In posting this piece we appreciate we are – once again – addressing a development that has likely never been considered in school growth, but it is a reality found in the digital evolution of all organisations.
Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
The shaping of the desired school ecosystem entails, likely increasingly, the school leadership being able to simultaneously accommodate both planned linear and unintended non-linear growth.
School leaders globally have been schooled on the belief that schools will only grow, and grow in the desired fashion if the development is fully planned and its implementation carried out in an appropriately linear manner. The desired growth is achieved by doing A then B and finally C. So strong is that belief it is rarely questioned. It is taken as a given.
Globally governments and educational administrators reinforce that assumption by obliging schools to submit all manner of finely calibrated linear plans. In addition to the seemingly universal long-term school plans – that assume schools can divine the scene years ahead – there are also all manner of plans schools are obliged to submit to secure and retain grant monies.
The assumption is that only meticulous planning, that minimises risk can yield the desired school growth.
That thinking accords no recognition to the now substantial body of research on digital evolution and transformation (Pascale, et al, 2000) (Westerman et al, 2014) (Lee and Levins, 2016) that reveals when organisations move to a digital and networked operational base they will as complex adaptive systems experience considerable natural, seemingly chaotic non linear growth in addition to that planned.
As the power and sophistication of the organisation’s digital base grows, as that growth disturbs the existing practises, as the staff’s understanding of what can be done with the digital technology increases and the client’s expectations of the digital rise so all will work to further the growth of the organisation.
What is becoming apparent is that as the school’s ecosystem matures it will increasingly socially network and interface with all manner of other digital ecosystems and in so doing will not only realise the desired benefits but will increasingly provide the school and its community with many unintended – most assuredly unplanned – benefits.
In creating tightly integrated, closely interconnected, increasingly sophisticated ecosystems that simultaneously address all the variables that enhance student learning in and outside the school walls the schools are simultaneously creating a highly complex, ever evolving environment that will generate all manner of synergies and unintended benefits.
The ripples generated by that ecosystem will transcend the school walls and impact the school’s total socially networked community.
The digital masters have learned the art of accommodating planned and unintended growth (Thorpe, 1998). They understand that in the midst of a Digital Revolution even the most prescient and capable of planners can only ever ‘guesstimate’ the benefits of a new program and that the organisation needs processes to optimise the unintended benefits – and disbenefits – that will inevitably emerge.
That is what the authors saw transpired with the pathfinder schools when they moved to a digital operational base. Seemingly overnight the schools experienced considerable ‘natural’ growth. The astute principals soon appreciated the importance of giving the developments the space and time to grow (Lee and Levins, 2016).
The further schools moved along the digital evolutionary continuum, the more tightly they integrated the school’s ecosystem, the more they embraced a culture of change, trusted and empowered their staff and community, promoted risk taking and thrived in uncertainty, mess and seeming chaos the more became the natural non-linear growth and the greater the unintended benefits.
Unwittingly the leaders of those schools, like the CEOs of the digital masters in business, learned to accommodate both the planned and unintended.
The challenge for all embarking on the digital evolutionary journey is how best to do that.
It is highly likely the pragmatics of your situation will oblige you to simultaneously play the old and new planning games, and to do both well. There is the strong possibility you will be obliged to experience the pain and waste of time inflicted by bureaucrats set in their ways, desirous of maintaining their ‘control’, who don’t understand the digital evolutionary process. It is probable that like the pathfinder school heads you’ll need pay token attention to the ‘official plans’ while adopting a big picture development strategy able to accommodate both the linear and non-linear growth.
In saying that it must be stressed up front is that the successful schools, like their industry and public sector counterparts have to plan their desired journey and will in many areas need to employ apt linear plans – albeit being in the lookout for the unintended.
All this affirms the aforementioned mention of the shaping school vision and an organisational culture and agility to vary that planning when the need arises.
- Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling, Armidale, Douglas and Brown – at http://edfutures.net/Lee_and_Levins_2016
- Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of Chaos NY Three Rivers Press
- Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill
- Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press