Holistic alignment model for planning innovation

In the education sector, adoption of new technology or pedagogical approaches is often undertaken without a comprehensive analysis of the relevant factors. For example, the potential benefits of the innovation are often considered in isolation from the risks or drawbacks. Implementing an innovation based on the glowing description of a vendor or a one-eyed enthusiast often leads to disappointment!

The Open Access Newsletter site relies on gathering only positive stories about open access, not the negative ones. While this approach might be well-justified and valid for the newsletter’s purposes of influencing policy, it’s not necessarily a good model for practitioners implementing change.

Why affects How

In working with educators to plan and implement innovation, I’ve found that the perceived or expected benefits of an education innovation are closely linked to how the innovation is implemented. A similar link exists between the risks or drawbacks of the innovation and the way it is implemented. Now this may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often this aspect is not well considered. For example, I’ve seen an innovation such as the introduction of self-assessment to a programme implemented in such a way that its benefits were minimised and the risks and drawbacks maximised.

In other words, the benefits (why) and risks need to be aligned with how the innovation is implemented, at both a strategic level and a practical level.

In addition, it’s important to consider the context of the innovation, including factors such as the distinctive characteristics of the organisation, the programme and the learners. For example, actual benefits in one cultural setting may work in opposition to the specific strengths of the organisation in another cultural setting and undermine its effectiveness – the innovation can cause damage rather than bring benefits. In analysing organisational characteristics, aspects of an appreciative inquiry approach can be very useful to balance an analysis of the ‘gaps’.

Holistic Alignment Model

Through my work with various education organisations I’ve developed a model which I’ve found useful. Because it focuses on considering the whole picture and aligning the various factors, I’ve called it the holistic alignment model. Despite the grandiose title it’s very much a work in progress, and feedback is welcomed. As well as a description of the factors to consider, there’s a suggested process for helping establish the alignment.

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