Learning our way to change: Improved institutional alignment



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New Library World









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Purpose – At California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, USA, systems thinking practice guides strategic organizational change. A new Research and Information Service and education (RISE) initiative and an emerging professional knowledge management model illustrate participants' “deep learning” as leaders realign the organization within the broader context of the academic enterprise. This study aims to examine this initiative.

Design/methodology/approach – This “thought leadership” approach uses soft systems methodology (SSM) to support collaborative learning focused on re‐examining organizational contexts and assumptions. Fortified by data‐driven dialogue, library faculty and staff learn how to think holistically about repurposing resources, redirecting programming, restructuring staff, and retooling expertise.

Findings – Rethinking activities guided by SSM build library staff capacity to improve systems and services through active learning experiences focused on interpreting results and applying insights from user research. Results to date also identify elements of and processes for transformational thought leadership in contemporary information and knowledge organizations.

Research limitations/implications – This promising line of inquiry suggests the efficacy of systems thinking for organizational change initiatives which seek to better align workplace outcomes with constituencies' needs. Results to‐date also suggest elements of, and processes for, thought leadership initiatives which seek to create sustainable workplace learning culture.

Practical implications – This applied systems thinking methodology can inform organizational decision making intended to improve institutional alignment and, concurrently, advance workplace learning.

Originality/value – SSM is typically used in an isolated intervention by external organizational development consultants. At California Polytechnic State University, organizational leaders seek to embed SSM in workplace culture to further evidence‐based information practice and workplace learning.


The authors are grateful to several “thought leaders” and “culture shapers” who have generously coached them on this journey: Dr Anita Mirijamdotter, Head of Research, Social Informatics, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden; Dr William J. “Bill” Bellows, Technical Fellow, Enterprise Thinking Network, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, CA; Ms Shelley Phipps, Assistant Dean for Team and Organization Development, University of Arizona Library, Tucson, Arizona; and Dr Cyndi Crother, organizational development consultant and author of Catch!, San Luis Obispo, CA.