Friends...Villagers... Lend me your opinon formers

One of the seminal works on the communication of change is Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers. Rogers describes the importance of audience engagement, in our case employee engagement, in his case ~ research into the engagement of village people in rural areas of less-developed countries.

Rogers worked with governments and NGO's to improve the uptake of western agricultural methods and so raise crop yields as well as improving hygiene to enhance disease prevention.

In the past NGO's would send in the experts who would hold meetings in each village as they travelled around. Large group presentation to the whole village and small group demonstrations to explain the technique and it's associated benefits to everyone. Sounds familiar? Did this approach work? Well that is a no then...

Strange because it would appear to be fairly good communication..? Time was taken to explain well, to educate, to demonstrate and allow people to practise. No, in almost every case that Rogers researched the villages preferred to stick to their traditional ways despite clearly hearing and seeing the benefits of the new approach. Sound familiar?

Rogers observed that village opinion leaders were sabotaging the attempts to introduce change. He noted how the expert was treated as an outsider with no credibility in the village and therefore their views carried little if any weight. It was also noted that the new ideas which held greater benefits were a slight on the established traditions and potentially an insult to the heritage of the village and is leaders past and present. New ways or new brooms sweeping clean... Sound familiar?

Rogers suggested identifying opinion leaders in each village, acknowledging their superior status and asking them to work through the new ideas in isolation to the rest of the villagers. He encouraged those with the message to listen to the village leaders and modify the great new idea accordingly. The final stage was to allow the village leaders to go and deliver the newly adapted message in their own way, typically face to face meetings with small groups and one to one sessions with others.

Hmmm..? I wonder if we need to re-visit this seminal work and re-learn some of the lessons around more listening and less telling when communicating. Have some of the key lessons from his work, originally published in the 1960's, around engagement of employees and internal communication been overlooked?

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