Continuous, life-long learning is the future of the public service. Building the capacity of our workforce to meet new expectations and new ways of doing business is key to public service renewal. Large scale organizational learning efforts must be supported to make the leap from current to future state.
Many organizations, including governments, have undertaken extensive projects to increase their capacity. However, the successful building of capacity is not always guaranteed. New learning is not always embraced. New behaviors are not embedded into professional practice.
Building the internal capacity of an organization can prove ineffective if delivered without due consideration of some key principles.
I’d like to propose an approach to building capacity called the Infinite Development Pathway (IDP). The IDP is an operating model intended to build organizational capacity by combining experience, best practice and evaluation. It is an approach to organizational learning that can be applied to any skill area.
The IDP aligns distinct elements of work that are likely already underway as distinct or isolated tasks. The elements along the pathway are not unfamiliar; the new thinking is how these elements are connected. The model draws from and intentionally connects key factors and practices in a number of fields: principles of adult learning; change management; organizational learning; communities of practice; professional learning communities; coaching; program evaluation; and educational assessment.
The components of the pathway can be sorted into two categories: the participants and the steps along the pathway.
• Learning guides are the experts in the skill area. The loop on the left hand side of the pathway is the primary responsibility of the guides.
• Partner Organization (PO) is the organization that will build capacity.
• Learning Partner Individuals (LPI) are selected from within the Partner Organizations and will have access to training and support offered by Learning Guides.
• Resources to support learning are developed or identified by learning guides.
• Design for learning (DfL) is the learning event that is developed to engage the LPI. The DfL is not limited to traditional workshops. An intentionally designed learning event provides an opportunity for LPI to consider implications and plan for implementation of the new learning in their practice.
• Responsive Development Community (RDC) is a mechanism that allows the exchange of ideas and expertise among all participants. The RDC supports sharing of best practice and lessons learned. Learning guides and LPI are equal contributors to the community and its learning. Each party contributes different, but equally valuable knowledge.
• Ongoing learning opportunities is offered as a form of continuous support provided by learning guides as LPI apply new skills and knowledge. The ongoing learning is intended to meet the needs of the LPI with the learner’s implementation process in mind.
• Application of acquired skills occurs as the LPI apply their new knowledge and skills in their workplace and enter the implementation phase.
• Evaluation and reflection is evaluation applied by each LPI to reflect upon the validity, quality and impact the learning has had on their professional practice. Evaluation focuses on the impact of the new skills on outcomes for the clients of the learning organization.
• Evaluation and assessment is evaluation applied by the learning guides to assess the validity, quality and impact of the resources and training.
• Continuous improvement is the result of the intentional application of knowledge gained from the assessment process. Training and ongoing learning opportunities provided by the learning guides can be improved for future iterations. The resulting process for the learning partners is a program that is continually tailored to meet their learning needs.
The integration of new knowledge and skills into the practice of the organization is supported by a community; practical knowledge informs experts who in turn incorporate this into their own learning and practice. Knowledge is shared in the transformational space that is the RDC that guides both the LPI and the learning guides. Knowledge shared at the RDC is turned into practice for which all participants are accountable.
Perhaps even more appealing to many is that the program is developed, guided by and evaluated through individual and organizational outcomes. These outcomes represent improved service and improved skill embedded in the organization.