Integral Post-Analysis of Design-Based Research of an Organizational Learning Process for Strategic Renewal of Environmental Management

Integral Post-Analysis of Design-Based Research of an Organizational Learning Process for Strategic Renewal of Environmental Management

A. Faye Bres (University of Calgary, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5873-6.ch017
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This chapter is based on a design-based research study of organizational learning and on a subsequent integral analysis of how and why organizational learning did, and did not, occur in the study. Integral theory is applied to deepen the understanding of how human organizations learn and adapt as complex adaptive systems made up of nested, operationally closed groups and individuals. The level of development and learning potential of an organization, as holon, can be understood as an emergent property resulting from the coordination of function and action of the unities that make up the system, even given that the levels of development and learning potentials of the groups and individuals in an organization are not consistent across the organization. The advantages of combining complexity and integral theory are explored, as both are understood to provide different, complementary interpretations of whole human systems.
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Theoretical Framework

Before proceeding to a description of the design and methods of the study, an introduction to the Complexity theoretical framework is provided, along with an brief explanation of the gaps in the theory that could be addressed by applying Integral Theory as a secondary lens.

In the study presented, Complexity Theory was selected with the expectation that it could provide framework for modeling and interpretation of an organization as a learning system: a complex collective human organization undergoing adaptation, development or learning.

Morin (1992) points out that in studying complexity, the focus is not on creating a general theory that covers everything from atoms to stars and cells to societies. It is rather to consider such phenomena in a richer way, “in the light of the complexity of system and organization” (p. 42). Complex systems of all types share the quality of “self-organization”; it is through their functioning as a complex system that they adapt and change over time in a form of co-evolution with dynamic changes in the environments in which they exist. As Morin explains, order is achieved through an act of ordering. Complexity research looks not at order, but at the process or act of ordering, at organization. And “organization is not an institution, but a continually generative and regenerative activity” (Morin, 1992, p. 43). Through their dynamic internal functions and the interactions of their many diverse parts, complex systems all exhibit the characteristic of self-organization. Rather than dissecting and analyzing the ordered structure of the system, complexity gives a researcher the opportunity to see how an organization functions on a macro level, and then focus in on aspects of the system that are of special interest.

Every complex system is unique, and it is in its unique composition and the interactions of its parts that coherence is generated. This quality of uniqueness makes it both challenging to study such systems, and at the same time provides a structure to research that includes a special key: though each system is entirely unique, they all exhibit similar properties. These properties are key to unlocking mysteries of all complex systems. The system makes its own sense. Though it may hold infinite mysteries in its expression, there are things you can be sure you will find in any complex system that are like the fundamental laws of physics.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Unity: A bounded, whole entity that performs a distinct function within a system. A unity defines itself as separate from and coupled with its environment.

Emergence: A feature in a complex system that is generated through the dynamic interactions between the parts of a system at one level, and is realized at the next level of organization without intentionality or causality. For example: evasive maneuvers of a school of fish are generated through the actions of individuals, who are unaware of how their own actions contribute to the action of the school.

Nesting: A structural feature of complex systems, where the system is made of parts that are made of parts, in a hierarchical organization.

Organizational learning: Traditionally defined as the process of creating and transferring knowledge within an organization. In this study, Organizational learning is equated with system adaptation. As an organization experiences and responds to environmental change, structural modifications may occur at different levels in the organization, including changes in understanding of individuals and groups, and structural changes in organizational processes.

Structure: A stable ordered pattern generated by complex system as it fulfills its function. In an organization, structures include such things policies, processes, or procedures, or patterns of communication and interaction. Structures may be formal or informal. Structures also include physical entities such as buildings and roads.

Adaptive Capacity: The ability or potential of an organization to respond successfully to changes in its environment. The ability to adapt is a feature of complex systems, associated with its ability to maintain coherence in changing conditions.

Operational Closure: A boundary characteristic of a unity as it functions, executing its operations in a system as determined by its own structure and organization (i.e., without external or environmental control).

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