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Archive for July, 2010

Sustainability in HE

A concept that has been slowly gaining momentum over a period of more than 35 years, is Sustainability.  Currently we reside in United Nation’s 2002, Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2015), but what can I say that about Sustainability that has not already been said?

 

Vierderman, an educator in Sustainability paints what he calls an “unexceptional personal vision” for a world embracing Sustainability.  A peaceful, clean world where the environment does not harm the health of its inhabitants; where communities benefit and learn from their multi- ethnicity, multi- religiosity, age, class and other forms of diversity; where people live and enjoy their work with autonomy, benefits, and pay-equity; and where nations treat each other and their citizens with justice, fairness, and equity where power is used to enrich people. (2006, P19)  The italicized ‘people live’ is, however, underpinned I think by such a dominant paradigm of capitalism, globalization, materialism, and consumerism that it makes the tackling implementation as especially difficult, and no less so for businesses.

 

The goals for sustainability more often than not collide making the win-win-win virtually impossible. I was recently in a Malaysian Jungle asking myself just how does one balance effectively the need for tourism and the positive effect on some people’s jobs; with the damage this might be doing to the environment and the investment brought to it; with what seemed to me negative effect of the local Malaysians not seeing the benefits of this wealth going to only a few; and as one company had constructed something like 600 villas on the outskirts of the jungle, I also questioned what about with the animals and flora – who is looking out for their interests?

 

Simply stated, the full meaning of Sustainability is looking deeply into the balances between economic, environmental and social aspects of life, and frankly it might be just too much to handle and too sensitive for business’s to say “the way we are operating is not sustainable”, “production – please wind things back a bit”, or “Marketing – please convince the consumer only to buy the product if they really need it”.  When we consider the difficulty, business can be viewed as an actual barrier to achieving Sustainability (Crane and Matten, 2007; Springett, 2005). and many argue that the 1987 Brutland Report diluted the Sustainability agenda to a Sustainable Development agenda to such an extent that it is simply a ruse, a hijack, and a strategy to maintain the hegemony (Springett, 2005, Springett, 2005a; Egan et. al, 2006; ).   Where the economic agenda (the business case) dominates the environmental agenda which in turn dominates the social agenda.

 

This might be so, but in pragmatic terms, we live with this reality – do we really want some kind of revolution that leaves us all without jobs, without food on the table, without security?  Oh boy – then watch the social and environmental concerns get further pushed down the agenda as stability and politics shift higher.  One of my colleagues said “Sustainability is a journey not a destination”, and I believe that while governments, civil social organizations, and us as individuals can do much more – I believe optimistically that we are overall going on the right track, and we can do better!

 

For me, one area to varying degrees around the world we are failing is in organizations’ social responsibility to their employees.   I don’t mean at the extreme end of the scale i.e. forced labour, child labour, or lack of environmental health and safety systems etc. as that is pretty well monitored, but instead in the more mainstream areas of how organizations treat their staff.  Even the name, Human Resources tends to paint people as something that they can use, abuse and through away.  Through market forces, organizational politics, down-sizing, and out-sourcing are examples where organizations are treating people like they are a plastic component, machine, a building or commodity from the earth.  How did we let this happen?  People I know in many cases feel that they cannot voice their opinions openly, cannot challenge the status quo without the fear of a warning, or worse still losing their jobs for going against the dominant forces.  Perhaps Foucault was not far wrong where he describes the planet like a prison, it kind of feels that way sometimes.

 

What I would ask a company trying to innovate that wants to be the best in class, to tackle the challenges of our time while contributing towards sustainability.  It is – how can you realistically do this while their corporate values and culture remain such a formidable barrier.  We have all seen companies run leadership seminars and prepare value statements only to put them up on a wall and not live them!  Please, c-level managers – by coaching people to be the best they can be, by focusing attention on the real value to society,  and living the principles of Sustainability is the honourable way, perhaps the only way that your business will be here in 50 years…. So, maybe it is too hard to take these issues head on with business as individuals, but one form to help slowly break down the hegemony might be through Higher Education (Springett, 2005, Forrant and Silka, 2006), through educating our future leaders.

 

In my research proposal (0.4) I wrote that this subject was not in my own core text on the MBA at SBS, and I see that the Green League table supports my n=1 experience by not awarding neither a first, second or third class award to Strathclyde.  They have been ranked 121 out of 131 UK Universities ending up in the failed award category.  (This league table is created by http://peopleandplanet.org/ a student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment.)  I have not yet checked into their credibility, nevertheless, this probably will give the David Livingston Centre for Sustainability at Strathclyde a boost to tackle the barriers in higher education towards sustainability.  Here are some of the barriers and my solutions as I currently see them:

 

1. Universities are entrenched in the positivist/liberal pluralist tradition of the sciences where they are better suited for creating the bodies of knowledge of the ‘parts’ through the studying of the various disciplines e.g. engineering, law, business, arts, social; when Sustainability is actually about the ‘whole’ (Vierderman 2006).

 

For my own research this fact that no sizeable body of knowledge exists for Sustainability is why experimental learning innovations (coaching & Web 2.0) can be applied.  The part verses the whole can be tackled by bringing in students into the virtual classroom in a cross-disciplined and global manner i.e. engineering; computer science; philosophy; political science; social sciences; and business; from all over the world.

 

2. For many sciences, the fact that they have been objective and value free has always been one of the marks of academic knowledge, yet when we look at Sustainability closely it is totally value laden (Egan et. al, 2006).  Instead of shying away from the conversation altogether do we need to bring these values discussion out on the table – and most importantly put out there the mission we are heading upon?

 

The dialectic/coaching approach to my research is all about the values discussion, but will not only hang on this conversation; it is intended through service based learning that students will be expected to implement their solutions.  Of course, there will be the feeling that business students particularly will be biting the hand that feeds them, but working through this reality, the emancipation, agency, politics and dealing with trade-offs will be part of the benefit of the learning elective.

 

3. The direction of higher education graduate student pedagogy has moved from individual learning to group learning, from the individually competitive to group/social collaboration.  This in itself is regarded as beneficial, but can it still go further?  My experience was that each semester classes and groups come together to learn, research, write papers, and do exams.  The issue for me here is why do they always start at zero?

 

This approach is unsustainable and wasteful (Lowry and Flohr, 2006), hence my idea to use Wiki Web 2.0 technology to re-use and re-cycle ideas from one semester to the next, so that we are not re-creating the wheel, but creating a body of knowledge that can be used across all disciplines.

 

So at the heart of this research is my thesis that using experimental technology (Coaching/Web 2.0) for learning we can change values of students, which leads on to previous research that along with experiential learning we can change behaviour, which ultimately proves a new model that Higher Education can help society move forward on our journey towards sustainable business practices.  Over the next little while I will be investigating what values and values theories underpin Sustainability, and what constitutes a value shift.

 

So when all was said, did I add anything new to the Sustainability conversation?  Probably not, but what do you think?  I would love to hear from you.

 

References for this Blog:

 

Crane, A. & Matten, D., (2007). Business Ethics Second., Oxford University Press.

 

Egan, D., Gray, V., Kaufman, W., Montrie, C., (2006). ‘The Role of Humanities and Social Sciences in Education for Sustainable Development’, in Forrant, R., and Silka, L., Eds Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development, Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.

 

Lowry, L., and Flohr, J., (2006). ‘Strategies Used to Embed Concepts of Sustainable Development in the Curriculum’, in Forrant, R., and Silka, L., Eds Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development, Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.

 

Springett, D., (2005). ‘Education for sustainability’ in the business studies curriculum: a call for a critical agenda. Business Strategy and the Environment, 14(3), 146-159. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/bse.447.

 

Springett, D., (2005a). ‘Structural limits to sustainable development: managers and progressive agency’ International Journal Innovation and Sustainable Development, Vol 1. Nos ½, pp. 127-152

 

Vierderman, S., (2006). ‘Can Universities Contribute to Sustainable Development?’, in Forrant, R., and Silka, L., Eds Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development, Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.

 

 

 

 

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Collaboration

It has been a great week.  After returning from graduation with clearer thinking around my proposal, my major insight this week is that this research will only be possible with global collaboration.

 

This starts in the USA and my using collaborative technology.  Dr Michael Dobe Snr, from Lamer University, Boston kindly accepted my request to get his advice on all thing technology for this project.   We worked together previously at UAEU on an ERP programme and his knowledge and enthusiasm for Web 2.0 is pellucid!

 

Such research into MBA Pedagogy will not be possible without the backing of the Strathclyde Business School, and I received some contacts from Ron Bradfield in the UAE, and subsequently a wonderful response from the Head of the Department of Management, in Scotland, supporting the creation of a Sustainability Elective.

 

During the week, after falsely considering that my research idea was unique, I found that there have been some already very successful introductions of Sustainability programmes into business schools around the world.  The one that stuck home the hardest was from the amazing research completed from my homeland at Massy University in New Zealand, and Dr Delyse Springett.  Although, now in retirement, I hope she will consider supporting this research…. watch this space.

 

Then a timely article from Dr Catherine Demangeot, one of my research advisors, on what constitutes as a contribution to knowledge…So, I’ll wrap this excellent week up by sharing a couple of paragraphs from my research proposal 0.4 direction.

 

Issue Relation

The foci of this research is summarized in Figure above.  Essentially it aligns itself towards where these converging influences and issues identified in this proposal overlap.

 

The call for business schools to deliver a better MBA graduate is related to the call from society as a whole for Business to embrace sustainability principles and ethics, that not only look at profit and their immediate stakeholders, but also look at longer term generational sustainability issues like equity, culture and the environment.  Under the guise of various innovative programmes around the world progress has been made in these areas, however, the dominant economic paradigm inhibits real momentum.

 

Action research and action learning approach to be adopted has been tried in innovative MBA classes around the world with positive results, however, little has be directly written about in the teaching of sustainability using the coaching model.  As indicated previously, perhaps this is due to the limitations on scale, or perhaps the threat to dominant higher education teaching paradigms e.g. lectures, but there has been research using dialectic methods with success (Springett, 2005).

 

Herein lies where I see the opportunity to tackle the limitations of scalability of the coaching pedagogy along with new Web 2.0 technologies such as immersive worlds and wikis, blogs etc.  I believe that this research will add significant value to the SBS MBA in the form of a newly designed elective course, it will test group coaching inside an immersive world and bring emphasis to Sustainability Practices with students using wiki’s and action research to bring about demonstrable change back in their organisations.

 

Springett, D., (2005), ‘Education for sustainability’ in the business studies curriculum: a call for a critical agenda. Business Strategy and the Environment, 14(3), 146-159. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/bse.447.

 

One final comment, during the MBA I had always been drawn to individual work and learning, but it is times like these I now see that when converging ideas, concepts and research comes together in a unique way – collaboration is key!

 

The full DRAFT (around 75% complete!) Proposal can be downloaded from the below link.  Your comments are most welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why four years?

Last evening after scanning only a few chapters of Phillips and Pugh (2000) book on ‘How to get a PhD’, I stumbled across some new ideas about doctorate level studies that I had not picked up before.

Firstly, I liked their description of the differing roles between students, supervisors and universities – and how conflicts can arise depending on differing interests.  It makes it clear for me:  I desire not be someone’s research assistant, but will look for supervision (Dr Catherine and Dr Shankar) that inspires me, that allows me to work in the areas I want to but in a way that will challenge and stretch me at the same time!

 

Secondly, and more importantly, my thinking has always been to earn my degree there is “the need to make a significant and unique contribution to knowledge”, but I was confused at why it needs four years, why can’t I do it in two?  Phillips and Pugh describe what the degree levels represent: a bachelor degree is regarded as general education, a masters degree is regarded as a license to practice, and the doctorate degree is regarded as a license to teach.  Perhaps this is obvious, but to gain this license to teach there is a price to pay – but the question still remains why 4 years?

 

The answer lies not in the end i.e. “new knowledge” but in the means by which one attains new knowledge and how one can defend it.  In other words, it takes four years to develop the deep researching and writing skills to get your license!  One might find new knowledge in the first year but have a hell of a time to establish credibility for it!  This is a major shift in thinking for me and I can now see why we even have this concept of the doctorate defense.

 

In one sense, it is about proving the quality of the outcome/output (thesis), but n another sense it is about do you make the grade as an academic researcher to gain your license to teach – have you paid the price to win the prize?  The price of entry into a new club – 4+ years of hard work!!

 

The impact of this insight has had an immediate effect.  For one thing, I can see the delicate nature of securing “new knowledge” is in part a matter of timing i.e. there is no point getting worried about it now.  In any research area there will be numerous insights and additions to knowledge during the four years that can change the direction of research, make a research direction redundant, or prove it right before one ever gets a chance to publish.

 

So there is now a need to settle down and begin the journey of learning to research, to try to align this to my research area, make insights along the way, and develop a new sensitivity for new knowledge possibilities.  Pleasingly, I have answered my own question recently posted on Andy Coverdale’s Blog – “why use Web 2.0 and collaboration tools and put it all out there on the web for others to steel your contribution?”  The answer is clear now i.e. the benefits from collaboration are higher than the costs of not collaborating, and the contribution to knowledge will be the accumulation of many years of hard work, and may come in the home stretch, and not to get hung up on right now.

 

Thank you Philips and Pugh – I get it now!

 

Philips, E., Pugh, D., (2000), How to Get a PhD, Emerald Publishing.

Categories: Uncategorized

MBA Done

Well I was nervous and excited as I walked from my Bath Street apartment up to the edge of the University of Strathclyde, eagerly anticipating being overcome with emotion from the magic of academic history.  I remember very well how I felt as a tourist in Oxford and Cambridge, but this time I had put in the had work myself and I would be collecting my MBA.

 

Unfortunately, my expectations were a little high.  Not unlike Glasgow’s style overall, the campus had an industry and unacademic feel to it.  Was I disappointed?  Well, perhaps only for a second, but it soon dawned on me that the real inspiration for my research really came from within me and was not dependent on some external source.  I smiled.  Doing all the hard work from afar in Abu Dhabi now in fact feels just the right place to be doing my research!

 

During the past two days I only scratched the surface exploring the university including the business school, engineering, library, and the student union.  It is quite a maze not only in terms of its buildings and campus, but so too in what seems to me to be an operation in silos, with separate areas without much knowledge of each other.  So just like in government and the private sector, Sustainability brings a cross functional perspective to education and much promise towards developing robust policies and new strategic directions.

 

Today I tried to cross some divides and I had most productive introductions to an expert in education/collaboration using Web 2.0, and I met the leaders within the university’s David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability.  Everyone has been really supportive of my research direction and are offering their help.

 

Like anytime our mind has to develop new maps there is always those feelings of uncertainty.  I’ll admit I still feel somewhat unsure of how to work the system to ensure that real demonstrative progress is made in the coming months, but with time I am confident it will be done – and I look forward to it.

 

Sustainability practices and educating the next generation manager to look at business in a new holistic, environmental, social and economic perspective is simply – just too important to society to let my small insecurities get in the way of progress.  Simply stated, this is something much much bigger than myself.

Categories: Uncategorized

Inspiration

Well I was nervous and excited as I walked from my Bath Street apartment up to the edge of the University of Strathclyde, eagerly anticipating being overcome with emotion from the magic of academic history.  I remember very well how I felt as a tourist in Oxford and Cambridge, but this time I had put in the had work myself and I would be collecting my MBA.

 

Unfortunately, my expectations were a little high.  Not unlike Glasgow’s style overall, the campus had an industry and unacademic feel to it.  Was I disappointed?  Well, perhaps only for a second, but it soon dawned on me that the real inspiration for my research really came from within me and was not dependent on some external source.  I smiled.  Doing all the hard work from afar in Abu Dhabi now in fact feels just the right place to be doing my research!

 

During the past two days I only scratched the surface exploring the university including the business school, engineering, library, and the student union.  It is quite a maze not only in terms of its buildings and campus, but so too in what seems to me to be an operation in silos, with separate areas without much knowledge of each other.  So just like in government and the private sector, Sustainability brings a cross functional perspective to education and much promise towards developing robust policies and new strategic directions.

 

Today I tried to cross some divides and I had most productive introductions to an expert in education/collaboration using Web 2.0, and I met the leaders within the university’s David Livingstone Centre for Sustainability.  Everyone has been really supportive of my research direction and are offering their help.

 

Like anytime our mind has to develop new maps there is always those feelings of uncertainty.  I’ll admit I still feel somewhat unsure of how to work the system to ensure that real demonstrative progress is made in the coming months, but with time I am confident it will be done – and I look forward to it.

 

Sustainability practices and educating the next generation manager to look at business in a new holistic, environmental, social and economic perspective is simply – just too important to society to let my small insecurities get in the way of progress.  Simply stated, this is something much much bigger than myself.

New draft proposal

One of the more wonderful parts of research must be just how many different ways one can look at the same subject i.e. through different lenses if you wish, however, this process of reading, thinking, “insight”, and writing – at some point must become something more concrete.  For me that is the doctorate research proposal.

 

I worked very hard on the first version of the presentation to make a good impression, only to find the mixtures of lenses and language was quite confusing to my advisors.  Hopefully, my latest version of the same proposal resolves some of this criticism.  Last evening I looked carefully at the original version, and frankly in only a month how things have changed.  Is this normal?  Does this settle down?  Shifts of this magnitude seem awfully inefficient!

 

Click on the link for presentation 1.0 (8 June): DR 1.0.pdf

Click on the link for presentation 2.0 (7 July): DR 2.0.pdf

 

Since the original presentation I have moved away from using coaching for some loose transformational or personal change for MBA graduates that will save the day for the MBA!  Towards using coaching and Web 2.0 in a MBA elective as vehicles for focusing on value shifts and changes to the quality of thinking (undecided which!) towards Sustainable Business Practices.

 

While Sustainable Development is a large and fashionable topic in today’s society, I can’t help think that the possibility exists that academics and many in the private sector are operating from a tired epistemology, one viewing only limited number of direct stakeholders and narrowly focused performance measures.  Is there now the need to move from the “balanced scorecard” paradigm to the triple bottom line paradigm i.e. measures equally social, environmental and economic impacts?  This is an interesting question that deserves attention and herein will form the content side of the MBA elective.

 

The other new addition is bringing more Web 2.0 experimental learning into the programme, and one part I am quietly excited about using.  I believe it will increase the sexiness of the course, enable global participation from various SBS centres, and offer varied opportunities for students to learn and contribute to knowledge through blogs, wikis, social networking and immersive worlds.

 

Comments or questions on the new proposal direction are most welcome.

Categories: Uncategorized

Not thinking…

It seems the David Rock’s view of insights might be spot on! (see http://www.davidrock.net/2009/05/my-new-book-your-brain-at-work-now_18.html).  It is certainly how I would describe how I came to a new level of clarity and approach to my research while on vacation.  I had stopped reading and thinking consciously about doctorate research while I enjoyed some free time.  After a nap one evening I awoke to a strong desire to open my laptop and store what would come from a burst of enthusiasm!!  I cannot be sure if this is the final blend direction wise, nevertheless, one reason for my blog is to track these types of shifts in my thinking.  Here follows are the results of my insights.

Firstly, I came up with a refined research question:

“Can coaching managers in immersive worlds lead to value shifts towards sustainable business practices?”

I have left the ‘in immersive worlds’ in italics as this vehicle will be a choice based on the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.

Secondly, I began to write some further simple questions that will need to be answered over the coming two months that perhaps could be developed as discrete literature review papers.

1. What do immersive worlds offer and what are their limitations?

2. What are sustainable business practices?

3. What values underpin sustainable business practices?

4. What type of coaching will be effective and scalable, 1:1, peer or group coaching?

5. What are values and value shifts?

6. What would the design of a MBA course entail?

In the same session, come further insights to potential outcomes of the research including: a new elective course delivered to MBA students, and to be later offered to non students; perhaps a new coaching model within immersive worlds and clarification on Sustainability Values and Practices.  All of which seem significant to me, however, is the focus still to wide?

My intention remains strong to use research methodology such as action research, qualitative interviewing, and the use of Web 2.0, immersive worlds and wiki’s.  I too had thoughts about who would be interested in sponsoring research such as the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group, Strathclyde University Business School and immersive world Sustainability groups.

Finally, planning of what phases and in what order will the research be completed also came to the surface!

Phase:

I. Literature Review, coaching certification, obtain sponsorship, initial surveys on sustainability, and methodology research (1 Year)

II. More Literature Review, design of course content and action research Iterations (2 Years)

III. Findings and discussion against Literature (6 Months)

IV. Thesis & defense (1 Year)

Might be time to get some feedback now, nevertheless what is important here is that stepping back, letting the brain quietly work on its maps, and doing something completely different did in fact reflect Rock’s view amongst other neuroscience researchers who say sometimes the prefrontal cortex actually gets in your way!

Try it sometime – those ideas one gets in the shower or the middle of the night just might be where our real insights come from and should not be ignored!