Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Pedagogy and Process in 'Organisational Problem-Solving'

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Pedagogy and Process in 'Organisational Problem-Solving'

Article excerpt

Introduction

The research work that is articulated in this paper concerns the challenges, problems and vagaries of developing unstructured problem-based learning processes for organisation development. The project was called the 'OPS project' (i.e. the 'Organisational Problem Solving' project). This project was an addendum to the research activities undertaken in a European research project called MEDFORIST (see MEDFORIST, 2006). The MEDFORIST project involved developing problem-based learning processes in which members of the MEDFORIST community could share experience, resources, techniques, learning etc., in a way that would help them to undertake their roles, and improve their practice, within their own specific situations. The MEDFORIST community were geographically dispersed across the Mediterranean region, and thus there were considerable challenges in integrating the problem-based learning given the diversity in members' social, economic and political contexts: a central tenet of the research was to evaluate the use of e-learning technologies in mediating the problem-based pedagogy. The OPS project was an implementation of the same principles. However, unlike the MEDFORIST project, this follow-on project was undertaken in a commercial context, in which the research was to be applied with the intention that it provided commercial benefits, by providing organisational performance improvements. Internal managers of a large utility company in the US were to undergo management development in 'organisational problem-solving' and simultaneously, they were expected to apply their learning in order to undertake 'change actions' aimed at controlled organisational development via on-gong reflective practice. Since organisational development occurs over time, the managers (or 'agents of change') were expected to be working in geographically dispersed locations; they were also expected to integrate their 'change actions' within their everyday working situations. It was therefore considered essential to support their work with an e-learning environment, and to integrate suitable longitudinal problem based pedagogic processes.

A new research team was formed. One of the core members of MEDFORIST was joined by another who had been interested (but not centrally involved) in that initiative. These two were joined by two new members from a US based University, to form a new research team. The common interest of the research team in the OPS project stemmed from the pedagogic challenges at the practical, everyday level, which was demanded by the commercial partner. As in MEDFORIST, the learning and action was to be 'driven' by organising managers into learning sets, which were to be given an 'internal consultant' role. In the OPS project, the sets were to be given the challenge of instigating rapid but controlled change. As will be seen, by using a set of principles and constructs, and integrating their latent knowledge of organisation, the learning sets made some dramatic changes to the organisation, including change to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) computer application. There were innumerable learning points that arose from this, both for learning set members, and the research and consulting team who were involved in the organisational change initiative.

The project was based in a large private sector organisation called GW Power Utilities (for the purposes of confidentiality, a nom de plume is used). Although the core purpose was stated as '... to provide a range of training and development programmes to meet the strategic objectives of GW Power Utilities' (GW Power Utilities, 2003, p.2), the implicit objective was simply to instigate organisational 'improvement' through management development. In considering the design of the project, the tendering phase became focused on how to build management teams so that they became "...organisational problem solvers rather than fire-fighters..." (p.3). During the initial discussions, the research team argued that the problem-based learning approach of MEDFORIST had high potential for helping to satisfy the perceived strategic need for organisation improvement. …

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