Category: Professional practice
|Teaching and Learning Forum 2009 [ Refereed papers ]|
Curtin University of Technology
Ariadne is an emergent futures methodology that incorporates a range of concepts from the fields of futures; soft systems thinking; creativity; organisational learning; strategy; and narrative. Ariadne is taught in a seven day program over three months in a program called Navigating the Maze. Participants are senior managers in government, corporate and community organisations. They bring a project to the program as part of the action learning approach. Presented since 2005, Navigating the Maze has been well received by more than 50 participants. In 2006 interviews were conducted with participants to discover what makes the program successful and to improve its ongoing presentation. This paper shares the insights of participants and presenters and reflects on potential changes to the program.
What is needed in this situation are approaches that embrace complexity rather than ignore it, that incorporate multiple perspectives, encourage holistic thinking, and facilitate the surfacing of emerging opportunities. Ariadne is an emergent futures methodology with a systems thinking foundation.
Ariadne is taught in a program called Navigating the Maze. Participants are senior managers in government, corporate and not for profit organisations. They bring a project to the program as part of the action learning approach. Presented since 2005, Navigating the Maze has been well received by more than 50 participants. In 2006 interviews were conducted with participants to explore their experiences. This paper shares the insights of participants and presenters and suggests several changes to the program.
Ariadne is a contribution to the development of processes for thinking and acting for the future. While the framework is a recent development, it draws on work from a number of established areas, in particular, the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) and the Futures (including Scenario Thinking) field. (Allen & Lang 2006, Lang & Allen 2008).
SSM was developed by Professor Peter Checkland (Checkland 1981, 2006, Checkland & Scholes 1990) and is an action research methodology premised on people taking purposeful action to address a problematic situation. Scenario Thinking, as written and practiced extensively by well-known proponents such as Professor Kees van der Heijden (2005) aims to deal with uncertainty by managing the gap between changes in the environment and the aspirations of the organisation. These ideas were merged with others from the wider futures field, narrative theory, creativity and innovation.
The learning experience of Navigating the Maze centres not only on the different phases of the methodology but also includes the development of a set of capabilities. These include dialogue, narrative intelligence, creativity, systems concepts and ideas around the concept of the reflective practitioner. It is not the purpose of this paper to outline these but a few comments on narrative will give the flavour of the program content. For further details see the Navigating the Maze website.
Narrative intelligence (Randall 1999) is increasingly being spoken of as a innate human characteristic, if not the essence of linguistic communication, that homo narrans may be more important than homo economicus. Because Ariadne's focus is the creation of the future through an appreciation and design of potential human activity systems, capabilities in dialogue, group communication, narrative, metaphor and myth are essential. As Lissack (1999:45) says, 'meanings are always multiple and ambiguous, and understanding must continually be struggled for and won anew.' Ariadne is a travelling companion on that journey.
Ideas from soft systems thinking where the emphasis is on human activity systems, when combined with the creation of alternate, ideal or provisional futures, means that Ariadne users have a set of 'tools' that, we hope, while never providing 'answers' may nevertheless assist in asking relevant questions.
The focus on a real life issue and the duration of the program are aimed at dealing with the fact that organisations find it increasingly difficult to find the time to explore longer-term futures. By scheduling the seminars over a few months, we deepen the learning opportunity as well as provide a structured process.
The size of the cohort is limited to 15 to maximise interaction and learning. The groups are a mix of people from industry, government, and community sectors, reflecting on the idea that the future is an intertwined space and as such, each sector has much to share with the others in terms of perspective, knowledge, and experience.
While participants are asked to bring along a current issue from their workplace to use it in the application of the concepts and methods taught on the course, they are also encouraged to speak with people from their own organisation throughout the program. This could include the establishment of a workplace project team led by the participant to transfer new skills.
Participants receive a range of relevant materials, e.g. a workbook, a reading list, a concept book.
The research methods were as follows:
The rest of this paper discusses the content of these interviews, followed by the presenters' reflections on what changes were made and what may still be need to be made or explored further.
We hope participants use their projects to focus their learning and transfer it to their teams. In addition, time is provided for group and personal reflection in the program's days. Triple loop learning is explained to participants. As Novellie & Taylor (1992:143) say: 'First order learning involves improving the efficiency of current practices. Second-order learning involves examining the congruence of values and objectives sought with the approach taken to accomplishing these objectives. Third-order learning involves improving the learning potential of the contexts within which the other two types of learning take place.' As Ariadne is a methodology it requires constant conscious design rather than a recipe approach so participants need to be acutely aware of not only methods but the logic of their practice, thus living the processes of what Toren (1993:113-114) calls generative learning which requires 'personal involvement, awareness of personal perceptions, assumptions and feelings, and awareness of the systemic connectedness.'
Participants commented on two aspects of this: the extent to which they worked on their projects and the use of the reflective journal.
In the early interviews, people were enthusiastic, saying the program was 'challenging.' One 'felt energised' and several were already speaking of 'confidence.' In the last interviews, more had practised the methods. They spoke of being 'more aware,' more relaxed with the unknown, 'processing differently,' and had 'changed the way I think.'
The homework comprised suggestions from the presenters each day on the kind of work that participants should consider carrying out to embed their learning. Only a small percentage of them turned up each time with homework done but those who did commented on the great value of doing it. At interviews there was general advice for the presenters to be more forceful with the homework: to 'put them on the spot more', 'force people to talk about it,' 'allocate time for people who had done it.' One suggests there be a 'carrot' for doing it, perhaps offer some additional coaching. One person was so enthusiastic about doing her homework that she suggested more reading recommendations be provided in addition to what is already an extensive bibliography.
At the beginning of the program a small notebook and coloured pens are given out. Time is provided for self-reflection on learning and other matters such as: What went well? What didn't? When were you out of your depth? What were you feeling? What were you thinking?
This is a vehicle for triple loop learning and self-awareness. In essence they are being introduced to the reflective practitioner concept. As Ariadne caters for multiple perspectives, regular writing or drawing in the journal enables exploration of the world's complexities.
In the early interviews, a few people indicated they were using the journal. One said they liked being told to pause and write at various times on the course. Others said they were using coloured pens and used it for 'anchoring.' At the end of the program there was still the same split between those using it and not. On the one hand, some found themselves being 'quite self-reflective' and liking to 'observe self' using the journal as an 'imagination jotter.' On the other hand, a few found it 'frustrating' and a 'struggle.'
Follow up conversations have revealed that the journal has become a regular tool for some participants in their ongoing learning.
Each time NTM has been run, the group has generated a unique dynamic very quickly. In early interviews, people said they appreciated the mix of the group, that the group was taking the program seriously, and it was a 'challenging' group. Later comments reinforced this more strongly, saying that they 'enjoy learning from each other,' there was an 'intellectual connection' and 'no competition.' One commented that the members of the group carried 'no judgement,' were 'respectful' and operated at 'different levels.'
NTM days offered a wide range of dialogic methods: whole group conversation; peer coaching; small group work; question sessions and interaction with visiting speakers and people who had already done the course. Small group work was appreciated and several said they wanted more because it provided 'different ways of thinking.'
An interesting idea was: 'each day devote 45 minutes to take that day's work and have group interaction on that day's learning.'
Early interviews provided some suggestions: use case studies from previous people; use a single case study and 'work it over'; grow and develop a case study; do a group 'project.' In later interviews, this was still an issue for participants. In addition to repeating earlier comments, there was greater emphasis on working through a topic for the duration of the program, perhaps select a 'hot and exciting topic, not the uni.'
Related to the case study topic is the use of examples. We have provided multiple examples throughout specifically to counteract the recipe notion mentioned earlier. Participants appreciated the variety but suggested they wanted more time to work through them in more detail. They liked the pairing off sessions where they could explore topics in more detail.
One of the core Ariadne capabilities is story telling and several participants said they appreciated hearing others' stories as well as wanting to hear more of others' reflections to help their own practice.
Dialogue: the various techniques associated with groups developing shared meaning were valued. Conversation was used both as a technique within the methodology and as a learning process within this program. Most participants valued this.
Environmental scanning and scenarios were remembered as useful techniques. They were seen as 'powerful' if a 'bit scarier.' Rich pictures were the most valued by some participants and probably the tool used most early and most often, calling them 'powerful.'
A technique called 'writing wild' (Goldberg 1991) was introduced as part of the learning journal practice and a creativity tool. Even those who did not use the journal regularly seemed to find the writing practice powerful. Some like it and wanted more of it during the program days.
Mention was made of the Questioning exercises where only questions were allowed in the group. Several participants said they applied this process 'right away.'
In relation to Ariadne, the methodology as a whole, one participant said there was 'some similarity with other approaches.' Others said it 'seems new,' is a 'new science', is 'exciting' because it 'lets people in.' One saw it as a 'naturalistic way of thinking' while another said their 'thinking was turned upside down - a good thing.' Yet another said that the 'approach prevents quick judgments.'
With the theory, there was equal diversity. Early on, they found the 'new language challenging'; it's 'very big,' 'huge.' By the later interviews it had become 'quite comfortable' and 'common sense.'
The base Ariadne diagram is the foundation of the methodology and participants found it to be 'great,' that the 'framework provides discipline.'
In early interviews a majority felt it was good to have them behind the presenters and the 'screen must be there.' One thought it was a 'bugbear' while one wanted less so it could reflect 'what people want to know.'
Later interviews showed different responses. The slides were 'ideal for pictures' and provided 'structure and reinforcement. Others found them disruptive and wanted more of a show rather than tell approach. One provided ideas that perhaps there should be an interactive website. In the last interviews, there was a general sense that the slides were not useful to go back to after the program. Perhaps a table of contents would assist, one suggested.
During the program other books and articles are referred to and other resources are handed out as examples, activities or project materials.
Participants took a great deal of interest in the books that presenters brought to interactive sessions and those formed basis of further conversation. They expressed gratitude for the depth of the bibliography - one participant asked for more!
Comments were made that setting some pre-reading could deepen their learning but this was not a common request.
Participants praised this tool the most, calling it 'useful' and 'valuable.' It contains questions to be asked of each phase and they found this 'very useful.' This is the document that is considered most useful for ongoing use after the program.
Some expressed deeper values: greater 'belief in self'; one had undergone a 'paradigm shift' and others were on a journey with 'confidence in tackling the future.' It had 'changed the way I think,' 'crystallised my thinking,' and 'improved my articulation.'
As Kuhn & Marsick (2005:45) say there are always limitations with these types of programs. Many things have to be right, they say: 'the competitive environment, organisational readiness, the sponsor, the projects, the partic ipant mix, the facilitators, the design team, the learning coaches, to name a few.' For one participant the program was 'magical' but she could not specify what generated that feeling.
In answering the research question - What helps participants in this program to achieve the learning outcomes? - there are multiple answers. For each participant different teaching and learning techniques worked, perhaps reflecting their learning styles. The materials, methods and other resources and the value placed on them by participants have been explored above.
The synchronicity, diversity of the group and the openness to new thinking evidenced in the participants' approach to the program have manifested in the creation of the Emergent Futures Group. At the end of the first program in 2005, several people said they wanted to keep meeting, that the time out, for one, was 'keeping me sane.' We were hopeful of creating a learning community but would not suggest it. The Group continues to meet every 8 weeks to share experiences and learn new methods from each other.
NTM continues to develop. Many ideas have been absorbed and we will continue to reflect on the teaching and learning experiences. It is a privilege to spend time with talented senior managers facing the complex challenges of their world.
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|Authors: Lynn Allen and Trudi Lang|
Curtin University of Technology and Oxford University
Email: Lynn.Allen@curtin.edu.au ; email@example.com
Please cite as: Allen, L. and Lang, T. (2009). Navigating the Maze: Teaching and learning an emergent futures methodology for strategic thinking. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/allen.html
Copyright 2009 Lynn Allen and Trudi Lang. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.