Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Community Dynamics versus New Technology

Kia ora tātou – Hello EveryoneA mobile phone projecting change
This post is entirely my take on a current workplace problem. It is one that is being experienced by many who are charged with the duty to introduce the use of new technologies into the workplace. None of what's in this post is new, though my way of looking at it may be new to some people. In no way am I attempting to run over the much respected studies in communities of practice (CoP), though what is posited here may support that discipline.

Why resist change?

Change has been happening since communities first began. A quick look at the development of civilisation throughout history shows that change happened in fits and starts. Historians catalogued the periods according to the recognisable practices and cultures that prevailed during these times.

There were periods when nothing seemed to alter significantly - over hundreds of years. Resisting change seems to be what people do.

Long live the King!

Many changes that did occur in communities were often brought about by a new ruling head of state, or equivalent, who introduced change by legislation. Communities did not necessarily always want change.

Even with forced legislation, communities found ways of coping, and grew to live within the new conditions. When a ruler died, it was usual that communities preferred that the successor maintained the status quo. Of course, this didn’t always happen.

Dynamic versus static

Practices that have survived for years within communities seem to be supported by a dynamic stability. Though small changes are constantly occurring within the working of these, most are subsumed with time.

Over a significant period, however, their general appearance is of no major change. Such practices are genuinely stable. Their dynamic quality is not unlike those found in other systems.

A 19
th century engineer, Henry Le Châtelier, observed that systems in dynamic equilibrium tend to oppose any change brought on them from outside. Wikipedia explains it under Le Châtelier’s Principle:
"Any change in status quo prompts an opposing reaction in the responding system."
It has found application in many disciplines.
Communities appear to behave similarly to the systems to which this tenet applies. Is it too implausible to assume that communities behave like other well-known systems in equilibrium?

A vehicle for change

Today we read the reports from innovators who seek change in the use of new technology in the workplace. They are often dismayed at the resistance met in their attempts to bring about change in the use of new technology by others.

This is significant considering that some of the most rapid changes in community practices, involving the use of new technology, have happened in the last few decades.

Though it is a fantastic ingredient, present day technology cannot be held solely responsible for the advent of change. It may be the seed, but it has to be spread through practice.

When this occurs, we say that the community moves with the technology. What actually happens is that the technology moves with the community. The vehicle for change may not be new technology; more likely it is the community.

Imposing new technology on a workplace community is most likely to generate some resistance. This human behaviour has become well-recognised. Belief that new technology that takes off like a rocket in one community will do likewise in the workplace, is likely to be met with disappointment.

Teenagers seek ownership

It has been found that teenagers who get into Web2.0 technology generally do so to remove themselves,
in some way, from adult supervision. You could see this in the moves made by teenagers in hopping from one social networking application to another. Teenagers did this simply because they found that the application they were currently using was becoming popular among adults.

Teenagers want space to themselves – nothing new here. They also want ownership of their own space. Ownership is something that comes by default when teenagers seek a breakaway application to use in networking. They find it. It’s theirs.

Can adults be a bit like teenagers?

What if some of those characteristics survive the teenage years? What if ownership is something that adults can also appreciate when it comes to using a new technology? Ownership of the space generated by new technology could well be a community-assisting factor when it comes to introducing new technologies to the workplace.

I've found that this approach has worked with learning resources used by teachers who were involved in the initial stages of planning and designing of the resources. Teachers who had ownership of the resources through this participation, were more likely to select them for student use than those who weren't involved in resource development.

In summary
  • A community may well resist adoption of new technology as a property of the equilibrium that is a state of the community - it is likely that this is a human behavioural quality.
  • The vehicle of change that brings the use of new technology by a community may well be the community itself, and not the technology.
  • Ownership may well be key to a community adopting a new technology – ways have to be found to ‘gift’ the space for adoption of the technology by the community.
Haere rā – Farewell


jackgeek said...

I had a boss that used to say "Let the business drive the technology not the technology drive the business"

His focus was on establishing a formalized, documented, business processes before looking for a product to assist with it.

I have seen many projects run the opposite way around and failing miserably, usually costing a bomb as well!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Jackgeek!


Your scenario reminds me of someone I know.
It was a while ago now though :-)

Welcome to Middle-earth.

Ka kite anō

V Yonkers said...

It took a while for me to digest what you were saying here. However, I think there is a fundamental problem with your discussion. You begin by saying change throughout history was due to "political" means (top down). However, if you look the great movements throughout history (reformation, age of enlightenment, exploration, industrial revolution), you will see that there was a number of small changes at the bottom, usually between generations, that hit a critical mass requiring change in the "ruling class". Sometimes this happened peacefully, sometimes not as those who controlled society either recognized the changes at the bottom were inevitable or they tried to resist the changes.

I do agree with you, however, that technology was a result of the changes rather than the reason for the changes. However, as those in power tried to suppress changes, technology was a catalyst for action. (The steam engine did not push us into the industrial revolution as many were working on the project long before it was used industrially. Rather, the steam engine allowed the middle class to become more powerful as they were able to meet the needs of the masses. As they began to have more power, they were able to create more tools that would change the system to make them more profitable--thus taking away the power from landowners who inherited their power.)

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia!

Your words, not mine.

What I said was not that
"change throughout history was due to "political" means (top down)",

but that
"many changes that did occur in communities were often brought about by a new ruling head of state".

There is a significant difference between the two statements.

My argument was that people actually resisted change that was meant to be imposed on them by political means. They found ways round the imposition and carried on, eventually regardless of it.

Often, when changes ocurred (and I'm not denying that these were brought about by political intervention) they were not what the legislation for change was about, at least within the communities.

Ka kite