Developing public service knowledge and learning about complex systems: using a community of practice to integrate theory and practice

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A Community of Practice Knowledge Exchange (CPKE) comprising of practitioners and academics with an interest in complexity theory was formed. The central activity of the CPKE was an agreement that each would develop a case study that integrated complexity theory and challenges in practice. In the first phase, members agreed definitions of core concepts and used them to describe the systems they were working in. Frequent contact was via a virtual learning environment. This activity was supplemented with face-to-face contact, in the form of half-day workshops. After several months, the CPKE agreed two core pieces of reading to provide a theoretical basis. These were popular because of their applied focus. The CPKE evolved to a second phase. Diverse case studies of practice-based challenges were used to share experiences of complex systems. A key event was the presentation of case studies as complex systems using a shared conceptual language generated by earlier learning. In the final phase, the CPKE considered interventions into the case studies and created and applied a management toolkit to develop approaches to possible management interventions. Through the development of the toolkit, the CPKE became interested in the role of values in a complexity-based practice and how coherent and shared values could aid more informed interventions. The use of complexity theory changed the ontology of management practice by facilitating an understanding and acceptance of uncertainty and that optimal approaches often required a relational and cooperative approach built on shared values, rather than an instrumental and singular management orthodoxy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalComplexity, Governance & Networks
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

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  • Communities of Practice
  • Knowledge Exchange
  • Blended Learning
  • Complexity Theor


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