Evidence informing action: examples from outside teaching (Part 3)

Debates around evidence-informed teaching and attempts to convince others using evidence have led me to make several observations, four of which I share in this series of posts. In my first post, I suggested that the bit of evidence you find most compelling might not be the bit someone else finds most compelling. In my second post, I suggested that the messages being put out by proponents of evidence informing action may not be the messages being received by others. This post focuses on my third observation:

Observation 3: Humans can be irrational


Imagine a world in which all school teachers are robots. If new evidence comes to light that teaching method Y is better than method X—the method that’s currently programmed into the robots—then a software update can be issued to all robots to ensure that they start using the more effective method.

Human teachers—unlike robots—can’t have software updates pushed out to them. Humans have to want the “new software” first! In many contexts, new software—otherwise known as change—is something that people often don’t want. In fact, this is a sufficient issue that a whole industry exists to address the problem: change management.

Change management

Change managers typically help large organisations undergoing structural change do so as smoothly as possible. They know that there are several phases to consider, and that these cannot be skipped or rushed.

One model of change management is known by its acronym, ADKAR. This stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. According to this model, these steps are sequential, so it is futile, for example, to seek to impart knowledge required to implement change before the recipient has the desire to see the change implemented.

It’s not the message—it’s the messenger

Another point worth considering is that sometimes it is not a message that people are resistant to—it is the person delivering the message that they take issue with. It seems irrational that someone might reject a message from one person yet accept the same message from another, but it is something we probably all do from time to time. When trying and failing to convince someone of something, rather than decry their irrationality, it might be more productive to ask oneself the following question:

“Do I want them to be convinced or do I want to be the one to convince them?” I suggest that those that truly believe in their message would opt for the former over the latter.

In the final post…

I’ll look at observation 4:
  • Focussing on [available] evidence to our inform actions can result in us (a) devaluing worthy goals for which evidence about effective practice is difficult to obtain, while (b) prioritising other [also worthy] goals for which evidence about effective practice is easier to collect.