Changes culturally feasable

One important concept in action research is the concept of change, change can mean different things, it can be a small one, almost unnoticed or it can be a big one, one that transforms an organization in a way that it has no traces in the old one. If we observe the AR cycle the objective of planning is precisely to plan a change, and the objective of acting is to bring this change into reality. If someone builds a new building for the organization and move there all the people working in the organization, there is a change, but it doesn’t mean that there is an organizational learning, even that the work can be more pleasurable. To have an organizational learning the routines, procedures, structure and behaviors have to be modified. In this way when we speak from change we are speaking for learning in the organization.

Change in the organizational learning refers to the deep and intensity of learning that the organization requires to successfully implement the project. The different types of intensity are a continuous one but it doesn’t exist a quantitative parameter that can measure it, but if it seen from outside it is possible to see a qualitative change.Therefore, we can define the qualities that make the change noticeably.

Checkland (Systems Thinking, System Practice-pp. 180-182) suggests three types of changes. Changes in structure, changes in procedures and change in behavior.

The first type of change, change in structure refers often to the change in the organization chart, that is which role reports to which role, but it doesn’t touch to much the way the work is done. It is the easiest change because it requieres a little amount of learning.

The second type of change, change in procedures changes the way work is done, and it can span from processes optimization up to a complete process reengineering. In a process optimization the organization tries to improve efficiency of existing problem solving procedures. It does not change the problem solving routines significantly, this means that the process or the organizational structure are slight changed. If process reengineering is chosen the problem solving routines are changed significantly as well as the organizational structure, which change often from a functional structure to a process driven structure. This type of change correspond to the ‘Single-loop learning’ defined by Argyris and Schön which are the incremental improvements in existing ways of doing things. (Argyris and Schön – Orgnisational Learning II).

Related to the typology of organizational Learning is the typology used by Bateson (The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication 1972) which refers more to the individual, but it has also to be taken in account because at the end learning happens in each person mind.

Learning I defined by Bateson refers to conditioning, acquisition of the responses given as correct in the given context. Learning happens when a response is given, ‘a wrong one’ and is corrected by looking inside a set of alternative responses. This type of learning is what it is routinely refered to as learning by correcting errors choosen within a set of alternatives.

What do individuals learn in this type of change? It is mostly a Skill. The basic skill to be learned is that your job is a part of a process and that the important thing is the quality and efficiency of the process. In order to achieve that it may be necessary to learn some skills as working with a new computer system or some tools for a better customer service (like a Customer Relationship Management).

The third type of change is the change in behavior.The organization changes the value and beliefs of the organization so as to resolve incompatible organizational norms by setting new priorities and weightings of norms. The process are reconstructed associated with new strategies and assumptions. In this case there is a high probability that contradictions will arise as procedures, values and beliefs are changed.

Correspond to the ‘Double-loop learning’ defined by Argyris and Schön and involves reflexivity that is the questioning of what is being doing and leads to the learning of new behaviors rather than the refining of current skills.

Checklands speak about this third type of change, Changes in Attitude.

This I take to include not only changes in the attitudes such as may be sampled in the ‘attitude surveys’ beloved of behavioural scientists, but also many other crucial, but intangible characteristics which reside in the individual and collective consciousness of human being in groups. The term is intended to include such things as changes in influence, and changes in the expectations which people have of the behaviour appropiate of various roles, as well as changes in the readiness to rate certaind kinds of behaviour ‘good’ or ‘bad’ relative to others changes…..”

Bateson speaks of Learning II as the change in the process of Learning I, e.g. a corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made, or it is a change in how the sequence of experience is punctuated. Learning II occurs when people acquire the deep-seated root and patterns of behavior of the context itself. Bateson defined Learning II as change in Learning I, and it called deutero learning that conceptualizes Learning I experiences. When an organization engages in deutero-learning so do their members too. They reflect on and inquire into previous context for learning. They discover what they did that facilitated or inhibit learning or why they fail to learn. They will invent new strategies for learning, implement them and evaluate and generalize their findings.

Correspond to the “Deutero-learning’ which has a higher level of reflexivity and happens when the learning process is itself examined and a new one is learned

What do individuals learn in this type of change is mostly a change in Behavior. This change is more deep as the other two because requiers a change in values, beliefs and norms which affect the reflective consciousness of the individuals and the group.

Bateson seen another higher level of Learning, Learning III happens when a person or group begins to radically questions the sense and meaning of the context and to construct a wider alternative context. Learning III conceptualizes Learning II and is not well understood.

According with Argyris and Schön there are very few organizations that have an organization learning system which are suitable for going to double-loop system, and the situation for deutero-learning is even more rare. Therefore, the characteristics of a change which use deutero-learning are more of a theoretical nature, as there are no examples from which lessons can be drawn.

As we can see the intensity in change spans a wide range of options, so the question is which intensity should be chosen when planning a change. Checkland suggest two conditions to plan and implement the changes in orden to have success. He wrote “They must be arguably systemically desirable as a result of the insight gained from selection of the root definitions and conceptual model building, and they must also be cultural feasible given the characteristics of the situation, the people in it, their shared experiences and their prejudices”. Hence, the two more important forces to take in account in order to have a success in doing the change are culture and systems.

In this post I will only speak from the second condition cultural feasability.

Cultural norms are the rules which are often implicit and are often taken for granted such that people don’t think a lot about them as much as the deviation from the media is small in the society. Inside these cultural norms we can take in account values, beliefs, prejudices and traditions

There is a national culture as well as an organizational culture, but as the organization is immersed in the nation it is possible that they share the same culture but there is a possibility that the national and organization don’t have the same cultural norms. The organizational culture as well as the professional culture are defined as subcultures of the national culture.

Hofstede (Cultures and Organizations : Software of the minds – Third Edition) developed a framework to compare cultures among different nations. His study was made comparing the IBM organization in different countries, in such a way he could assume that the professional and organizational settings was alike in all cases, so that the different should arise due to the different national culture. He then described the characteristic of the culture based in six dimensions.

The six dimensions are:

Power Distance Index (PDI)

Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)

Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)

Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Normative Orientation (LTO)

Indulgence versus Restraint (IND)

 

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What does Checkland mean by cultural feasability?. According to the Cambridge Dictionary feasability is the possibility that can be made, done or achieved, or is reasonable, which poses a limitation on the magnitude of the change. But what happens when the change needed assume that the beliefs, values, and norms have to be changed. Can the people lead themselves to change their own culture? Does Action Research needs a change in culture in order to work? Is it clear that is very difficult to change the national culture so that the change has to be in the subcultures, that is the organizational and the professional culture, so how can these subcultures be changed and live inside a different national culture?

How can a school can be transformed in a learning organization?

Which kind of culture Action Research needs in order to work?

How is the national culture?

How in the actual organization culture and how should it be in order to be a learning organization?

How in the actual professional culture and how should it be in order to be a learning organization?

Shared vision

It is clear from the beginning that if an organization wants to change, it has to have a vision of what it will become. This is a kind of an organization vision which has to correspond to the vision of the people working in the organization. For traditional organizations the vision is shared among the workers, managers of the organization, and in many cases the clients. When the product of the organization is a service, the description of the service can be independent on the way that the organization implements it.  That is not the case of the school I am carry on the project, because the parents or clients are an important part of the project and they may have their own vision about the education of their children, in order to have a shared vision, the organization, their customers (parents) and the product of the service (the students) have to have a common shared vision. on the other side the students which could be seen as a product of the education are also an important part.  The other vision which is the way the organization drives the process of education is less important for the parents and students, nevertheless it will affect the implementation of the educational vision.

The statement of the vision is that the school is a learning organization and it will become an institution where the students can  experience a twenty-first century educational journey which takes in account intellectual, warmth, values and character aspects.

The mission of the school  can be made simpler and shorter, as a matter of fact our mission of our school is that we want to be a place in which everyone learn from everybody. Implicit in this definition there is a conception of education which is part of the educational vision, but is not “truly” shared by some parents and teachers. For many of them a school is a place where some people teach other people, and that is also the meaning of teacher, as a person who teaches and not a person who learns. In the first part of the vision statement, it is said that the school is a learning organization, that means that the learning is made from its members in the name of the organization, therefore teachers should also be learning , and in many cases the learning are parallel to the learning from students. The meaning of “everybody learn from everybody” means also that the scope of subjects seen at the school are not static, but moving every day. The traditional school has a certain number of areas which are well established and are taught year after year. With this setting is clear that the teacher teaches and the student learn, but what happens when the subject matter are not known neither by the teacher or the students? These are the situations that happen and will happen in the XXI Century, the problems that are seen nowadays don’t have a known solution, but they have to be solved so that the humanity will endure, just think only on climate change as an example. If nobody has the solution the teachers must realize that their job is not to provide the right answers, but to develop the skills in the student to cope with unknown problems, and to learn with them about researching, problem solving and team work.

Who should participate in elaborating the vision? Managements books in Strategic Planning says that the stakeholders are the people who should work in the elaboration of the vision. Peter Senge et Al in his book “Schools that learn” (pp. 342) speaks about “This is the power of full-scale shared vision process for the school: a process of involving everyone together in deciding and developing the future of the school”.

The stakeholders in the school are the parents, teacher , students and administrators, but are all they prepared to build a vision of the product (education), the process (the pedagogy) and the organization (school)?

Most organizations, even large multinationals make a 5 or 10 year vision. What should we expect from a vision for a school? . In the problem to be solve is a local and immediate one, like safety in the school, the time span is not a big problem, but what about if the problem is the education that the children should receive. A children who is coming in Kindergarten, will leave the school in 11 years and he or she will be going to the university or a training school, after that he or she will enter the labor market, so around 16 years of Kindergarten. And there will be notice if the education the children received was good or bad. That is not only a problem of knowledge but also on attitudes and values which they will carry all life along. So people who has to work on the vision of education and schools has to have certain skills which are different from normal people.

A hint of this problem can be found in the environmental problems and sustainable development. In 1968 a group of scientist publish a report called “The Limits to grow” and made a series of prediction which unfortunately are now realities, and it took mankind almost 50 year to reach an agreement which was expressed in the Agenda 2030. In this report they said that the human perspective can be shown in the following picture.

As seen most of the people think in time in less of some years and in space in their city boundary. But to solve environmental  problems as well as educational problems, we have to think in children’s lifetime and in the world context. As the figure shows not everybody has this reach in the space-time scale.

The second important element in creating a vision was also mentioned in the Club of Rome “men and woman who are long-term thinkers interested in contributing in a systematic interdisciplinary and holistic manner to a better world”. System thinking is also a requirement to create a shared vision.

As the example shows, the interested stakeholders that want to create the vision have to think in a space that is the world and a time span of a young man lifetime. But not only the extended space and time spans, but also they have to start thinking about the problems in a holistic way, which introduces as to the system thinking as a part of the vision.

The educational vision is given in the second part of the vision statement “the students can  experience a twenty-first century educational journey which takes in account intellectual, warmth, values and character aspects.” .

The traditional school hat the goal of achieving academic success, but academic success in the school doesn’t mean success in life. A holistic point of view says that the person not only learn intellectual staff , but also social skills, as well as a set of values. On the other side the development of some character aspects as auto control (Walter Mischell – “The Mashmellow Test) and grit (Angela Duckworth – “Grit”)  among others have shown that they may be more important that the knowledge given in the schools, so the educational vision has to integrate all these aspects and its relation among them. Other areas which have to take in account and it is in the spirit and name of the school are the STEM areas.

 

 

About the cycles in Action Research

What is Action Research?

What is Action Research? . Is it a problem solving method or is it a learning method? The word Action suggest that it is more a problem solving method whereas the word research suggest that is more a learning method. I find the AR does in the social realm what engineering and science do in the physical or natural world. In the natural word engineering has the objective of create new things or solving a defined problem, while science has the objective of finding new knowledge. As they have different objectives their cycles are also different, which I would like to show here in order to help me to make clear which AR cycle should I use and which considerations I should take care of.

 Science-Engineering

In real life the distintions between the activities of Science and Engineering is not clear. Sometimes an engineering project involves a lot of science, for instance the Apollo program produced a lot of science and sometimes a scientific project produced a lot of engineering such a Particle Accelerator at CERN.

How does it compare with the AR cycle according to Lewin?

n his original 1946 paper Lewin suggested cycles made of:

Planning, executing, reconnaissance or fact-finding and evaluation.

Which can be shown here with a modern interpretation

The entry point in the scientific method is to state the research question while in the engineering method is to define the problem to be solved. Typically for AR the entry point is to state the research question, but often is more a holistic approach to problem solving, while in a version of AR such as Soft System Methodology from Checkland the entry point is to describe the problematic situation. Checkland made a different between Hard System in which there is a well-defined problem and Soft-system in which there is no a well defined problem.

Lewin-Cycle

There has been some modifications in the AR cycles, when applied to special fields of studies, for instance that is the AR Cycle used by Susman in Information Systems.

 

SussmanCycle

And Checkland SSM , in his Model II

Checkland1-Cycle

and Model III.

Checkland2-Cycle

These AR cycles look quite different but in principle they follow the same cycle as it can be seen from the following table.

Lewin

Susman

Checkland II

Checkland III

Observe (Reconnaissance)

Evaluating

Problem Situation in Real world

Perceived situation

Reflect (Evaluation)

Specifying Learning

Diagnosing

Differences between models and real world

Comparison with the models

Planning

Action Planning

Planning the changes

Structured debate

Act (Executing)

Taking Action

Action to improve

Action to improve

Each method suggest a strong interest in some point, for instance Susman stress learning, that is because Information Systems Management are correlated with learning, and evaluation here covers the observation and comparison (reflection)

After the entry point there is usually a background research which is common to all three methods, which usually involves reflection

AR is a form of collective self-reflective inquire acting on a social group and one of its products is a collective learning. But learning happens only on individuals, while the collective learning has to happen in the persons which are part of the social group, therefore is interesting to compare the AR cycle with a learning cycle, in this case Kolbs

kolb1

There is a correlation between the AR cycle and the Kolb learning cycle

AR Cycle

Kolb learning cycle

Observation

Reflective Observation

Reflection

Abstract Conceptualization

Planning

Active Experimentation

Acting

Concrete Experience

t is more a kind of mapping between an individual learning and an organization learning. In some parts of the cycle it seems that there are some differences, but these are due to the fact that there are four stages in the cycle that are discrete concepts while the process itself is more continuous and comprises parts of the other stages. For example in AR it is observation which is much more than seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting because it involves an identification, looking for analogies, classification and other activities which are not directly related to the senses. That is why Lewin uses Reconnaissance, Susman Evaluation , Checkland Perceived Reality and Kolb Reflective Observation The second stage which is Reflection, made actually a separation with the former one, that is first I uses my senses and I close my senses and reflect about, which actually is a theoretical separation, because in practice I use my senses and I reflect in order to observe finer details or other thing that were not related at the beginning, while in the reflection it is more the intellectual comparison between what I knew and the reality. Susman calls that learning,while Kolb speaks about a reflection on what happened and Checkland suggest that these reflection should be made between the models that are constructed y what has been observed.

Inside this stage learning takes place in a particular way. When Kolb speaks about using or trying to build a model or theory, it is also saying that new concepts may be developed, concepts which can be using in building a new model or theory. Here Checkland speaks about the comparison between the models and the reality, which may lead to a new modified model in order to fit it with the reality. Both Kolb and Checkland say explicitly that models and theories should be build in order to use them.

The third task which is Planning is almost unanimously used by all the authors, but Checkland introduces some constraints in the planning, as saying the intervention has to take in account a social analysis as well a political analysis. He suggest that the changes should be systematically desirable and culturally feasible. Even more he speaks about the nature of the changes, as there are changes that are tactical while there are other changes that involves strategy. I think that is the best contribution of Soft System Methodology to the AR process, and I will digress more about this in a next post.

The fourth stage is action, both individually and collective, just trying to implement what has been planned. The main difference among the AR Authors and Kolb is that in AR the goal is to improve the situation while in Kolbs cycle is to prove or disprove a theory. This difference is due to the fact that Kolb is a learning cycle while AR is a cycle to solve a problem or a problematic situation.

But before the cycle start there is an initial stage which corresponds to the identification of the problems that are the reasons the organization should change. This involves a self interpretation of the complex organizational problem not through reduction and simplification but in a holistic way. In this sense action research is related with systems theory from the beginning. The diagnosis will develop some theoretical assumptions or working hypotheses about the organization and its problem domain, that means that using the bibliography we should have a start model for the problem to solve.

Colaboration Classrooms

Last year we started to build our new building, and classrooms were designed to be used in a collaborative way by the students.

colab001

First thing you can see is that the entrance wall is made of glass, so it is transparent from view from the outside and also from the inside. The main idea is to show that our classes are transparent to everybody, there is also the fact that we are using natural light so that there is an energy efficiency due to not using artificial light. I must say that the climate in our city is very mild. Lower temperatures are maybe 18 C early in the morning and higher maybe 30 C at noon.

colab002

Our tables are round, according to chinese tradition in a round table everybody has the same chance to reach anything on the table, so it is more democratic. There can be from 4 to 6 children around the table. The other thing is that the walls are whiteboards, so that the children can use them to discuss their work.

colab003

So we have two walls that are whiteboards and two walls that are made from glass.

colab004

The walls that are whiteboards can be opened so we can merge two classes in a larger one.

colab005

We can merge up to four classrooms.