Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Learning from Learning Networks. Experiences of the Finnish Workplace Development Programme

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Learning from Learning Networks. Experiences of the Finnish Workplace Development Programme

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

This paper examines learning networks as a vehicle for improving the ability of publicly supported workplace development programmes to produce broadbased and long-term learning effects in working life. We first analyse shortcomings of a traditional programme strategy based on the utilization of demonstration projects and possibilities provided by an alternative strategy based on the utilization of learning networks to overcome some of these shortcomings. In the empirical part of the paper, we examine learning effects of learning networks at three levels. The empirical material consists of written materials and key person interviews concerning five learning network projects funded by the Finnish Workplace Development Programme TYKES between 2004 and 2010. At the end are discussion and the conclusion.

This paper aims to fill the gap related to our knowledge on long-term effectiveness of workplace development programmes and feasibility of an 'alternative' programme strategy (see Alasoini, 2006; Brulin & Svensson, 2012). On the whole, a great part of what we know of the results of workplace development programmes is based on evaluation studies carried out immediately after their completion. The underlying motivation of these kinds of studies is typically to provide the programme funders with feedback about the success of the programmes and about the impacts that are easy to measure and detect. Question setting in the studies is tied with the special interests of the hinder. This means that the knowledge created by individual evaluation studies does not easily accumulate.

2. Two programme strategies in comparison

The traditional programme strategy is based on a group of projects, whose purpose is to act as 'empirical proof to demonstrate some advanced principle or practice. On the basis of these demonstration projects, researchers, consultants or other intermediaries construct 'good practices' to be disseminated for the utilisation of a larger group of workplaces.

However, experiences from different countries show that the rate of success of public programmes following the traditional strategy of dissemination is rather poor (e.g. Amkil, 2008; Brulin & Svensson, 2012; Fricke, 2003; Gustavsen et al., 2001; Riegler, 2008; Steiber & Alänge, 2013). The adoption of any new managerial, organisational or work-related principle or practice that is even slightly abstract or systematically complex is not a mechanical process of transfer from one workplace to another, but a process of fine-tuning, adjustment and learning, including 'local re-invention' (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). In general, research on innovation dissemination has demonstrated that the degree to which an innovation is re-invented, i.e. modified by adopters as it diffuses, is positively related to the innovation's sustainability (Rogers, 2003, p. 429).

We can refer to the existence of a chasm between the first-order and generative results of a programme (Alasoini, 2008). First-order results mean changes immediately due to projects undertaken in the work organisations participating in the projects. In programmes promoting workplace change and innovation, typical first-order results are improvements in work productivity, employee well-being, work environment, etc. Generative results show how the results of projects supported through the programme benefit other parties besides those directly involved. However, generative results do not necessarily, and in workplace development, not even primarily, involve ready-made 'good/best practices' that can be transposed from one context to another; rather, they involve the production and dissemination of generative ideas which can become sources of inspiration or encouragement to actors outside the project.

As argue in greater detail elsewhere (Alasoini, 2008), the programme supported demonstration projects are usually successful; they are equipped with exceptional resources and implemented in progressive workplaces. …

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