Learning as Practice – Developing the capability to learn and apply lessons within major projects
The Major Projects Association exists to improve the initiation and delivery of major projects via the exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas.
However, many members are concerned that they see the same errors and missed opportunities being repeated.
This concern about the failure of project-based sectors to identify and apply lessons is not new. There is a central paradox. Projects are seen as excellent models for generating knowledge and solving problems at least in part due to their temporary, multi-disciplinary, fluid and goal orientated nature. Yet these very qualities seem to make knowledge transfer between projects and even within stages of projects difficult.
Study Focus – Learning as Practice
A review of the academic literature and initial conversations with senior MPA members suggest that a shift in focus could yield insights useful to practitioners.
Repeated studies have shown the limitations of a Capture-Send-Receive model of knowledge transfer, where knowledge is seen as general, abstract information that exists independently of setting.
This failure is not because those capturing and sending knowledge do a bad job, knowledge management has advanced greatly in recent years. Rather, the intended recipients are reported as struggling to see the relevance of the information to their immediate challenge; lack access to the implicit assumptions behind some of information; have been socialised into a different set of norms and beliefs incompatible with the supposed lesson; lack agency or a whole host of other factors.
The same studies point to the conclusion that in major projects, knowledge generation and learning is a practical, social process that is contingent on local, context specific factors, for example project objectives, project stage or condition, culture of the participating organisations capability and experience of the participating people etc, etc. A simple way of thinking about this idea is to collapse the distinction between knowledge and knowing. A lesson can only said to have been learnt when it has been converted, through practice and alongside other inputs into a change or refinement to how an organisation deals with the problems in front of it.
The hypothesis we would like to explore through these interviews is that projects and programmes can be organised or wired up more effectively to support this process of continuous learning and making and remaking of capability to deal with the specific challenges of the project.
The Major Projects Association have commissioned Andrew Crudgington to undertake a practice-based research study to explore the factors that interact to create and sustain a project or programme that can learn through practice. Andrew is a freelance researcher, writer and facilitator; previously Director of External Affairs and Strategy at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Calling for interviewees
If you have experience or insight that can inform this study then Andrew would like to interview you.
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