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.
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“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)cdra.org.za.