Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Learning Organisations

There’s an account of an excellent interview with Peter Senge [1] on the RSA [2] website, in which he explores how the concept of a ‘learning organisation’ can be applied to the activities of governments and the public sector. 

One of the things that Senge says is that intolerance of people making mistakes is a major problem for the public sector. On the contrary, argues Senge, public sector organisations need to create the conditions in which it is safe for their people to learn from mistakes.

And he uses the expression “successive approximation” to describe how organisations should slowly progress and learn. This expression has its origins in engineering – it involves people throughout the organisation designing, prototyping, redesigning, re-prototyping and building, evaluating, redesigning etc. etc. Senge says it is a ‘hard philosophy’.

If you work as a practitioner or as a manager in children’s social care in Britain, I think you can quickly give your organisation a ‘health check’ by asking how nearly it approximates to the ideal that Senge is talking about. Does your organisation create conditions in which it is safe for people to learn from their mistakes, or are people afraid of discussing their errors? Do improvements happen through trial and error (‘successive approximation’) or are changes devised by small groups of experts and imposed from above?

Answers please to 

I bet I know what most people would say, and it wouldn’t be good.

[1] Peter Senge is a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He is famous as the author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation 

[2] Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce