This is part two of a two-part article. See part one, Technology foresight and organizational change: A CHAT perspective, here.
For the sake of illustration, let’s consider what the application of Engeström’s extended CHAT framework to a technology foresight program (TFP) might look like. We’ll use the OECD’s well-known Schooling for Tomorrow (SfT) program as an example. What we are going to look at is how the immediate outcomes of the SfT program are used to produce change at an organizational level.
We’ll create a hypothetical persona, named Hypothetica, who participated in the SfT program activities on behalf of a Dutch teachers’ union. Having participated in the SfT program, Hypothetica now needs to go back to her Dutch teachers’ union and communicate what she gained from her participation in the SfT program in a way that produces organizational change; that change being that the organization becomes more forward-looking and future-oriented in the way that it addresses issues.
We have then some of the basic building blocks for our analytical model:
- Subject: Hypothetica, representative of a Dutch teachers’ union
- Context: A Dutch teachers’ union
- Object: Organizational change within the Dutch teachers’ union
What’s left to complete our analytical model are the mediating artifacts relevant to the activity. The concept “artifact”, as used here, has broader connotations than in most daily parlance. An artifact, as we will use the concept, is not only a physical object resulting from a constructive process, but rather any tangible or intangible human creation that has the capacity to carry and convey meaning. This includes physical objects, concepts, procedures, relationships, and more. We can get a better idea of what is entailed if we look at what is produced during a foresight program. In a previous post I describe three types of immediate foresight outcomes:
- Subjective – everything an individual learns from their participation in the foresight program including new concepts, futures methods, new perspectives, etc.
- Communicative – new relationships and networks formed during foresight programs including formal and informal relationships, shared interests, etc.
- Substantive – physical artifacts produced in the context of the foresight program, including reports, printed communications, presentation materials, i.e. anything that can easily be passed along to individuals who did not participate in the foresight program.
All of these are artifacts resulting from the initial foresight program, and can, therefore, become mediating artifacts relevant to our analysis. There is, however, no requirement or guarantee that all of the artifacts constructed in the SfT program will be used to mediate the knowledge-transfer activity in Hypothetica’s organization. This raises a tricky question in regards to our analytical model: do we include only those artifacts that are actually used or do we use all of the artifacts that are available? Which artifacts are used and how they are used depends on a number of factors, such as, Hypothetica’s position within the organization, organizational culture (common values and practices), organizational politics, and so on. Also, different artifacts may come into play at different times during the activity, depending on need. Hypothetica may start with the substantive outcomes that are available. These are tangible products and, therefore, the easiest to share with others. But, as members of the organization work their way through the substantive outcomes, issues and questions may come up that require the introduction of another type of artifact, for example specific concepts that need to be defined. This is likely to be especially important for Hypothetica because the substantive outcomes of the SfT program are in English whereas the working language in the Dutch teachers’ union is Dutch. What is important is that the relevant artifacts are used when and as is required. One of the things that we want to be able to consider in the application of our analytical model is whether, and how, available artifacts are used. We may come to the conclusion that the activity was hindered because certain available artifacts were not used, just as Engeström (1994) did. So, in our analytical model we will include all of the available mediating artifacts, whether they are eventually used or not.
Here is, then, our analytical model to describe how we expect the transfer of knowledge, information and experiences gained by Hypothetica during the SfT program to the Dutch teachers’ union that she works for to play out:
Using the diagram we can start to consider various dimensions of the activity to examine how the Dutch teachers’ union supported, or hindered if that’s the case, the activity. Some of the research questions we might consider are:
- Was a diffusion strategy developed for Hypothetica to follow before she participated in the program? If so what was it?
- How did existing rules and norms within the Dutch teachers’ union affect the activity?
- How did the Dutch teachers’ union work with the mediating artifacts?
- How was dialogue facilitated to develop shared meaning?
- Since the program was conducted in English and the working language at the Dutch teachers’ union is Dutch, were key documents and concepts translated?
Division of labor
- What is Hypothetica’s role in the Dutch teachers’ union?
- Does she have the authority or clout needed to involve organizational leadership in the activity?
- Who within the organization supports Hypothetica?
- Is the activity considered to be a group effort or is it simply Hypothetica’s pet project?
The answers to these questions would reveal important information that would be useful for TFP planners and practitioners. Armed with empirical evidence of how organizational practices and culture affect the transfer of knowledge from TFPs to organizations, program planners and practitioners could work with program participants to strategically prepare for knowledge-transfer during, or better yet, before, program implementation. This would likely greatly enhance the likelihood of realizing long-term goals.