Home > PAR journal, Teaching, Uncertainty > Blogs and democratization within hierarchical organizations

Blogs and democratization within hierarchical organizations

an update on “giving voice to important matters”

after we briefed him on the power of blogging, our commandant, the senior military officer in charge of the college has embraced the idea and has started asking provocative questions about the future of the college’s curriculum and modes of instruction.  Students and faculty are starting to give voice to their concerns and ideas, and it seems to me we have passed the tipping point, The culture is changing around the former centers of power and there is a new spirit of democratization in the air.

I have appended an example of one of his questions, extracted my commentary from the discussion thread, and then provided a 1st person AR reflection as part of my self examination which i share with critical others as part of my efforts at transparency. I include some comments on “playing multiple roles” as part of my reflection in the practice of dramaturgy, one of the qualitative methods we are looking at in MGM815 with Dr Wishart.  Coughlan & Brannick discuss “roles” in their excellent book “Doing Action Research Inside Your Own Organization”.

this blog thread comes from the college’s top level blog. meanwhile my departmental blog, started  last term, continues to grow in content and usefulness as documented in the chart at the end.



PAR Journal entry 2009-02-05

Subject: giving voice to the future of education.  Flexibility vs Standardization 

The thread was begun by our deputy commandant, the senior active duty military officer in charge of the college. I have extracted out my commentary from the discussion thread and provided a reflection below


Is it possible to address contemporary, real-world problems while still upholding our learning requirements? Is it possible to address contemporary, real-world problems while still upholding our learning requirements?  Let me give you an example. 

From November 2008 to January 2009, the Command and General Staff College conducted a pilot special research study with two staff groups in the 09-01 ILE course to analyze the impact of the “surge in Afghanistan.”  The plan was to study the time period from December 2008 to August 2010, a critical time for operations in Afghanistan, in part because of the election of a new administration and the subsequent shift in focus for the United States military from operations in Iraq to operations in Afghanistan. In this 18-20 month time frame, a critical planning factor was to show “discernible progress” in the security of Afghanistan. 

This pilot study was intended as an alternative approach to achieving the same purpose, outcomes, and learning objectives as the common curriculum AOWC 1 block.  The study focused on the intangible aspects of battle command — understanding and visualizing – using current and emerging doctrinal concepts.  Additionally, the pilot study targeted the following objectives: pilot the use of real world topics to meet learning objectives in the CGSC classrooms; provide research products to the operational force through specialized studies to enhance CAC as the “Intellectual Center of the Army;” shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan within the leader development community; conduct parallel strategic engagement opportunities.

 Among both our faculty and students this study demonstrated the potential to break traditional educational paradigms and explore progressive methods.  This is in line with a shift in CGSC to refocus on the leader development in ways that will be vital to winning this war…and the next one. We are always looking for new and unique ways to educate our students with practical, contemporary issues.  The pilot study demonstrates what is possible – is this methodology appropriate for our Field Grade education? 

My response: 

Can “manufactured” scenarios against notional opposing forces prepare professionals for real demands? yes. 

The Great Krasnovian Wars, fought in CBS, on the plains of Kansas and Nebraska, prepared officers for challenges of planning, synchronizing and executing complex conventional operations which contributed in some fashion to victories in Desert Storms and OIFs. 

What were the equivalent real world challenges we’d have been working on instead of the Krasnovians? I suppose how to conduct small scale humanitarian aid interventions. 

Exclusive focus on the immediate problem set would have left the Army less ready to adapt to the discontinuous challenge of large formation conventional operations. I think that remains true now as it was true 10 years ago, 100 years ago. 

Because we can’t predict the future with certainty, and time is our limiting factor, we cant afford to pick a single strategy and bet the farm on it. I think our conception of Full Spectrum Ops is sufficiently complex and challenging enough that we need to be educating adaptive leaders to perform in all of the dimensions, with more focus on the leader qualities and skill sets, and less on content-centric curriculum. 

If you believe in the description of future dynamic uncertainty found in the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, Commander’s Appreciation and Campaign Design, the TRADOC concept for the Human Dimension in 2014-2025, in FM 3-0, and in the importance placed on Commander’s judgment expressed in FM 7-0 

If there are real world problem sets available that allow us to get to the educational outcomes of producing agile, adaptive, educated leaders, then by all means we should take advantage of the situation, provided it supports our design goal of having the officers experience problem framing, problem solving, decisionmaking, leading and managing at multiple echelons, with multiple mission profiles, with sufficient complexity to challenge their belief in school solutions, and enough human terrain variables to keep culture, media and world opinion firmly in mind. 

That said, every time we incorporate real world problems in lieu of standard curriculum,, we’ll need to be able to rapidly craft a study proposal that can be compared to the design criteria of our student education outcomes, tailor an assessment and evaluation plan that meets the standards of accreditation and our Accountable Instruction System. 

 the infrequency with which we actually leverage real world scenarios suggests this will be quite a stretch for our culture and routine processes. There will be tension between the desire to incorporate the newest real world scenario, and the standardization, uniformity and stability that AIS values. 

We’ll have to let go of the comfort of a stabilized curriculum, that seeks minimal changes year to year, of year over year trend analysis. We’ll need to do it in AOWC, because that is where we do much more application of theory to practice, whereas Common Core emphasizes the basic cognitive and affective skills that are broadly needed in the force (probably our CMETL). 

We’ll have to accept variation in content and delivery across the multiple settings where our course is delivered. A shift to student-centric education outcomes, away from content based standards of performance will help, but not completely solve this problem. We’ll have to have a rapid prototyping and approval process for proposed studies that can routinely make the assessments as to the business-case merits of research proposals, so that we can maintain our commitment to evidence based educational assessments which represents our institutional committment to intellectual excellence. 

At CGSC, we are precisely at the intersection of theory and practice, with a requirement to make sure that our doctrine is communicated and exercised in the classroom, yet acknowledging the primacy of the practical and immediate lessons we are learning in the war we are fighting to win right now. i think the risk is well worth taking. 

Ask yourself when was the last time we were prepared, as a faculty, to be genuinely surprised and delighted with the results of student inquiry into a wicked problem set. When was the last time you went into the classroom excited about the uncertainty of the direction our investigation into our craft and profession might lead us? When was the last time we modeled the kind of adaptive ingenuity, innovation and measured risk taking we assert we are educating our officers for? 

At times it seems we have carefully scripted the curriculum to beat innovation into submission. When was the last time we had the time and flexibility to carefully examine the results of our first round of inquiry with our officers and collectively assess the results, and then decide where the next round of inquiry should take us? This kind of living action-research, is risky, the results aren’t preordained, but we have good processes and passionate, committed leaders and I am confident we can do a lot more in this area than we currently do. 

a follow-up example of the kind of analysis i described above.

In the W100 block the hour operational logistics lesson is designed for every officer to get to the apply level  of of the sustainment warfighting function. To assess that, we designed the lesson  so that each officer participates in log prep of the theater, does individual deep analysis on a commodity or service area, participates as a member of the staff to complete and brief a concept of support, and then write an individual logistics estimate (employing materials contributed to the group effort by others).  This lesson is designed to address a persistent educational gap in the field: that commanders have not always appreciated the effect of sustainment on their vision and plan, and that staff officers need a better personal understanding of logistics basics in order to be more effective as a member of the team in any capacity.

The analysis and decisionmaking that allocated 16 precious hours to these educational outcomes and to perform them at the apply level was non-trivial.

I believe that a study of operational problems in Afghanistan can meet every design goal of the existing curriculum. I know that we know a lot more about the theater in GAAT than we do in Afghanistan, simply from the knowledge that is created through hundreds of staff groups examining GAAT over multiple years and the deliberate analysis and research we do to improve the quality of the scenario materials every year. I also know that it is not the complexity and level of detail we get to that matters in this lesson, it is the process we follow, and the questions we ask, and the answers we tentatively form in the time available.

If we are professionally sure that we have a good set of education outcomes, then when examining a proposal to do a study into a real world problem set, the crucial question becomes: how do we ensure the outcomes are achieved in this new context, and if there is something we dont get to, what gets cut? This should be a routine professional judgment call, which gets documented and accompanied by evidence after the execution phase in order to learn and grow for the next round

My reflection on action: 

The posting above will be read by several hundred high ranking people in our college. It represents the kind of discussion which until this year and this doctoral program, I would make verbally to my peers or in meetings where there was little likelihood of bveing heard. It was a safe existence but frustrating in many ways.

I confess to feelings of apprehension mixed with excitement as I hit send, knowing that once posted, the words will stand on their own merits and my standing in the college will undergo some change, in unpredictable ways. I enjoy the risk and appreciate the new opportunity to be heard directly. 

In terms of action research and dramaturgy, this particular Q&A thread has many touch points. I am voicing a role as a professional curriculum developer for a particular department. My example of how important it is to analyze the standard curriculum for the real world study that replaced it could be seen as an indictment of the Afghanistan study as executed, because they blew off the logistics requirements that are an important part of the standard curriculum. There is no doubt their study was valuable, but logistics instruction was sacrificed without a hearing.  There was no due process. 

I am also speaking as a change agent in this thread, independent of my “hired job”.  I am on the side of those who are pushing for more change, not less, in the curriculum, and because this represents a challenge to established authority and more work for the faculty to adapt, it is not popular. There will come a decision point and I will support the decision even if I don’t like the outcome, because due process will have been followed  to my satisfaction because I am now certain that my voice has been heard by those charged with the decision, and I trust in their personal integrity and judgment. 

I will end up playing the role of advocate and supporter of the final decision when it comes to preparing the department and faculty to  implement. I will also maintain my role as change agent in the next rounds of change 

Until the advent of the blogs on our college homepage, it is also the kind of dialogue which would never have a practical chance of being heard given the real constraints on time and the formality of a command hierarchy for decision making. Only the dominant narratives survive to make it to the top level decision makers, except under exceptional leaders. 

The infrastructure of the blog, and the willingness of the current crop of leaders to engage personally and professionally in bloggery prior to decision making, is a democratization and a loosening of the formal process, one that is changing the nature of the culture in significant ways. 

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