17 Jan 2012

Today becomes Tomorrow - Some notes and questions

Daniella Tilbury and Alexandra Ryan have written a very interesting paper to introduce a special issue of the Journal of Social Responsibility. The special issue focuses on the position of sustainability within business learning. It makes the case for Business Education for Sustainability. Given the power and influence that graduates of various MBA courses around the world are likely to have on the behaviour and lifestyles of others, some passionate advocacy for the building in of sustainability into business courses is very much needed. Tilbury and Ryan's paper threw up several questions for me, included below alongside some notes. I'd be very interested to read responses to them from SHED members and others who have read the article:

New things I found out:
1. That there is a One Planet MBA at Exeter

Things I liked:
1. That this special issue exists and that the conversation is happening.
2. The way they describe an inclusive view of Sustainability at bottom of p.138
3. The citing of Muhammed Yunus and Microcredit
4. Recognition that those who get a business education are some of those who go on to hold power and influence over the lives of many people.
5. Emphasis on the need to 'build in' not 'bolt on' sustainability.

Questions I have:
1. What is your opinion of the OECD Better Life Index and have you been following the ONS National Wellbeing consultation? Will either gain any real traction in the business world?
2. What's your opinion on the fact that the IUCN approach was to focus on 'the monetary value of nature' [ecosystem services] (p.139)? This is something that DEFRA have done recently too. Is this sensible in the way it commoditizes nature and re-inforces extrinsic values? The latter being particularly important when thinking about business education.
3. Can the 'fundamental ideological struggles involved in bringing sustainability into the business curriculum' (p.142) be overcome without profound changes in the ideology of the business world / Capitalist World? If not, where should efforts be focused?
4. Is Stephen Sterling's 'ecological intelligence' an important concept here? (As a related but usefully distinct one from Systems thinking?')
5. Students, who in a study cited on p.143 are reported as 'seeking stronger emphasis on sustainability' on business courses. I suspect there are a variety of motivations, so the questions here are quite rhetorical.
a. Is this because they want to be more prepared for the future (be more literate about Climate Change, Population growth, resource depletion, biodiversity loss, etc) and therefore more prepared for the threats and opportunities that will emerge?
b. Is it because they genuinely care about the negative impacts of business and want to minimise, rather than eliminate these (or know how to use CSR as PR)?
c. Is it because they see business as the only model, long-term, that can bring about change and genuinely want to run a 'Social Business' in the way that Yunus defines it?
6. Are the differences between 5a+b and 5c the difference between Education FOR and Education ABOUT Sustainability?

4 Jan 2012


Bill Scott’s previous blog about change contains some important and topical messages given the launch of the new LIFE index and the ongoing debate about methods of measuring progress towards a” sustainable university”. He quotes Stephen Sterling:

“How we evaluate and measure anything ... depends on what we think it is [and this informs] the kind of indicators we choose. So while it may not be possible to achieve consensus on the nature and implications of ESD, we can at least attempt some clarification of its dimensions, so that debate on evaluation is in turn clearer” Stephen Sterling 2009

I agree that this distinction is important and highly relevant to any of the sustainability change programmes currently under scrutiny in our universities. But it is important to think a little more about the purpose(s) of evaluation.

We evaluate all the time.  Essentially, when we do this we are taking a piece of the world and comparing and contrasting it by holding it up against something that we already think and know and have decided the value of – whether good or bad, useful or not, high, medium or worthwhile, right or wrong.  This ‘existing description of the world’ against which we compare the piece of the world we are evaluating is our benchmark, criterion or standard.  (This is a bit like those little plastic map templates some of us traced around at primary school and made a shape we knew was our country).  We carry these around in our heads and pull them out when we want to check new things. But the problem with sustainability and our sense of what a sustainable university looks like is much more difficult and more contentious. Indeed, I would go further and argue we do not yet have a clear and coherent vision of such a university. And yet we seem to be pretty clear about the un-sustainability of our universities.

To ‘do an evaluation’ means that we actually do a piece of research or inquiry – but with the emphasis on finding out what value people place on things – in this instance how a university is approaching one of the most challenging contemporary issue of our time .  There is value in knowing what people think of a university’s progress on sustainability, but even more value in knowing why and thus what they would prefer.  People’s preference or possible future options can then also be evaluated by them and the agreed ‘best way to go’ subsequently enacted.  Consequently, while any evaluation will follow a series of steps, it is also clearly setting in place processes which enable others, who are making value judgements, to follow the same steps for their own evaluations.  Hence, there is likely to be a more consistent approach from a range of people involved – designers, deliverers and recipients of a change programmes.  For institutional change to be initiated and commitment to occur, there  has to be some fairly clear conception of what the future state of affairs could be if and when the change were to be successful.

Gleicher’s formula might be helpful in determining readiness here:

                                      C = ( D V F) > X  

Where C = change, D = the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, V = the quality and clarity of the vision about the desired future state, F = the feasibility of the proposal and X = the cost of changing (this includes the psychological costs as well as more conventional elements such as time, money and materials).

The Formula for Change was created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, refined by Kathie Dannemiller and is sometimes called Gleicher's Formula.  It provides a model to assess the relative strengths affecting the likely success or otherwise of organizational change programmes. The revised formula is:

                              D x V x F > R

Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:

D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;

If the product of these three factors is greater than

R = Resistance, then change is possible. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one is absent or low, then the product will be low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.

Steve Martin 4/1/2012