LdC TEL 703-711

TEL 703/711: LDC #5

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Provocative Question #5:

As related to my job, how is change initiated in my organization? Do CoPs matter in the process of initiating change? Of operationalizing change efforts? Of institutionalizing change?

Step 1: Prepare for a conversation

Quote/ideas from the book; applications/instances from your workplace setting Page number
“Because the world is in flux and conditions always change, any practice must constantly be reinvented, even as it remains “the same practice,” (p. 93) 93
“An educational design faces issues of identification and negotiability at multiple levels. To the extent that it is a process of colonizing learning, of claiming a territory, of deciding what matters, and of defining success and failure, it is a contested terrain. Like organizational design, it involves a whole constellation of practices, but can differentially privilege the various perspectives of specific communities,” (p. 269). 269
“Organizational design requires the judicious use of institutionalization that is, of the production of reflexive reifications such as policies, curriculums, standards, roles, job descriptions, laws, histories, affiliations, and the like. What is institutionalized becomes public, easier to pay attention to, and better able to cross boundaries, but there are costs to institutionalization,” (p. 242-243). 242-243
“Organizations are social designs directed at practice. Indeed, it is through the practices they bring together that organizations can do what they do, know what they know, and learn what they learn. Communities of practice are thus key to an organization’s competence and to the evolution of that competence,” (p. 241). 241
“The point of design for learning is to make organizations ready for the emergent by serving the inventiveness of practice and the potential for innovation inherent in its emergent structure,” (p. 245). 245
“It may be tempting to picture the design of an organization as a kind of umbrella: an overarching structure on top, with practices underneath unified by virtue of being under the same umbrella. Indeed, diagrams of the formal versus the informal almost always place the formal on top and the informal below. Yet, it is more accurate to view organizational design as a method by which a set of practices manages itself as a constellation. In this sense, the design of an organization is not so much an overarching structure as it is a boundary object. It connects communities of practice into an organization by crossing boundaries. It does not sit on top; it moves in between. It does not unify by transcending; it connects and disconnects. It does not reign; it travels, to be shaped and appropriated in the context of specific practices,” p. 246-247). 246-247
“More important are the ways in which the institutional design, discourses, and styles provide resources for negotiating meaning across perspectives,” (p. 261) 261
The session debrief and after-action reviews that we have begun to do have been a big shift for how we operate – and have been a marked sign of change for the team.

Step 2: Hold a conversation

  • M: restates the question
  • CC: COPs when effective are very effective. We have a good mix of people that come from different perspectives & work collegially, so when we put our minds to something we do it well.
  • M: In my team, everyone is doing so many different things, our role is not always clearly defined. Outside of the team, it’s easier.
  • K: page 94…constant change is so much a part that it almost goes unnoticed…there’s so much change…
  • CS: “dynamic equilibrium…” turnover or constant training can play and impact the change – especially as we incorporate others
  • L: we’ve had a vacant position on my team, and the realities of what that means…but now by not having anyone doing it, it means that tasks that I wasn’t going to do I now have to do…which in turn limits my effectiveness. This happens all the time – we get derailed by our capacity constraints. When you want to move a community forward and others move in and out of it…
  • CS: It was best for the long-term productivity when we had someone leave, but being down personnel in different areas has been really hard.
  • CC: We had a situation where as we grow online, we have online specific people who are tangentially part of our web, but their role is still in a separate group.
  • M: would be nice to hear more about how change is initiated.
  • K: So it’s not always about how change is initiated for us, but also by us – whether that’s personnel turnover or policy, etc. I think if I could choose one of the questions, operationalizing change efforts impacts me most. As I think about our team, we’re doing a really good job with this seamless transition we’re making with our LMS. They’re doing a lot of really good things. Get to the big blue wall…operationalizing change efforts
  • Me – elevator pitch/ vocabulary, quote from page 261.

Step 3: Determine your leadership challenge

For this leadership challenge, I want to explore the cross-staff design work our team helps lead throughout the college. In a perfect world, the cross-staff design teams are really representative what a great Community of Practice might look like. Our cross-staff work seeks to bring different staff members from various teams across the college to work in a cross-functional ways on shared problems of practice facing the college. We launched a first iteration of working with these teams in the spring of 2018, but it didn’t go really smoothly, and some folks became disillusioned or dissatisfied with the lack of progress.

Right now, we’re thinking about how to reorganize these teams, so I’m going to spend the next week or so using the work we’re doing there as a good LdC challenge for how we relaunch that work!

Step 4: Implement and reflect

So for this LdC, I feel as though my work is not nearly finished, because we’re still really just starting the relaunch of this cross-staff work, but I’ll share what I’ve learned anyway. I think what I’ve learned is useful and has us in a better place moving forward.

As we reflected on how change happens in the college, we were really interested in this notion of privilege and contested terrain. Wenger (1998) writes “an educational design faces issues of identification and negotiability at multiple levels. To the extent that it is a process of…claiming a territory, of deciding what matters, and of defining success and failure, it is a contested terrain. Like organizational design, it involves a whole constellation of practices, but can differentially privilege the various perspectives of specific communities,” (p. 245). I think this quote really encapsulates an understanding that has lead us to differentiate some of our design for the cross-staff work going forward. We wanted to find more common ground across the staff for the challenges we want to select, so we’re spending more time in the coming weeks on identifying common/shared challenges, and doing more work at the root-cause level of analysis to determine how different teams can work together to drive those high-leverage issues to make change.

We’re also going to explore how some of the perspectives, particularly those at different ends of the spectrum of interaction/intimacy with the needs of students; those at the ground level often have incredible perspective on what students need, while those at the top of the organizational hierarchy don’t always understand the realities that students live with. To this end, we’re going to plan for some shadowing of students, as well as some empathy-based interviews to start to balance out the privilege of perspectives. I’m really looking forward to seeing what progress these terms make over the next few months!

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