Influences on a Modern Outdoor Education Organisation's Philosophy

By Barnes, Peter | Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Influences on a Modern Outdoor Education Organisation's Philosophy


Barnes, Peter, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education


Abstract

The Philosophical Influence Model presented in this paper is suggested as helping to understand the varying, and often dichotomous, philosophical influences on the operation of a modern outdoor education organisation. The model is not held to be definitive or conclusive but rather it serves to set the scene for a discussion on changes within the outdoor education field and organisations within it. The model demonstrates that whilst an outdoor education organisation may have a strong core philosophy this interacts with a number of other significant influences, both internal and external. These influences may be largely limited to the organisation itself and include such aspects as the philosophy engendered by new incoming staff and the culture which has developed within an organisation. Alternatively influences may be external to the organisation, including factors such as the changing nature and culture of a wider society and the client demands that these changes engender.

The critical element for any outdoor education organisation is the extent to which it is driven by external factors, for example by reacting to client demands, or chooses to remain focused on its traditional core philosophy. It is evident that many organisations today face a difficult compromise situation: They struggle to maintain a culture and identity which remains true to their own beliefs/values and at the same time accommodate increasing pressures from a wider society. This struggle and conflict within outdoor education organisations can be seen as symptomatic of a wider issue within outdoor education as a pedagogical field in that traditional values and working practices are increasingly coming up against a modern societal pre-occupation with risk-avoidance, consumerism and instant gratification.

Introduction

The model, shown in figure 1, is suggested as helping to understand the varying, and often dichotomous, philosophical influences on the operation of a modern outdoor education organisation. It may also be argued that a similar model could be held to apply to many other modern vocational occupations and practices. The model is not held to be definitive or conclusive but rather it serves to set the scene for a discussion on changes within the outdoor education field and organisations within it.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

It is immediately apparent from the model that influences on the operation of an outdoor education organisation can be grouped into a number of distinct groups. Notably there is the influence that pervades the working practice and cultural identity of the organisation; this consists of the organisational culture based on the two aspects of the nature of the work the organisation undertakes and the philosophy at the core, or heart, of the organisation.

The influences above can all be regarded as internal to the organisation involved and, to some extent, relatively stable. However, there are also a variety of external influences that can have a much more dynamic effect on an organisation.

The first of these external influences, incoming staff philosophy, demonstrates the changing nature of outdoor staff and the influences they bring with them. In part this is connected to societal factors, the second arrow, which introduces a wider political dimension, and client demands, the third arrow, which introduces the requirements of the client groups associated with the organisation. The final arrow is that of actions, which serves to demonstrate how the sum total of these influences impacts on working practice, which in itself also feeds back into the whole mix.

Although the component parts of the model are inextricably linked and intertwined it is worthwhile considering them individually before looking at the total effect.

Core philosophy

It is often taken as axiomatic that much of the core philosophy which pervades outdoor education, in its modern sense at least, can be traced back to arguably the first 'modern' outdoor centre; that at Outward Bound Aberdovey in Wales, founded by Kurt Hahn in 1941. …

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