Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Personal Jottings on Unreasonable Learners at Holyrood 21st November 2011

These are personal jottings, rather than anything resembling notes of the meeting.
Firstly, its existence is welcome. I have been to meetings of this general type, so it seems there is a range of folk in Scotland trying to manage its emergent properties in a productive and worthwhile direction. It was a delight to meet a variety of systems thinkers with different backgrounds and interests but a shared interest in our future. Jim Mather did a great job of organising us, and it is a good sign to have such a senior person getting involved (and using his own software).
The line that policy makers should stop being architects and start being gardeners found resonance. From  my limited experience, that is a 'big ask'. We certainly need to expose policy makers and influencers to systems thinking, and not to restrict it to Vanguard's proprietary approach.

There were some false notes struck on the conditions for change, including unnecessary requirements for pervasive change, and for synchronous change. The use of attractors and safe-fail experiments set out by the Cognitive Edge community are much more tractable. With no disrespect to the meeting, there is also a massive need for facilitator training. Perhaps I have been spoiled working with the folk at Argenta-Europ, but good facilitator training would have huge returns if the participative emergence of a new Scotland isto proceed apace.

Explaining systems thinking is not easy and Gordon Hall gave a clear view on systems thinking for the context of the day. I will swipe his zapping of imaginal cells to keep caterpillars from turning into butterflies. Hopefully our clumping will reach critical mass. Minor nitpick; his selection of management theorists was good, but it would be nice if we could build on Tom Burns' legacy. There good points for action in the talk. Perhaps we need to spell these out more.

Guy Standing was excellent, and had a compelling narrative of our situation. 'Precariat' entered everyone's vocabulary. For an economist, he was remarkably good. I had the privilege to learn from Marie Jahoda, and we could learn from her legacy on positive mental health and the role of work (developed during the last depression) to improve our idea of where we want to go, rather than what we want to avoid. There is work on these lines in Scotland, though I don't know the folk. Some links on positive psychology here, here and here. Incidentally, the aim from GovCamp Scotland was 'an empowered society', which I like very much indeed (despite normally hating empowerment as a word).

The self-image that seemed to be valued was that of a Second Enlightenment. Values came out as important; perhaps we can find a way of using all the Immortal Memories next January as a catalyst. 'Follow the money' as a disruptor didn't seem to get much attention; much of the discussion on schools was very mild compared to say Ivan Illich  of 40 years ago.  Perhaps a series of "If xxx were teachers, they might ..." sessions e.g. geeks really would not understand why primary school language learning is not 1-to-1 over the web with children in other countries while doing something together (perhaps Rangers fans and Barca fans could teach each other's languages?).  xxx = social workers would yield different results, of course. Changing the language of benchmarks and metrics to 'feedback' might be helpful.

This isn't the place for a review of all the changes hitting education (Khan Academy etc.) but the Hive program looks interesting and it had a pop-up in London recently.

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