Why so many change efforts fail

Authors Lydia Schaap, Kristin Vanlommel
Published in International Journal of Leadership in Education
Publication date 2024
Research groups Driving Educational Change
Type Article


Educational change often fails due to its complexity: differing, even contradictory factors, agents, goals, norms or beliefs are involved. Too often practitioners, researchers and educators try to reduce or even ignore tensions, paradoxes and uncertainties and search for clear procedures and the one and only best solution in achieving the foreseen change. In this article, we discuss a valuable theoretical framework from organizational science, paradox theory, to understand why many change efforts fail and how to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of change. We propose that (1) educational change is characterized by complexity; (2) that change therefore is inherently associated with tensions and paradoxes; (3) that paradox theory can help to understand and improve complex educational change by 3a) providing a lens to recognize, label, and acknowledge paradoxes and their interactions and 3b) investigate how to handle these paradoxes to foster effective and sustainable educational change (i.e. to find a dynamic equilibrium). Based on these important lessons we propose a three-step model to investigate and improve educational change processes.

On this publication contributed

Language English
Published in International Journal of Leadership in Education
Key words educational change, paradox theory
Digital Object Identifier 10.1080/13603124.2023.2298210

Lydia Schaap

Lydia Schaap

  • Researcher
  • Research group: Driving Educational Change