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Recognizing Adaptive Change is Crucial for EBP Implementation

Implementing Evidence-Based Practices activates a cascade of change in any organization and thus requires adjustment for everyone involved. Our article this month discusses the difference between adaptive change and technical change, and the importance of adaptive change. Adaptive change is a type of change that most organizations do not consider, yet it is crucial to recognize and address adaptive change issues in order to successfully implement EBP’s.

The difference between adaptive and technical change:

Adaptive change is often compared and contrasted with technical change. Technical change is characterized by problems that require linear solutions with a sequential set of steps and can often be resolved with outside expertise. For instance, the learning of self-defense skills.

Adaptive change problems are rarely linear and instead need to be addressed on multiple levels. Unlike technical change problems, adaptive change problems don’t necessarily lend themselves to outside expertise, but rather require other people within the organization involved in addition to oneself to successfully resolve the problem. To keep with our self-defense theme, an example of an adaptive change would be the mindset shift required by staff members to use newly-learned self-defense skills that are different from the self-defense skills they have been using for ten years.

How to use adaptive and technical change to implement successful change:

In general, we are used to, and quite good at, solving problems directly and in a technical way. If a problem is presenting itself, the first inclination is to look for a concrete and direct technical solution. However, adaptive problems need adaptive solutions. To address an adaptive problem with a technical solution means that the problem will likely not be resolved and the same symptoms and issues will perpetuate.

Thus, a key factor in using adaptive and technical change to implement successful change is to recognize when you are dealing with an adaptive problem rather than a technical problem. Then and only then can you address the problem with solutions that will really work.

For instance, an adaptive problem for line staff may be an organizational decision to steer away from being risk aversive and instead become more risk engaging by having clients talk more about their criminogenic factors in order to engage them in ways that they can explore and reconceive those issues. A technical fix would be to generate a list of ten steps to follow to engage in this kind of session. But without the adaptive nature of the change addressed – in this case it might involve staff meetings to discuss the challenges that staff experience when conducting sessions in a different way, the new strategy is not likely to stick with only technical change support.

What are some adaptive change issues that you can recognize in your organization? What are the strategies that are being employed to address them – are they technical or adaptive? For even more reading and additional strategies regarding adaptive change, we recommend that you google an article called “The Work of Leadership” by Ronald A. Heifitz and Donald L. Laurie which was published in the Harvard Business Review.

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