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What is a good framework for us to use to look at defining some theory from our practice?  I'm thinking appreciative...

Also for background, here's Dave Snowden's post that might help get us started.

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Sorry for multiple re-posts - seem to be having difficulty with my internet connection.  Here's the post with the docs attached...

Not sure whether this should go in the 'Theories we know' section, but as there is something here about framing a developmental evaluation approach, here are a couple more background resources on developmental evaluation:

From the McConnell Foundation in Canada - a 'Practioner's Guide to Developmental Evaluation'

and an article about the 'Art of the Nudge', which looks at some practices that can support developmental evaluation in action.


Hi Chris,

related in some ways to "growing more of what works", 

you may also want to make some connections with historical use of the term "appreciative", in Sir Geoffrey Vickers' work on "Value Systems and Social Process"... he defines "appreciative systems" as the human activity of looking at "what is" (through whatever evolving lenses we are bringing to that awareness) and also, at "what we want" (which always involves questions of value) and noticing the degree of alignment or difference between the two...

He was also quite interested on how we engage in such value questions, through a collective process... and, on how the collective process itself, changes the reality schemata and the value schemata that we carry as humans.

Chris Corrigan said:

It's perhaps another conversation, but I don't equate "appreciative" with "conflict free"; quite the contrary actually.    For me I use the terms "appreciative" to indicate that we are interested in growing more of what works.  It is very important to understand what doesn't work and to have disagreements about all of that as well; but an appreciative frame to evaluation to me is distinctive from a forensic framework (for example), which looks at what doesn't work or a strictly objective process (evidence gathering) that is essentially "neutral" and just looks at "the facts."  And then of course all of this can be summative or developmental.  So summative evaluation looks at what happened in retrospect and developmental looks at what is happening as it is emerging.  I am seeing a matrix here!  :-)


Hi Pamela!

I love your example, as it points out how in science as well as in participatory practices, experimental practice often leads the way, and the theory to explain the practice, is something that is created later. 

Of course, I still fully agree with the value of having theory and practice co-evolve. I just don't agree with any shaming messages, about having a practice that does not yet have a theory! It's something to be celebrated, not chastised...

And, I also question where the responsibility lies... it seems to me, that the people with academic connections and resources in universities, have at least some responsibility for paying attention to the experiments that are taking place in the world of practice, especially when these experiments are showing themselves to have a high rate of success... and, some responsibility for helping to build the links to theory.

Yet the reality I see, is that scientific and academic work is created by complex human beings... who have all kinds of complex human characteristics including biases, personality traits, social positions of relative power, etc. etc. etc.... and so, in the academic world, academics still tend to generally focus on "how can we get practitioners to pay attention to our theories?" rather than, "how might our paying attention to practitioner's practice, help us to improve our theories and to advance scientific knowledge?"

Here is one reference for this, from the course on Praxis that I am currently taking... 

see p. 346 of a not-so-very-radical-article, that still acknowledges this phenomenon...

Rynes, S. L.; Bartunek, J.M.; and Daft, R. L. (2001). Across the Great Divide: Knowledge Creation and Transfer Between Practitioners and Academics. The Academy of Management Journal. 44(2),  340-355.

(Wish I could offer a link to the article here; like much academic work, this is NOT "open source". I am currently paying for the very expensive privilege of being in an academic program, which means I have access to a wealth of journals...  I believe it is kosher to e-mail a copy to an individual, to further their own work, but not to post something online that is copy-right protected...)

So, here is the quote:

"[...] there is a sense among those engaged in organizational development that academic research is behind, rather than ahead of, organizational practice. Although this perception might reflect little more than a self-serving bias among practitioners, there is other evidence to suggest that this observation may well be valid (Galbraith, 1980). For example, Barley, Meyer, and Gash (1988) used text analysis to show that academics tended to follow, rather than lead, practitioners with respect to thinking and discourse about organizational cultures. Similarly, others have found that researchers followed practitioners with respect to quality circles and quality management (Abrahamson & Fairchild, 1999; Dean & Bowen, 1994). Given these findings, it is interesting that so much attention has been focused on the benefits of research diffusion to practioners and their organizations (Gannon, 1983; Terpstra & Rozell, 1987b), but so little has been focused on the potential benefits of practical knowledge for researchers and for the advancement of science."

I personally think that this inequality is much more than "interesting"!

At first glance, one might think that many of these academics should "know better", given all of the lip-service paid to scholar-practitioners such as Schön who point out the value of a two-way approach. Yet it is another example of how "theory in use" can be quite different than "espoused theory" (Argyris)...

and, how the process of developing theory, is such a human enterprise, beset by all kinds of human limitations... Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, being quite apropos here...

OK, that's it for my rant, for now... except to say that part of my own purpose for hanging out within the rarified realms of academia, is to call out the need to change this imbalance... to advocate for greater collaboration among practitioners and researchers...  and, to bring up these issues as much as I can, with my professors and my fellow students.

with all best wishes,


Pamela Schreiner said:

Or maybe we don't need theory for AoH........... ;)

There is a precedent - Connectionism, the mathematical component, which is part of Artificial Neural Networks, has no theory. Here is a quote, that I pulled out, from this lecture by Ralph Abraham -

" ….all this led actually to a philosophy of Artificial Intelligence or cognitive software called Connectionism. And in this metaphor the idea is: the basis of intelligence or consciousness is a neural network. The neural network learns through plasticity and through gradual learning by changes in the connections as opposed to changes in the nodes of neurones. There would be occasionally a saltatory leap in behaviour when a whole new scheme emerges and that is called emergence or emergent behaviour. This is an observation of Artificial Neural Networks. There is no theory. So this branch of science or mathematics proceeds by experiments in which Artificial Neural Networks are constructed through drag and dropping neurones and links on the screen. And then the behaviour of that construction is observed. So it is an experimental phase, an early phase, in the construction of a new branch of mathematics." (lecture given in 2010)

This quote contains other parallels to AoH, such as the importance of relationship/connections, rather than the nodes themselves and also the concept of emergence. Perhaps the neural networks that we are playing with are communities of cognitive individuals. So maybe this example of a no-theory science can apply to AoH???


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