Monday, 10 February 2014

New paper - 'Organizations in the making: Learning and intervening at the science-policy interface'

By Helen

I am very excited to announce that my first official publication from my PhD has appeared online, in Progress in Human Geography. Entitled 'Organizations in the making: Learning and intervening at the science-policy interface', it is a review paper which synthesises insights from my early literature reviews on organisational learning and reflexivity. It's been a long process (almost 18 months) between initial submission and publication, during which my supervisor and I have refined and streamlined the argument of the paper a lot, hopefully making it more relevant and interesting to geographers with diverse interests. I'll offer a short summary of the paper below and try to outline where I think it can contribute to the current debate. If you don't have access to the journal and would be interested to read my paper then do get in touch.

The central argument of our paper is that organisations are not stable, bounded objects, but rather they are networked, co-produced and constantly 'in-the-making'. This means organisational change does not necessarily result purely from internal organisational processes managed from the top of the stated organisational hierarchy or structure. Instead we must also be attentive to how change might result with more ambiguous intentionality from external influences, from other parts of the organisational structure, and from more informal conversations and processes going on around and through the organisation. Furthermore, we suggest that organisational change and learning processes are often partial, open-ended, uni-directional and multi-vocal, rather than distinct and coherent mode switches as often assumed.

In the context of organisations at the 'science-policy interface', the chosen focus for the paper, this has implications for how researchers study, intervene in and work within such organisation (from government departments, to advisory bodies and universities themselves - there are a huge variety of roles that academics play in this context). We suggest a number of conceptual and practical resources which might be useful in these multiple engagements with organisations in the making, which can help us recognise and work with the networked and often messy realities of organizational change.

The conceptual avenues we suggest in the paper include: the approach of studying or working within contrasting organisational spaces which sit within and across any given organisational network; being attentive towards the potential importance of 'shadow spaces' or more informal organizational processes; exploring the production, maintenance and contestation of particular visions of the future within different organizational spaces and their interactions with learning and everyday practice; and even abandoning the notion of a singular 'science-policy interface' altogether as an object of study. On the level of method we suggest that these insights about the nature of organizations and organizational change should motivate constant reflection about the role of the researcher in such contexts, and furthermore might offer support to other calls for more 'messy' and intervention oriented (even experimental) research methods.

Much of the work I did on this paper is now feeding into the literature review chapter of my thesis which I am currently writing, though in this context I will be focussing much more closely on organizations involved in orchestrating public participation exercises. Inevitably since writing the paper I have come across further compelling academic work on organisations and learning (perhaps most notably Colin McFarlane's excellent book, Learning the city), and have also started thinking about different aspects of learning and change. For example, I think there will be more focus in my thesis on how particular models, information and understandings move between different spaces and are translated or codified in certain ways. Another avenue I hope to explore further, which is hinted at at points in the paper, is the notion of experimentation which I am increasingly seeing as central to my conceptualisations both of learning and of democracy.

I hope those of you who take the time to read the paper enjoy doing so, and as always I'd be grateful for any comments, questions or suggestions for future reading.

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