A critical synthesis of research literature on the process of organizational change at the institutional level is needed because higher education is being asked to be responsive to an ever-changing environment. This work focuses on providing the reader several key insights into the change process by (1) presenting a common language for organizational change; (2) describing the multidisciplinary research base on change; (3) highlighting the distinct characteristics of higher education institutions and how this might influence the change process; (4) reviewing models/concepts of organizational change derived within higher education, comparing and contrasting different approaches; and (5) providing principles for change based on a synthesis of the research within higher education.
Some generic definitions of organizational change have been offered by theorists. For example, Burnes noted that organizational change refers to understanding alterations within organizations at the broadest level among individuals, groups, and at the collective level across the entire organization (1996). Another definition is that change is the observation of difference over time in one or more dimensions of an entity (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995). But these definitions fail to capture the assumptions inherent in different models or theories of change. For example, cultural and social-cognition theories of change would replace the word observation with the word perception