of the world.


A perspective on the future as something to plan for…

A self-renewing system believes in progress. It believes that things can be better in the future, especially if we plan for the future carefully and conscientiously. This means developing a capacity to forecast community needs and desires five and ten years hence. It also means setting aside time and resources to think about the future and to draw up tentative programs to meet future needs.

This sort of planning is not simply an intellectual exercise or a pleasant escape into science fiction. On the contrary, a perspective on the future helps us to put the present in focus and may suggest things that we can do today that we would not have thought of in other, more timebound contexts.