FOR many years, most continuing education programmes are designed to help individuals change. Change is likely to continue to dominate our future. It is the responsibility of educators and educational agencies as change agents to help people understand change as it affects their lives.

What exactly does it mean in the context of our day-to-day lives, and how humans view or perceive change with respect to making their own choices. Well, change means to alter or modify something, and it can evolve naturally or deliberately planned.

The idea of a planned change refers to the deliberate efforts made to alter behaviour of an individual, a group or a system. Many educational experts believe that planned change is a deliberate and collaborative process involving a change agent and a client system.

It is worth pointing out that planned change requires some key elements and these are conscious efforts to alter performance, desirable goals, collaborative efforts between the change agent (the party who provides professional guidance) and the client system (the party whose behaviour is to be changed), with the employment of all available resources.

There has been in-depth study on promoting planned change and according to this study, four key ideas are crucial in promoting such a change. They are client system, change agent, change relationship and leverage point.

The client system is the party that is being helped, or whose behaviour is to be altered. The client system may be an individual, a group, an organisation, a community or society.

The change agent is the party that gives professional guidance. The change agent can be a system, a group or an individual.

The agent’s role as a professional in the process of a planned change includes the appraisal of the client system’s problems, motivation and choosing the specific techniques and mode of behaviour that is appropriate to each phase in the change relationship.

The change agent is also expected to establish and maintain a helping relationship to guide the client system through the phases of change. The change relationship is a situation where both parties arrive at a decision to work together towards the process of achieving the desired goal of the planned programme.

The change agent, both formal and informal, is the source of power and authority and acts as regulators. Therefore, when a social change is introduced into a social system, the change agent needs to be involved in the legitimisation process.

Planned change is a change which is derived from purposeful decisions to affect improvement in the client system. Such change can be achieved with the help of professional guidance from the change agent.

In order to achieve a constant support, which is necessary for the change agents, there is a need for more appropriate and relevant training for supervisors and project officers to put into practice so that they will be able to carry out their proper role as a resource person effectively by working alongside their development workers and instructors.

Those concerned with programmes of staff development have identified two main models: A developmental (bottom-up and problem-solving) model and a deficit (top-down, input-based) model. The former is more concerned with the needs of the person, while the latter is more concerned with the needs of the organisation he or she serves.

Much the same is true for the training of supervisors. They may be molded to fit the needs of the programme and the agency or they may be made to be innovative and free to exercise judgment in fulfiling their role as helper to change agents.

Such training, to help change agents, needs to be pragmatic and practical rather than textbook and academic. Supervisors exist to serve rather than control and instruct the change agents.

In this capacity, they need to have had some experience of development to be good practitioners rather than good theoreticians. Theory and development, as in adult education, grows out of practice more than practice out of theory.

Supervisors and project officers, thus need to be trained practically in development. And this, in turn, creates demand for new patterns of training the trainers for development – training is best conducted by those who are themselves experienced in the problems of being a supervisor and of being a change agent rather than by experts in the theory of development.

Unfortunately, this bottom-up approach to training is in many cases a long way off or difficult to reach. What usually exists is a top-down model, in which academics tell the supervisors what they should know and these in turn is passed down to change agents.

The trainers set the format, timing and content of training rather than helping the change agents to plan their own training.

In conclusion, to be effective, change agents need to become the participants in a development process and supervisors, academics and experts who train them would also need to experience development as they, in turn, learn how to train themselves. This is because education and training is a form of development and those who experience it will make the best development workers.

Dr Akram Al-Khaled is a senior lecturer in the Business Faculty at Berjaya University College. Comments: