The very nature of design requires paying attention to people and how they think, how they perceive and see, and how they act. Accordingly, a core element of my practice when I engage clients is to understand the diverse collection of mindsets within a client's organization, the variety of lenses that exist, and how those lenses are focused towards the work that people do.
Let's start with my definitions of these ideas, which admittedly, shift from time to time as I continue to explore their meaning and application. They are defined in the context of an individual:
Mindset: a mindset represents what a person thinks and what they believe, shaped over many years by that person's environment, education and life experiences (and perhaps other things).
Lens: defined as how a person applies their mindset through their organizational role(s). In the case of an educational organization, there are a wide variety of lenses: the teacher lens, the building admin lens, the chief financial officer lens and so on.
Focus: the direction of the lens, and what it is attentive to. For example, a classroom teacher's focus might be understanding the diversity in their classroom population and what it means for instruction.
Considered together, I believe that these contribute to and shape an individual's perception.
So, what does this mean for organizational change? To be able to enable a shift in the beliefs and practice of an entire organization begins with being able to develop a collective mindset, lens, and focus.
To undertake the process, I do the following:
- I begin by spending a great deal of time observing, interviewing, and understanding everything I can about the organization. As much as I can, I use this information to make the current reality of the school or school district visible to them as I perceive it, through my lens as an educational designer and with a focus of empathy. Familiarity sometimes breeds the inability to see as much as can be seen; sometimes a person new to the environment perceives things that have become normalized that perhaps shouldn't be. That also means talking about the really great things that are happening within the organization that are being taken for granted.
- It's essential to begin by providing opportunities for individuals to articulate their personal perspectives and make them visible to others. My goal is to help people understand that a range of perspectives (and not just their's alone) exist within the organization and that people will generally perceive and act from an individual perspective. It's always surprising to learn that people that work together on a daily basis do not necessarily know what their colleagues genuinely think about the most important aspects of the work that they do together. Providing voice is a critical step in beginning the process of building consensus.
- At the same time, this process requires that others engage in critical listening, without judgment, but with the intent of understanding. To do this, I encourage people to suspend their individual perspectives as much as they can. The danger of the lens is that it promotes "what does this mean for me?" Instead, I want people to think: what does it mean for us?
- To follow this, I encourage people to ask others for clarification of their thinking to ensure that there are no misunderstandings. Then, I provide the opportunity for people to advocate for their perspective(s) to honor the passions they have. In my opinion, both of these processes (clarification and advocation) are incredibly important to the consensus building process. These steps help to build the foundation for the collective mindset by developing a shared understanding.
- You have to do all of this with a representation of all stakeholder groups.
- I've learned to take time with the data I collect from this approach to make sense of it. I look for patterns and trends that can provide insights that lead to common organizational perspectives. I test those patterns and trends within the organization to see how they resonate and what I have to change. This can be done through interviews and additional charettes, or through survey work with larger groups. I modify these insights, and then I test them again until it's an accurate representation of their emergent collective mindset. This is about making the common perspectives and beliefs visible to them.
- The next step is absolutely essential: I have them put my analysis (patterns and trends) into their own language to begin the process of establishing their ownership. The goal is to transfer the identity of the outcome from me to them. They shouldn't use my language. It needs to become theirs.
- And, this can't go on a shelf in the superintendent's or head's shelf. The patterns and trends of the collective mindset must become language, must always be visible, and must represent the guiding framework for the work that they do together. Developed to represent the collective identity of the organization, it must be applied daily by its membership.
From here, it's now possible to use the perspectives associated with the collective mindset to engage in many directions, including curriculum redesign, spatial master planning or a bond referendum, as well as many other courses.
As you might imagine, this process is challenging and takes time and commitment. All educators have their perspectives and see education differently. Too often individuality becomes the default position for action - potentially creating isolation, inefficiencies and less than effective practice. The goal here is to create a shared understanding that enables the organization to perceive together and create a culture of unified thought and action.