Saturday 29 January 2011

Ethics and narrative

I mentioned that I've been reading a fascinating book: Ethicability by Roger Steare.

He talks about three kinds of ethical approach:

1) Rule-based (eg deontology)
2) Social agreement based (eg utitilatarianism)
3) Values or principles based.

He points out that all three have their use, and also suggests that the first tends to make us behave as children, the second as adolescents and the third as adults.

This made me wonder if there might be a parallel with modernism and post-modernism and... whatever comes next. 

Modernism could be seen as rule-based; and when people object to my claims for the possibility of absolute truth, I think they may be objecting to this: rules laid down to be applied to all people in all places and at all times.

Post-modernism, social constructionism (the position of many in the narrative world) etc might be regarded as a reaction against that, and an attempt to replace rules with agreed interpretations that are necessarily variable depending on who agrees them.  This interpretation resonates with me as some of the academics in particular with whom I have debated this seem to be reacting against precisely that rule-bound notion of truth that 1) would suggest - and one or two also seem to me to have something of the adolescent's idealism, pride in rebellion, and impatience with other perspectives...

I (naturally!) think I am in the more mature position of 3)  I make truth claims for values, such as the intrinsic goodness of love rather than hate, of hope rather than despair and of faith rather than nihilism.

THese may need to be interpreted and mediated through social discourse (at level 2) and may on occasion need to be translated to rules (as at level 1 - for example, I would hate to meet a driver who thought the rule that we drive on the left side of the road [in the uk]  was not in any sense true and therefore not binding on him or her...)
So I think some of the conversations I have been in have been based on a series of false assumptions - both ways: I think people were assuming I was wanting to make truth-claims of type 1) and have reacted against them; and I was assuming they were reacting against what I really think and believe and reacted against that!

Thursday 27 January 2011

Narrative Training

Excited at the prospect of attending a five day training programme on Narrative with Liz Todd et al at Newcastle University.

Sure it will be excellent and it will be lovely to be on the receiving end for a change, and not be responsible for the success of the event (or at least, only a little bit: I'll try to be a 'good' participant!)

Academic Leadership Programme

Busy working on the design of an Academic Leadership Programme; this is a successor to the successful Research Leadership Programme I've been running for the last few years at Northumbria, and aims to encompass leadership in Learning and Teaching as well.

Always an interesting tension between my desire to encourage self-directed learning, exploration of themes participants are interested in, responsiveness to emerging learning agendas with participants etc and the institutional need to outline clear learning objectives, plan all the sessions well in advance and so on.

And somehow from this creative tension something wonderful will emerge...  I'm reminded of the leitmotif of Shakespeare in Love: 'It's a mystery..'


Reading Ethicability by Roger Steare: very interesting.  Styles himself as a 'corporate philosopher;' seems to have done significant work with serious organisations, and certainly puts his material across well on paper.

Not sure I agree (of course) with all of it, but it is very thought-provoking and I am broadly in sympathy with his approach and insights.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Introduction to Leadership

Good workshop today: enthusiastic and thoughtful participants, and the whole day ran well.  Particularly pleased as I hadn't thought this programme really worked last time I ran it, so had re-vamped it considerably, (including new graphics, handout pack etc), but especially re-designing the exercises to get both good dialogue and good reflection - and both these seemed to take place.

But why is it you can only see a typo once you've handed out the materials: and then it leaps out at you?

Saturday 22 January 2011

Walking CPD

A great day's walking with Alan, Glyn, Karen, Mike and Paul: a stimulating set of colleagues with whom to share experiences, compare notes, refresh thinking etc.  Met at Haweswater around 10.00, and walked up ont Harter Fell, Nan Bield, Mardale Ill Bell, High Street, and Kidsty Pike.  8.5 miles and 2000 feet of height gain.  Sorted the world out pretty thoroughly en route.

Saturday 15 January 2011

How to make Governance interesting

A great day at Essex Futures yesterday.  Governance may seem a potentially dull topic, but we managed to put together a day which I at least found very interesting.  I think the participants did, too: there was certainly none of that glazed look one sometimes sees on such occasions.

We started the day, after a brief introduction by Colin Riordan, the VC, with Colin interviewing the Chair of Council.  Somehow this format made the delivery of information about the role of Council much more interesting than a straight presentation.

Following that, we used a World Cafe type format for participants to talk in small groups to the VC (at one table) the Chair of Council (at another), the DVC (at a third) and the Registrar and Secretary (at a fourth).  This was followed by summaries from three of them (the Chair having to leave for another appointment) and a panel-type discussion.  Again, this seemed a much more engaging format than presentations: and lot of ground was covered which might not have emerged through more traditional approaches, not to mention the more human type of interaction it encouraged.

After lunch, participants were given a real proposal that was presented to the University for a decision, and discussed, in small groups, what they would decide and why.  Their criteria were very good (though being academics, they wanted to defer the decision until they had more information...), and the Registrar was able to tell them what really happened...

Finally we had a presentation (the first of the day) from a visiting VC from another University: Dominic Shellard from De Montfort.  In a very open and informal way he discussed his experiences and then engaged in discussion with participants.

I certainly learned a lot, and trust others did too.

And the whole day without a single powerpoint slide!

Thursday 13 January 2011

A successful bid

Just learned that Glyn, Stuart and I have been successful in a joint bid for 3 lots of work at another university.  I'm still not a fan of the bidding process (we heard today - the date we were meant to hear was last June!  I'd actually forgotten this one was outstanding!)  However, success is always gratifying...

Unpacking your chair

Yesterday saw the first day of a new programme co-designed and co-delivered with some of my favourite clients, Liz Kemp and Gerry Docherty at Newcastle University.

It is aimed at relatively new professors, and the intention is to help them to consider what kind of professor they wish to be (hence Liz's genius title: unpacking your chair...)

We give them both the space and some structured conversations to explore this, and a series of perspectives from others to inform and stimulate their thinking.  Yesterday, as well as Gerry sharing some insights, we heard form the VC about his view of the new dispensation in HE and what he expected of the professoriate, and from Andy Gillespie, an experienced successful and thoughtful professor.

A large part of the success of the day was down to the spirit in which the participants engaged in it.  Right form the start they were open, inquisitive, curious and mutually supportive: it all bodes very well for the remaining days of the programme.

Outplacement Workshop

Over the years I have done a lot of outplacement and career transition work, both in workshops and in a one-to-one setting.  But I haven't done so much recently.

So it was interesting to update and re-vamp my Next Steps workshop for a group of people whose jobs are at risk.  They were remarkably positive for people in such an unsettling time, and as ever, by putting a lot into the day, they got a lot out of it.

It is perhaps a sad sign of the times that I am receiving more and more invitations to tender for outplacement work.  In my darker hours I can feel a bit like a jackal, feeding off the pickings of others' distress; but the feedback I get is that people really value the chance both to consider their options and to have some skills, structures and processes to help them through these difficult times.

An interesting day

The other day I ran a team day which was a bit of a hybrid.  In discussing what might be helpful with the team leader, I'd mentioned both a day exploring the stories (past, present and future) of the team, and also a Solutions Focused approach.  She said both sounded good and could we combine them.

So ever up for a challenge, I agreed.

I am not sure how well that worked, in fact.  It was OK - some parts went very well, and I think the team left with an increased sense of teamness, with greater mutual understanding, and most importantly, with a clearer sense of where they wanted to get to and a commitment to actions to take them forward.

But there wasn't really sufficient time either to turn the embryonic stories about the desired future into something substantial and compelling, or to get the full value of the material generated by the Solutions tools.

I will be interested to hear the team's feedback, and to explore with the team leader how to ensure we get all the value from the work done on the day.

Memo to self: work through the design more rigorously with the client (avoid agreeing to stuff the day before the Christmas break for delivery immediately after!).