Towns and schools in transition

October 15, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

The world cannot be changed with a single grandiose epiphany. A one-size-fits-all solution would be dangerous and highly prone to failure. Rather, we propose a process of engagement which provides participants with the freedom and flexibility to begin where their organization is currently placed, leaving open how they wish to implement concrete actions. Actors in management education will undoubtedly choose different paths and produce variable approaches that depend heavily on their missions, strategies, and circumstances.

A useful starting point to implement change is to examine an institution as it exists today and bring together the people involved, including students, academics, administrators, business people, NGOs and government representatives. Together, such a group can explore how to turn the vision into action. The process may produce a number of outcomes, such as momentum to change the institution, to combine with others to change the system, or individual actions.

Many parts of society interact with the field of management education in more than one way:

  • Governments may fund, license and accredit, utilize the knowledge created and send their employees to training courses.
  • Large corporations may sponsor, endow, pay for student bursaries, buy executive education, recruit graduates, fund research, hire consultants or sell goods and services to institutes of management education.
  • Students and their parents or friends may select a university or program, voice their demand for certain courses or competences.
  • Accreditation bodies decide on which criteria and standards schools are measured and evaluated, media organizations report on the industry and issue annual ratings and rankings based on criteria of their choice.
  • Policy makers, influencers across social media, alumni, donors and investors can choose which of the players they are supporting.

From Transition Town to transition business schools

There are various different approaches and solutions for each group of stakeholders. Depending on the region, each player within a stakeholder group will identify different solutions that are appropriate and adequate locally or regionally. We hold no assumptions of knowing what is right for others and therefore prefer to suggest a process, rather than solutions that may at best come across presumptuous or naïve, or both. Rather, we propose a process of engagement that allows each stakeholder to start at the exact point where his organization is right now, leaving it open just how far a stakeholder wants to go in testing options and implementing concrete actions.

The Transition Town process offers an excellent example of how a wide range of members of a community can engage in a change process that would be too complex for any single one player or organization. The goal of the Transition Town movement is to mobilize communities, town and cities to transition towards a low carbon future. The movement quickly realized that the key to success is less in providing endless lists of detailed recommendations but to develop and provide a method that enables anyone to initiate such a change in his community. We cannot overemphasize our goal to ignite the desire of anybody in the large community touched by business and management education to self create and act on turning this vision into action at all levels: personal, institutional and systemic.

We would like to find a way to bring together people who are willing and able to engage in these different levels in order to co-create a different future together. The Transition Town movement supplies a simple, yet powerful process of engagement which includes five stages:

  1. Starting out: take initiative by moving from idea to action
  2. Deepening: Initiative gains momentum as practical projects emerge
  3. Connecting: Initiatives are linked to other role players and elements thus infusing systems-wide awareness
  4. Building: Initiatives and projects act and think much bigger. Projects become full-on enterprises.
  5. Daring to dream: Taking transition thinking and action to the next level – industry, nation, globe.

The key learning from this process is its pragmatic perspective on the creation aspect, providing an advanced framework to the old “forming, storming, norming, conforming, performing” paradigm of teams that may work well in an institutional framework but have clear limitations in a setting that builds on voluntary engagement. Pentland at MIT provides ground-breaking insights into how patterns of communication predict the success of teams, demystifying the chemistry of high-performing groups and opening new perspectives on how to collaborate effectively.

We need to be careful not to get wrapped up in “bolt on” solutions that serve as quick fixes in the current system; instead, we need to focus on the deep change needed to ensure that the change is “built in”. We need deep change rather than a superficial increase in a number of seemingly related activities. We anticipate that creating built-in solutions might be as challenging for our stakeholders as they are for us as players in the field. We suggest a process of engagement whereby we as players join forces with our extended stakeholders in order for all of us to become members in a community of co-learners in an adventure of a road less traveled.

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