How might we cultivate systemic change — an action research PhD

I have been debating with myself whether to share my PhD for anyone to read, 9 months after achieving it I still have massive doubts about how good it is. If I share it will I just be revealed as a fraud and then I think I did it, I got huge benefit from reading others PhD’s and if you don’t allow it to be out there then what is the point!

Title: How might people and organisations who seek a sustainable future cultivate systemic change?

So here it is — one day I will chunk it up and help people navigate to the bits they are interested in — but until then here is a visual overview, the abstract and mini guide to help you find the bits you might like — and you can always got to the extensive contents section.

Visual overview

This is a diagram of the inquiry and the journey, hoping to show the different questions I was following, the literature I drew upon and the areas of practice I was acting in.


‘‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’ — Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many change agents, myself included, who are seeking a sustainable future without always knowing what to do. We need to find new approaches and strategies that are commensurate with societies complex challenges; we need to explore how we might cultivate systemic change.

I propose that if we were to see ourselves as embedded in the continuum of life and choose methods from this living systems perspective we might be able to create the shift required to meet the scale of the challenge. I have looked to do this by knitting together different ideas and practices at multiple levels of scale and inquiry; cultivating relationships, innovative practices and transformational learning; alongside using action research to inquire and as a strategy for change.

These practices are interwoven across my personal experience of becoming a mother, working with co-inquirers, seeking to find ways to enable my organisation to have a shared endeavour for systemic change to facilitating communities of practice of school leaders across the education system.

The resulting picture of this practice and research is a continually emerging one. This exploration has led me to discover that the approaches change agents use need to pay more attention to power and our perspectives, the worldview that informs action. From experience and research I also propose we need to look at how we might create an authorising environment to support society in shifting to a living system perspective as the next edge of practice.

It is my intention to invite you into this emergent inquiry. To see if it moves you to embark on your own quest and explore the frontier, so that together we might harness our ability to flourish and sustain ourselves on this planet.

I look forward to hearing what path it leads you down.

Mini guide

What are you interested in?

Action research — If you are interested in this as a method then how I define its contribution and overview in chapter 1, as a research paradigm (2.5 -p43), as a method (chapter 4 — summary box p.99–101), with some examples through using action research with school leaders (Chapter 5–5.3) and exploring where this PhD has taken me and action research in chapter 8 especially 8.3 — and the re- examining action inquiry and asking questions about self-reflection and third person practices. And at the end a way to explore your own perspective and reflection about your edges (p.248).

Systemic change — If you are interested in the definition you might like to start understanding systems thinking (summary box p.32) and living systems in chapter two, especially how change happens in living systems (2.4 — p.40) — where I arrive at a definition of systemic change. I take this into the exploration of different theories in chapter three; including sustainability transitions (3.2 –p53) Social learning (3.3) and communities of practice (p.73) and Theory U (p.81) — and how all these theories might be explored further in action and research (summary p.247) .

There is some definitions of social innovation, system innovation and systemic change in Figure 3.6 — p.60.

If you are interested in other theories

Paradigms — in the context of development psychology 2.2. (p. 226) — summary box (p.228) and also you might like to look at it with in the context of living systems (p.27) and research paradigms (p.43)

Power — is explored in 2.2 (p. 234) and summary box on the different dimensions of power (p.235)

Practice examples

- The work I did on education system change — using communities of practice and action research (Chapter 5 p.134)

- An organisational journey to system change (Chapter 6 p. 169)

- And how I reflect upon my own transition to being a mother as part of my action inquiry (Chapter 7 p 211)

There are properly many other ways to look at this and I would be interested in your feedback on anything you have read or if you would like to find something…



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