The role of the organizational champion in achieving health system change

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Feb;74(3):348-355. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.02.009. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


In healthcare there is a long held wisdom that 'champions' are a key aspect of organizational change. Drawing on organizational management theory, we examine the role of champions in three health and social care organizations in England as they attempt to move services to a remote model of delivery, 'telecare'. The delivery of remote care is a significant policy in the U.K. and elsewhere, but its introduction has been challenging. Over three years ethnographic methods (observations, informed discussions and interviews) were used to analyze the role of organizational champions in implementing remote care. Cases were local authorities and associated primary care trusts. Participants were champions and organizational members involved in implementation. Our study shows that organizational champions are highly effective in the first phase of adoption, when change is contained within distinct sub-sets of practice. Moving beyond local contexts the effectiveness of the champions varied. Identification centered on the remote care work. This identification enabled the champions to motivate others and move beyond their normally prescribed roles, contributing to innovation ideas, processes and practices. When required to shift their work organization-wide, and share ideas outside their professional culture, some champions responded with resistance, resulting in a lack of innovation spread. These results caution against allowing change to become positioned within the remit of a few individuals. Whilst this strategy may be initially beneficial, the role of champion may be less useful, even detrimental to progress, in the later stages of implementation, particularly if identification with the new circumstances is not established.

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • England
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Professional Role*