Pioneering a university degree for organizations
  • This post, written by our newest contributor James Taylor of the Community Development Resource Centre (CDRA), is more an invitation to action than a reflection-  an invitation to experiment with the way we learn and teach about social transformation in universities. 

    . . .


    “We cannot wait until we agree upon the truths of a new social theory to think and act as democratic experimentalists. We must find the ideas our efforts and commitments require…”  –Roberto Unger

    Transformation is not about putting new people into old forms of organisation that use power in ways that extract, concentrate, enrich, impoverish, and exclude. Transformation, in the organisational sense, is about creative people with different ways of thinking and relating, creating between them new social forms shaped by the challenges and opportunities of their time.

    In the evolutionary cycles of living organisation, we experience moments when the old forms simply no longer meet the ever-evolving needs of the system as a whole and new forms begin to emerge. Now is such a time. The old “default” internalised ways of organising that shape society are not only incapable of addressing today’s challenges, but are increasingly the source of the problem.

    In response to the current crisis in organisation, we are proposing an initiative to identify, connect, and support the learning of organisations that are intentionally experimenting with their own transformation. We are seeking groups of individuals that are not only effective in delivering on their common purpose, but are living examples of the kind of world they would choose to live in. This initiative seeks to support and celebrate the positive contribution to society of those who are not waiting for others to change their world, but are getting on with it.

    We envision creating an entirely new genre of university course, one that recognizes organisations as organisms that learn and as vital sources of innovation. The course will support organisations in making their learning more conscious, systematic and informed and help them draw on the crisis of sustainability present in human and ecological systems as a creative source. We will distil the learning and experience that emerges in order to further shape the course and  help to grow a wider community of innovative and mutually supportive ‘organisations in transformation.

    The radical element of the course is that it will recognize the organisation as the learning unit and award recognition for learning achieved to the organisation as a whole. The learning course will be experience-based, driven by the learning needs of participating organisations, not  by a predetermined course syllabus. And it will take the form of supported learning and sharing, as opposed to teaching or training. Our hope is that the course will spark a larger movement of support for organisational innovation and experimentation, helping to counterbalance the current bias towards clever individual-driven solutions and creations.

    We are looking to collaborate with innovators connected to a university who could add their thinking to shaping and ultimately hosting or co-hosting the course. CDRA and I both bring to the table our experience of accompanying organisations through their phases and crises of development over the past 30 years.

    We are also looking for an initial cohort of organisations who are serious about being creative in experimenting with their own transformation, and prepared to have fun while doing it. This pioneering group, and their particular set of needs, will help shape process and build the programme.

    This idea is in the seedling stage. So if it sparks any thoughts, questions, words of encouragement, or ideas of people or institutions we might want to connect to, please share them in the comment section below. Or if you prefer, you can drop me an email at james(at)

    June 6th, 2017 | James Taylor | 2 Comments

About The Author


Click here to learn more about me.

2 Responses and Counting...

  • biren 06.06.2017

    very heartwarming. and heart expansive. and energising.

    and this is one thing that came from that space… sharing it as a quest-ion to be explored rather than answered.

    looking at the FORM of this work as ‘a university course’, makes the work fall in the trap which we want expose and avoid – AS our work:
    Transformation is not about putting new people into old forms of organisation.

    university course is the ‘old form’ we need to change or evaporate INSIDE us (rather than challenge).
    what new form is more suited to the new way of seeing-being.

    i say this because, a part of the problem is in tbe way we see and do learning; and ‘universities’ (as we see them as a collective unconscious) have become place holders that house and hide, that ‘wrong way of seeing’.

    if i don’t make sense… i would be glad to try and express this in a different way.

  • You make good sense to me. The universities as we know and think of them, or those within them that I have spoken to so far, show little interest. Everyone is very busy with their own initiatives designed to push the boundaries in ways valued and credited by the institutions. This notion of promoting and valuing collaborative/collective learning is understandably, for now, not being pounced upon as an exciting opportunity.

    The idea/quest-ion is shared at a time when universities are being fundamentally questioned. In South Africa (and I believe elsewhere) growing demands are being made for universities to be “de-colonised”. Can we think of or imagine other forms of valuing, sharing, supporting and using the learning of groups of people looking for new forms of organisation? As you point out this must be an important part of the quest.

    I am more committed than ever to the quest. This week I met a small group of community members who have designed a research tool to measure the quality of services being provided through health clinics. They have not been able to get permission to conduct their research so they do it “underground”. They are thorough and committed researchers regularly collecting and processing vital data. Their findings are revealing patterns that could be of immense value to improving the system. They do this out of a commitment to a better future for their communities. They have no study grant, no scholarship, no income from it, they are lucky to scrape together enough for transport money to get to the clinics they monitor. They have no prospect of being recognised or compensated by society for the valuable work they do.

    Are there any universities out there serious about supporting and learning from those most in need? Or do we need to start afresh?

Leave a Reply





* Name, Email, and Comment are Required

kurumsal reklam