Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Learning theory to governance practice: Knowing in nonprofit board practice

Gherardi, S. (2006). Organizational knowledge: The texture of workplace learning. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Silvia Gherardi is another scholar whose impact on my thinking about nonprofit board learning is broader than her presence in my dissertation literature review suggests. She introduced me to the broader concept of practice and expanded my thinking about organizational learning more generally.

I highlighted most of this book as I read it during my research preparation phase. It's that good and that full of insights into workplace learning and practice. This particular quote actually made it into my dissertation, because it represents how Gherardi's work informed my understanding of what I saw as I observed and interviewed my case study board. 

I had encountered - and gravitated toward - Wenger and Lave's community of practice concept (I'll be covering this in greater detail as early as next week.). But Gherardi's conceptualization of "practice," and specifically knowing in practice, added a layer of explanation and affirmation that I was on the right track. By exploring routine nonprofit board practice, I had a good chance of discovering rich examples of knowing in practice. 

Of particular interest was how boards moved from individual knowledge - held within the heads and experiences of individual community experts and leaders - to collective knowing and action. What are the critical motivations and actions that facilitate that joint knowledge sharing/development and informed activity in a board setting? I'll begin sharing highlights of my findings in my Monday posts, after I share one or two more foundational "lit review" sources.

Beyond significantly expanding my understanding of how "knowing" takes place in everyday interactions, Gherardi also helped me place other theoretical perspectives - in particular, situated learning/communities of practice and sociocultural learning - under the broader "practice" umbrella. That not only helped to clarify for me how different pieces of the puzzle I was constructing fit together, it also ended up informing how I interpreted the key findings from my study and my growing sense of value in exploring board learning from a social, "practice" perspective.

Before I bring this post to a close, I'd like to share a table that I reproduced from Gherardi's book that readers may find useful, particularly as a comparison between the typical roles and goals of trainings and other approaches (cognitive) that focus primarily on the individual learner and those that center themselves in the social interactions that take place in places like nonprofit boardrooms. Both have value in our quest to understand adult learning generally and board learning specifically. The former (cognitive) may be more common in traditional attempts to describe and provide board development. The power of those learning efforts expands exponentially when we also tend to the latter (social).

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