This week’s topic and materials are timely in that I am in the midst of writing goals and objectives for our organization’s next 5 year core grant cycle. Discussion in our writing team has generated themes around intra-organizational dynamics, among them creating universal access to how information flows and how new knowledge is created. To get to the importance of intra-organizational change, it is important to first understand the organization for which I work.

The Partnership for People with Disabilities
The Partnership is part of a network of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (www.partnership.vcu.edu) funded nationwide under the federal Developmental Disabilities Act to, in a nutshell, bring evidenced-based, best and promising practices to the state and demonstrate knowledge to practice in supporting people with disabilities and their families. This is accomplished through research; pre-service training; continuing education; community training and technical assistance; information dissemination; and some limited direct service.

Currently, the Partnership’s 80 staff work on about 25 project that have as their primary audience targets children and young adults aged 0 – 26, families, and the myriad of professionals that serve them in communities. Many projects operate in isolation and we are often known by one or two projects and seen as a ‘mini mall’ of initiatives rather than one well branded entity. Because of this, for instance, seven grants/contracts with similar goals around family involvement and support blended in 2005 into the formation of a Center for Family Involvement. A Center for Disability Leadership also exists and there is talk about developing a Center for Professional Development.

The Partnership is soft funded, meaning the organization is completely reliant on state and federal government grants and contracts. In the not so distant past, the Partnership annually operated on a $9 million budget. The country’s economic climate has contributed to a loss of $3 million for the past two years and it seems the writing is on the wall for further budget cuts. Through the DD Act, the UCEDDs receive a core grant from the federal government each five years (approximately $.5 million per year) to serve as a catalyst to leverage additional funds to carry out initiatives that meet the state’s identified disability service system’s needs. The next cycle begins in July 2013; hence the current goal writing activity. The writing team for which I am a part is interested in both internal and external innovations.

Intra-Organizational Change
Three important philosophies of organizational change emerged from my preparation for this week’s assignment: learning organizations, knowledge management, and disruptive innovation.

The first, learning organizations, comes from one of our class readings about Peter Senge and his vision for workplaces built around learning. In Webber’s interview with Senge, it is proposed that “companies are actually living organisms, not machine” (Learning for a Change, 1999). And, for change to happen, personal growth (both through learning and unlearning), innovators, networkers, and plain old enthusiasm and fun need to be in place. There is also an introduction of the idea of organizations as communities of practice who need staff who design and carry out the projects and those who network and build buy-in.

The second philosophy, knowledge management, is “the process of capturing, distributing and effectively using knowledge…from databases, documents, policies, procedures…” (Koenig, 2012). Simply adding more or new technology does not effectively enable knowledge sharing. Certainly technology has a hand in the learning process, but is starts with understanding how people perceive and process information. And building on those best practices, or lessons learned, to facilitate knowledge sharing.

And finally, Christiansen’s concept of disruptive innovation. Apple has been a leader in disruptive innovation with the iPhone and the iPad that went beyond meeting the needs of existing customers, but opened the company up to a wealth of new customers. Christensen and Overdorf (2000) posit that companies are more successful if they spend as much or more time thinking about “..their organization’s capacity as they think about individual people’s capabilities ” and “…understand precisely what types of change the organization is capable and incapable of handling” (p. 1).

UDL Systems Change and the Partnership
Now to get back to the Partnership’s core grant writing (a theme of creating universal access to how information flows and how new knowledge is created) and how these three concepts, coupled with UDL, apply. To begin, it does not seem necessary to change some of the formal processes or perhaps bring in new staff. It is more about clarifying the vision for a new way of knowledge sharing and working together, and putting in place roles and systems that reinforce that vision.

For the sake of the reader digesting this long post, I’ll provide a few examples of how to make this happen. While a handful of staff have been schooled in UDL, it is not known or practiced organization wide, particularly with staff disconnected physically (three separate office locations for staff with many others working from home across the state). The Partnership needs to know what UDL is, why it is important, and how to ensure that as a part of quality information dissemination (whether through training, technical assistance or direct service) that everything going out the door must be critiqued through a UDL lens.

As a starting point, my first goal – organizational wide UDL implementation – would include an objective that staff are knowledge of/orientated to the basics of designing instruction (for all of our technical assistance, training and direct services) that supports recognition, strategic and affective networks. One activity would be contracting with an expert (such as Dr. Fran Smith) in UDL to conduct the orientation. A second would be taking several products through a UDL checklist to gauge where improvements may be made.

A second objective would be to have an understanding of the Partnership’s current capability of designing instruction that is accessible to and for all. An activity would be to bring together a small team to assess what is currently in place that supports UDL implementation. The CAST website provides an ideal instrument; the UDL systemic change planner tool that identifies eight important components for consideration (technology infrastructure; digital resources; administrative support; staff training and support; staff roles; collaborative planning; stakeholder involvement; and funding) (http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/tools/systemicchangetool.cfm).

A second goal would focus on organizational structure that supports the Partnership as a viable, learning organization. This goal would include an objective that staff are supported in personal growth. An activity might be surveying all staff on topics for which they are interested in, enthused about learning more (not a topic that is a requirement of their day to day job).

A second objective would be an infrastructure that supports communities of practice (not just within projects, but across projects). This would require an activity of identifying the people who produce the organization’s products and interact with its ‘customers,’ and the people who are the networkers/community builders – both of whom who might foster our scaling up of innovation.

References:

Christensen, C.M. and Overdorf, M. (2000). Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change. Harvard Business Review. March-April. p. 1-11. Retrieved from http://mis.postech.ac.kr/class/MEIE780_AdvMIS/paper/part1/14_Meeting%20the%20Challenge%20of%20Disruptive%20Change.pdf

Koenig, M.E.D. (2012). What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained. KM World. Retrieved from http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx

Webber, A. M. (1999). Learning for a Change. Fast Company. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/36819/learning-change

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2 responses »

  1. Lois Moskowitz says:

    Your comment “Simply adding more or new technology does not effectively enable knowledge sharing.” is so true. We need to demonstrate how this technology can be used and provide continual technical support to people using the technology. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing there is a great resource available but it is just not working for you.

    • Fran says:

      Very impressive Dana! I appreciate the time you took to introduce where you are, what you are doing, why change is needed, and how this connects to the UDL big picture. Each of the learning three philosophies on learning are great connections to introduce and frame this discussion. You’re smart to think about the connections to the mission and vision of the Partnership, and perhaps, even VCU. These will further connect the similarities between UDL and relevant big picture goals around learning. Nicely composed and looks like a plan both for the grant you are working on as well as this upcoming assignment. Well done!!

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