Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer ( Parte 1 | Parte 2 ) / Torna a Indice AR
|Published in:Peter Reason and Hilary Bradbury, eds., Handbook of Action Research,Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications.1Special thanks to Peter Reason, Hilary Bradbury, Peter Hawkins,and Robin McTaggart for their valuable comments.|
This article presents an emerging approach to building knowledge for large scale transformational change. Laying behind this approach is a core premise: that Industrial Age institutions face extraordinary challenges to evolve which are unlikely to be met in isolation. Collaboration and joint knowledge building is vital. Competition, which fueled the Industrial era, must now be tempered by cooperation. Without this balance, organizations of all sorts will be unable to survive the hyper-competition of today's global marketplaces. While competition and competitiveness remain the mantra of traditional market advocates, the frenzy for optimal return on financial capital today threatens health and sustainability on all levels, not only of individual institutions but of their members and indeed the larger social and natural systems in which they are embedded.Community action research represents an approach to collaborative knowledge creation with which we have been engaged now for some ten years. Community action research builds on the tradition of action research by embedding change oriented projects within a larger community of practitioners, consultants, and researchers. Like action research, community action research confronts the challenges of producing practical knowledge that is useful to people in the everyday conduct of their lives (Reason and Bradbury, Introduction). Like action research, community action research values knowing-in-action, embracing Humberto Maturana's dictum that "all knowing is doing, all doing is knowing." But, unlike traditional action research, community action research focuses on:
1. fostering relationships and collaboration among diverse organizations, and among the consultants and researchers working with them;
2. creating settings for collective reflection that enable people from different organizations to "see themselves in one another;"
3. leveraging progress in individual organizations through cross-institutional links so as to sustain transformative changes that otherwisewould die out.
For example, Gustavsen's (Chapter 1) account of cross-institutional democratic dialogues in Sweden in order to develop "learning regions" is a good example for what we refer to as community action research. In short, community action research places as much emphasis on building cross-organizational learning communities as on undertaking action research projects.Such communities grow from common purpose, shared principles, and common understanding of the knowledge-creating process. The purpose, building knowledge for institutional and social change, defines why the community exists. Shared principles establish deep beliefs and ground rules for being a member of the community. Understanding the knowledge creating process enables everyone to see how their efforts fit within a larger system -- a continuing cycle of creating theory, tools, and practical know-how -- and how they inter-depend on one another.Today, this knowledge-creating system is profoundly fragmented in the fields of management and institutional change. The consequences are ivory tower university research disconnected from practical needs (Levin and Greenwood, Chapter 9), consulting projects that generate intellectually appealing change strategies that never get implemented, and "flavor of the month" management initiatives that lack any underlying theory or long-term strategic coherence and engender more cynicism than commitment within organizations. The ultimate consequence of this fragmentation is the inability of Industrial Age institutions of all sorts -- corporations, schools and universities, and public and non-profit organizations -- to adapt to the realities of the present day. Especially in times of deep change, sustaining adaptive institutional responses requires better theory, method and practical know-how.But bringing the theory of community action research to life involves conditions that are only just now being understood. It starts with genuine commitment on the part of a group of managerial practitioners from diverse organizations, consultants and researchers to work together. It further requires an agreed upon system of self governance and learning infrastructures that enable relationship building, collaborative projects, and sharing insights across the entire community andbeyond. Lastly, it entails appreciating and encouraging emergent learning networks that arise in ways that can be neither predicted nor controlled.The aim of this paper is to present the basic ideas underlying community actionresearch and illustrate their potential to produce both organizational impact andnew knowledge. While building such communities is challenging, the alternative is continued reliance on traditional, fragmented consulting and academic research, and on episodic organizational change programs driven by top management's latest ideas. We believe this status quo will never produce the breakthroughs in theory and practice needed to reinvent Industrial Age institutions.
A Brief History
of One Effort at Community Action Research: From the MITCenter for Organizational
Learning to SoL (The Society for Organizational Learning)
A Theory of Learning
Such a community continually produces new theory and method, new tools, and new practical know-how.The following diagram shows the three domains of activity and their consequences. (the activity streams or flows are represented by the solid arrows; the rectangles represent accumulated consequences of activity streams, stocks increased or decreased by the flows arising from these activities; the lighter, curved arrows represent causal connections among and between the different domains).
The activity of
research produces a flow of new theory and method, which accumulates
in a stock of theory and method. But general method, the sorts of approaches
taught to graduate students, differs from practical tools, tested and
refined extensively in real work situations (the second set of stocks
and flows in the diagram). This is typically the work of consultants
who develop reliable approaches to address practical problems. Tools
and methods do not just help in solving problems, they also help in
developing new capabilities. Hammers are essential to carpentry but
they are equally essential to creating carpenters. In the words of Buckminster
Fuller (1976), "If you want to change how people think, give them
a tool the use of which will lead them to think differently." So,
creating and using tools is the core activity in the domain of capacity
building, the ultimate result of which is new practical know-how (the
third set of stocks and flows in the diagram). This is the domain of
managerial practice. Because practical know-how is inseparable from
the practitioners who embody that know-how, it disappears when those
who embody it leave the system. "Knowledge (is) primarily tacit...
deeply rooted in an individual's action and experience" (Nonaka
and Takeuchi 1995, 8 ) Thus, the stock of practical know- how must be
continually replenished through new knowledge creation.In a new field,
the cycle of theory creation and its extension into practical tools
and ultimately into a broad base of practical know-how may take many
years. If this new knowledge represents a deep shift in prevailing ways
of thinking and problem solving, it may take generations. Consider,
for example that the Quality Management movement begun in Japan in the
1950's and gradually spread worldwide by the1980's had its roots in
theory established in the first half of the 19th century, Poisson's
law of large numbers and Quetelet's binomial or "normal" curve.
By the turn of the century, basic statistical theory and method were
taught widely in university sciences classrooms and, by the 1920's,
were being applied by statistics experts to analyze variation in production
lines. But, the quality management revolution really only started after
World War II, when people like Deming and Juran, building on earlier
work by Shewhart (1931), led the movement to translate the philosophy
and method into ideas and tools like control charts that could be understood
and used by non-experts. This then led to capacity building and practical
know- how and results on a significant scale. One interesting feature
of this example is the critical role of consultants in developing and
applying the tools that bridged theory and practice through capacity
building -- Deming's personal letterhead said, simply, "consultant
in statistics," and he frequently credited other consultants and
managerial practitioners with crucial ideas and practical insights in
his writings (e.g., Deming 1982).But, why does the knowledge creating
cycle take so long? Can it be accelerated? To address such questions
we need to understand how this knowledge creating system becomes fragmented.
This arises through breakdowns in each of the major linkages that interconnect
the three domains. Sources of these breakdowns can be found in the taken-for-granted
attitudes and activities of each of the respective professional communities.
In effect, while incomplete learning cycles within organizations usually
can be traced to cognitive or structural causes (March and Olsen 1975,
Kim 1993), differing cultures and institutional norms create additional
sources of fragmentation for the larger knowledge creating process.
In short, the worlds of academia, professional consulting firms, and
managerial practitioners in both business and non-profit organizations
differ in ways that make greater integration extremely difficult.For
example, the development of new theory and method is isolated from the
larger system through breakdowns in both "outputs" and "inputs."
In particular, assessment of most academic research is dominated by
peer review. While peer review is a valid source of outside critique
of new theory or analysis, it rarely considers the practical consequences
of research. As a result, the outputs of most academic research, journal
articles, have little impact outside self-defined academic communities.
Although the array of journals continues to expand, this is driven by
the growing number of academic researchers to needing to publish, and
most are readable only by the initiated. The fundamental problem with
this entire publication-review-promotion system is that it is self-referential.
The academic paper mill tends to produce a growing number of papers
in increasingly narrow fields. (Levin and Greenwood, Chapter 9) Most
academic research is equally fragmented in its "inputs." Few
academics spend enough time in work organizations to appreciate the
actual challenges confronted by managerial practitioners and engage
in mutual learning. Those that attempt to do so find that they confront
significant dilemmas. For example, to understand deeply what is going
on within a work situation, it is necessary to gain the confidence of
the practitioners in that setting. This often takes more time than academic
researchers can give, and it also takes establishing a perception of
about hereIn other words, theory begets theory: new theory development is driven primarily by current theory, rather than by wrestling with the dilemmas and challenges of managerial practice -- as academics talk mainly to other academics. Similarly, consultants continually extend their tools in order to remain competitive, but with little connection to articulating and testing new theory -- for that would mean exposing private theory to public scrutiny. And practitioners continually share their views and tacit knowledge with one another.. As with the other minor linkages of the knowledge-creating system, this sort of "single loop" learning is important (Argyris and Schoen 1996). But it rarely leads to breakthroughs in new capabilities. For this new theory, method and tools are needed that challenge current assumptions and practices.In summary, the sources of fragmentation arise due to self-referential, self- reinforcing activities in each of the three professional worlds of academia, consulting, and managerial practice. Each creates its own separate island of activity rather than contributing to research, capacity building and practice as interacting domains within a larger system. These breakdowns in the overall knowledge-creating system do not result in no growth in theory, tools, and practical know-how; rather, they result in fragmented and superficial growth.These are the challenges confronted in building learning communities. They require a kind of meta-knowledge, knowledge of the knowledge-creating process itself. Building such knowledge is the fundamental task of community action research.