This is an extension of the earlier observation about linear and non-linear growth, and how schools should ready themselves.
Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
In going digital and creating an increasingly mature digitally based school ecosystem factor into your school’s growth and enhancement the very real likelihood of reaping an increasing number of unplanned, unintended benefits.
Be on the lookout for their emergence and be prepared to optimise those that will advance the school.
Watch also for potential disbenefits, the unintended undesirable developments.
Address the digital evolution of your school with what Bhaduri and Fischer (2015) refer to as a digital mindset – and which others refer to as a networked mindset – that recognises in the midst of Digital Revolution it is impossible to identify with 100% certainty all the benefits that will flow from the introduction of new approaches and programs.
It is appreciated that is contrary to the long held belief of the educational administrators that school leaders have some divine ability to identify every benefit and measure the realisation of each over X number of years.
The reality, stressed in the earlier writings on the evolution of complex adaptive systems and natural non-linear growth, is that in most areas of schooling it is only ever possible at the outset of an initiative to identify a portion of the program benefits.
The business management literature has long understood this reality and advocated organisations employ appropriate benefits realisation processes.
Thorp writing as far back as 1998 observed:
Benefits rarely happen according to plan. A forecast of benefits to support the business case for an investment is just an early estimate. It is unlikely to turn out as expected, much like corporate earnings are forecast (Thorp, 1998, p38).
That observation was made in the relative stability of the 90’s well before the Digital Revolution took hold, the social networking of society and the digital transformation of all organisations had begun to impact in a significant way. One is talking pre Google, pre Facebook, pre smartphones and pre iPads, long before society in general had normalised the use of the digital and social networking.
The message coming very strongly from the pathfinder to the later adopter schools is that:
- seek as usual to identify the desired benefits of each initiative
- monitor and measure the realisation of each of the benefits, but at the same time
- observe the emergence of any unintended benefits – and indeed disbenefits
- work to optimise the desired unintended benefits and remove the undesirable effects
- don’t automatically regard an initiative as a failure – as is now often done by administrators – simply because it doesn’t yield all the projected benefits. Understand the initial aspirations are but educated guesstimates and that it is crucial to factor in to any judgement the unintended benefits
- the number of unintended benefits is likely to grow as the school’s digitally based ecosystem matures, becomes more tightly integrated, sophisticated and complex and interfaces with other ecosystems.
Be conscious that many of the unintended benefits singly appear small but when combined with many other seemingly small changes can significantly vary the school’s practises and enhance the productivity. For example the adoption of a seemingly simple school app can significantly impact the school’s communication and its relationship with its community.
In brief – in marked contrast to now – identify and measure the total impact of the program, looking always at both the intended and unintended benefits.
- Thorpe, J (1998) The Information Paradox Toronto McGraw-Hill