Large-scale innovation and change in UK higher education

  • Stephen Brown De Montfort University, UK
Keywords: changeManagement, topDown, bottomUp, distributive, leadership, innovation, collaboration, participation, participatoryDesign, curriculumDesign, institutionalPractice, largeScale, evolvingCulture, JISC, stakeholder,


This paper reflects on challenges universities face as they respond to change. It reviews current theories and models of change management, discusses why universities are particularly difficult environments in which to achieve large scale, lasting change and reports on a recent attempt by the UK JISC to enable a range of UK universities to employ technology to deliver such changes. Key lessons that emerged from these experiences are reviewed covering themes of pervasiveness, unofficial systems, project creep, opposition, pressure to deliver, personnel changes and technology issues. The paper argues that collaborative approaches to project management offer greater prospects of effective large-scale change in universities than either management-driven top-down or more champion-led bottom-up methods. It also argues that while some diminution of control over project outcomes is inherent in this approach, this is outweighed by potential benefits of lasting and widespread adoption of agreed changes.

Keywords: change management; top-down; bottom-up; distributive; leadership; innovation; collaboration; participation; participatory design; curriculum design; institutional practice; large scale; evolving culture; JISC; stakeholder

(Published: 6 September 2013)

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2013, 21: 22316 -


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Author Biography

Stephen Brown, De Montfort University, UK
Stephen Brown is Professor of Learning Technologies at De Montfort University, UK.  He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Distance Education, University of London, a member of the editorial boards for ALT-J, ILE and AACE/SITE Journals, the programme committee of the ICICTE annual conference, the AHRC Peer review College, and an EU IST FP7 research proposal evaluator and project reviewer.

His career includes course design, research and tutoring for the Open University; Head of Distance Learning, BT Training; Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in Engineering Design; Director of the International Institute for Electronic Library Research, De Montfort University; Senior Technology Adviser at the JISC Technologies Centre; Head of the School of Media and Communication at De Montfort University and President of the Association for Learning Technology.

At the Open University he helped design the UK’s first educational interactive video disc. At BT he introduced multimedia based training. At the JISC Technologies centre he conducted technology forecasting and assessments for senior educational managers. At De Montfort University he has directed pioneering digital library research projects; led the development of the Electronic Campus; successfully bid for JISC funds to develop one of the first Managed Learning Environments in the UK; researched and developed information portals to support learning and research in the Humanities; and investigated the application of educational theory to informal learning through the development and testing of cultural heritage web sites.

His research area of Knowledge Media Design ( integrates ergonomics, educational psychology, information science, knowledge engineering and information design principles in the context of new media technologies. He has directed R&D projects with total funding of over £3m from public and private sources including: IBM, BT, Hulton-Getty, RTE, the Home Office, Department of Trade and Industry, Department for Education and Employment, the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hunt Museum, AHRC, JISC, HEFCE and the European Commission.

His expertise includes: project management, design methods, soft systems analysis, ergonomics, media design, distance education, online learning, training, technology forecasting and change management.

How to Cite
Brown S. (2013). Large-scale innovation and change in UK higher education. Research in Learning Technology, 21.
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