Don’t Tear the Sweater!

I work in a portfolio of a school within a post-secondary institution.  Often those of us at the portfolio level get an edict from management announcing new policies and it is up to us to find ways to implement them, making them work for our situation.  An example of this happened recently.  As a result of a safety audit, the decision came to implement a visitor sign-in procedure.  Until this time this was not part of the process when guests came to the classroom or to an event.  The problem in this situation was that there was not any communication about how to implement this change, the rational behind it, or any beneficial details.  The lack of shared information created a large barrier to implementing the change.  No one knew the expectations or the parameters, therefore people were creating their own systems and not sharing them with the other groups.  In this situation, the goal of the project caused many of the barriers.  Conway, Masters, and Thorold (2017) state “innovators should not just focus on user needs … they must also comprehensively map the system which they hope to change, employing a range of techniques to appreciate the complex dynamics at play” (p. 14).  The originators of this change did not follow this concept.

Without a map to follow, the type of system created was guests signing-in on paper.  Given the size of campus and the frequency of guests, I felt that a paper system was not an ideal solution and I suggested a digital option.  The barriers in this option, that I did not see when I brought the idea forward, included that many people felt the paper system would work perfectly adequately and we should take the easier path in order to accept the new procedure.  I have limited experience in leading change, and I felt that the digital system was clearly the correct option.  After going through the readings, I discovered that the lack of planning for this project contributed to the results.  The key players in the implementation did not know who the stakeholders were, or who was responsible for the process (i.e., who to go to with questions).  In order to overcome this barrier, I think the process would have benefitted from closer analysis.  I do not believe there was any data collected regarding the best method to use to implement the process.  Sclater, Peasgood, and Mullan (2016) present three elements of organising learning analytics, which are “the availability of data, the analysis and creation of insight, and processes that impact upon student success” (p. 34).  These components can apply to projects outside of the classroom environment as well and would have changed the outcome in this situation.

For this project, I received instructions on what needed to happen.  Should I ever be on a team who is rolling out a change similar to this one, I would like to take the time to have conversations with those involved (or a representation of the entire group) to ensure the solution fits the goal of the new process.  I think ensuring that step is complete will help those involve accept the new system and it will better function for the goal.

Cormier (2017) states “when you pull one string on that system to try and fix it, you tend to tear the sweater somewhere else” (para. 2).  In the situation I described here, I believe I may have torn the sweater elsewhere when I presented my digital solution.  I now know that in future situations I need to be more careful and take the time to get buy-in from the team, when presenting an idea with which they may not be comfortable.


Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J.. (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre. Retrieved from

Cormier, D. (2017, December 8). Our schools aren’t broken, they’re hard. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Sclater, N., Peasgood, A, & Mullan, J. (2016). Learning analytics in higher education: A review of UK and international practice. Jisc. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “Don’t Tear the Sweater!

  1. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for sharing your reflections and learning process on your own project. It is great to see how some of the readings from the course can directly impact on ways you might change your practice moving forward! Hopefully the system is something you can attempt to change again – as you say with a more comprehensive consultation process and with some data to help show how a new process might improve everyone’s situation. I love the sweater metaphor (I noticed it also resonated with Jeff) – it is great to see how a systems approach can be tackled – with a bit of hard work and persistence :).

    1. Thank you Michelle. I have often been told that I can see the solution too clearly at the beginning of a project and I need to allow the rest of the team to see it in their own time and in their own way. These readings have provided me with some tools to do that. I am looking forward to an opportunity to when I can implement what I have learned.


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