Design Thinking for Institutionalization of Change - Part I


“The only constant today is constant change”

This statement is now one of the most common phrases used to describe higher education. Internationally university leaders, faculty, students, and employers are seeking ways to transform teaching and learning methods to prepare people for work in in ever changing world.  However, changes in the approach to teaching and learning, often don’t last. Especially in large-scale change at the institution level, there is little success with efforts to revolutionize teaching methods. 


Institutionalization by designis a new innovative method that will help address the underlying reasons for the frequent failure of change in higher education.  COMET and teams at each Mekong Learning Center (MLC) have directed effort towards the goal of institutionalization. The activities needed to ensure the institutionalization and sustainability success includes an exciting new approach. These tactics have been developed to assist each MLC successfully embed the MS2W model using design thinking.


Design thinking has been defined as a cognitive process from which design concepts emerge (e.g. ideas for products and services) (Cross, 2011). The MS2W Institutionalization by design approach helps each MLC design the policies, practices, and organizational culture in the unique context of their university to help make changes stick.


More than two-thirds of change initiatives fail

With carful research we have found out why initiatives are failing. Jacobs[1]described the embedded change as one that “has become part of the ongoing, everyday activities of the organization” and that the change has only  “relative endurance” over a period of time. Akey determinant of failure or success is the amount of institutionalization of change, or the successful embedding of a change strategy.  The study of ‘how to make change stick’ has drawn research focus from management and human resource researchers and methods to embed change remains a core element of professional practice in organization development and change 

Evaluation efforts of change in higher education have identified many reasons that initiatives often fail including:


[1]  Jacobs, R. L. (2002). Institutionalizing organizational change through cascade training. Journal of European Industrial Training26(2/3/4), 177-182.

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Consequently, a key design feature of the USAID-LMI-COMET project is focus on making change stick in each college or university. Major changes have happened and continue to evolve with the significant innovation in teaching and learning through application of the MekongSkills2Work (MS2W)model. To reach the goals of preparing a qualified workforce there must be a focused and strategic effort to embed change that will be addressed during the project – and not just at the conclusion. Interested in learning more about The MS2W Institutionalization by design approach?  In the next blog the Institutionalization by design method will be explained in more detail.