awakening giants

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PhD thesis about evaluating organisational change amongst some UK sector-leading companies


Awakening giants:An inquiry into The Natural Step UK's facilitation of sustainable development with sector-leading companies


Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Systems Discipline, Centre for Complexity and Change, Faculty of Technology, The Open University, United Kingdom

Francis Meynell BA (Cantab) MSc (Surrey) September 2003

AbstractThis thesis addresses how to evaluate the influence of an advocacy organisation. A nongovernmental-organisation, The Natural Step UK (TNS UK), sponsored an evaluative inquiry into its core work. TNS UK promotes corporate sustainable development in the United Kingdom (UK) with a group of sector-leading companies. It facilitates others' understanding and use of TNS' internationally recognised science-based approach to sustainable development (TNS' framework). A second-order, systemic approach was adopted. A novel heuristic model of 'organisational learning for sustainable development' (OLSD) was developed. The model was based on the notion of a conversational lineage. Qualitative data was collected via semi-structured conversations and participant observation. Narrative accounts that reflected OLSD in TNS UK's Pathfinder Companies were constructed. An analytical strategy involving four steps was developed. The first step entailed tracing distinctions associated with TNS' framework in the narrative accounts. The second step entailed examining the narrative accounts to discern the organisational levels at which TNS-related conversational lineages emerged. The third step entailed a meta-analysis of the narrative accounts to discern possibilities for OLSD with TNS UK. A typology of possibilities was constructed. The fourth step entailed a second meta-analysis to discern potentially influential organisational and structural factors that enable OLSD in practice. The inquiry led to three significant findings. The first finding concerns the model of OLSD. The model bridges a significant gap in the management-science literature. The second finding concerns the evaluative methodology. The distinction between first and second-order research traditions was a powerful one for the inquiry. Moreover, the model of OLSD was an effective heuristic. The third finding concerns insights into TNS UK's praxis. Both the OLSD model and the methodology revealed significant potentials for improving TNS UKs praxis. Proposals are made for reviewing both the process-design of TNS UK's facilitation, and the organisation of its Facilitator and Pathfinder Networks. The thesis concludes that OLSD is better understood in invitational terms as a process of contextual, systemic inquiry.


AcknowledgementsI would like to thank: * Ms Chris Blackmore and Professor Ray Ison, who were the Sherpas and mountain-guides I needed but never sought. Chris and Ray ensured my negotiation of what was, on occasion, a treacherous path. Thanks to their wise supervision, I can now see possibilities of which I had no inkling when I began the studentship, have emerged a rounder human being, and am excited about the future! I recommend anyone else interested in researching organisational learning and sustainable development, who is seeking supervisors suited to the task, to look no further. I particularly want to thank them for encouraging me to take a good look at what I managed to do; J All at and around TNS UK, its Pathfinder Companies, Forum for the Future and TNSI, who happened to be in the right place, at the right time. Thank you for your receptivity, for giving so many opportunities, and for your interest and support. In particular, I'd like to thank Stephen Martin and David Cook, especially, for giving me the benefit of the doubt from the outset. This has been a rich learning experience. I'd also like to thank Mark Everard, Sandy Muirhead, Peter Price-Thomas, Jas Dhami, Emma Dolman, Hilary Dennett, Ann Donnahue, Lorna Berry, Lilah Fraser, Penny Walker, Paul Roberts, Arnie Vetter, Chris Seeley, Carole Bond, Joanne Tippett, Ed Rowland, Jonathon Porritt, Sara Parkin, Duncan Eggar, Quentin Leiper, Murray Bean, Steve Foskett, Paul Monaghan, Liz Thompson, Mark Cahill, Andy Wales, Jayn Harding, Charlie Bower, Annie Pierson-Hills, Miro Peters, Jason Leadbitter, Peter Hawkins, Hugh Pidgeon, Judi Marshall, Karl-Henrik Robrt, Magnus Huss, Anna Emmelin, Brian Nattrass, Hilary Bradbury, George Basile, Sissel Waage, and Jill Rosenblum; Rose Armson, for having a hand in the selection of my application for the studentship, for her companionship over its course, and for recognising the need for recognition. Rose and Tony Netherclift's hospitality, strong coffee and support sustained me in the decisive hours; H Those in and around the OU's Centre for Complexity and Change for their conversation and for contributing to a sociable academic department, particularly Magnus Ramage, Martin Reynolds, Karen Shipp, Cathy Humphreys, Nicky Ison, Simon Blackmore, Fenella Porter, Seife Ayele, Rachel Slater, Alexandra di Stefano, Marion Helme, Rebecca Jones, Sarah Seymour-Smith, Maggie Scott, Maurizio Ferrari, Jim Frederickson, Alan Thomas, Roger Spear, Dick Morris, Susan Carr, Stephen Potter, Dave Wield, Sue Oreszczyn, and Clive Savory. In addition, I'd like to thank Pat for curing administrative headaches with grace and understanding, and Angela, Carol, Mary and Cilla for their amenability and for keeping their cool in the face of revolting students; I Alison Robinson and her team in the research school who helped out when circumstances changed for the worse; Three pre-studentship teachers who left an impression: Anna Loveday Minshall (painting) who's healing presence turned my gaze towards light; Reverend Dr Fraser Watts (Theology), who must have said something nice in his reference; and, Dr William Bloom (holistic practice) who's work continues to hold a fascination; k Chris, Kirsten, Ewan and Robin High I marvel at the timing of your entry into my life with gratitude; Mike Aiken for extending the hand of friendship, for being the exemplary networker who has much to teach me, and whose combination of sensitivity and humour kept me going in darker PhD-days; h Friends who kept watch: Pins Brown, Joe Moffatt, Chris and (soon to be) Alex Romer-Lee, Rupert Pitt, Ewan Charlie and Viola Kerr, Chris and Lucy Spink, and those in Forest Row; \ Three doctoral-level historians from Deutschland with whom I shared London living, reflections on life, and music: Cornelius Torp, Stefan Ludwig-Hoffmann, and Harald Fischer-Tin; My incredible cousin, Ashley Ramsden, his wife Kristin and their girls, and Ashley's partner in crime, Sue Hollingsworth, all of whom continue to give me food for thought on the nature of influence; Geoff Douglas Mead, who encouraged me to consider my personality in the thesis; and, My brother and his family in Uganda who have waited far too long for a visit.

- ii -

Dedicated to my parents, Christopher and Elizabeth Meynell, whose love is steadfast, and with whom I continue to learn

'organisation does not give the generosity of the heart and hand.'1

From 'Come to it empty-handed', Daily Meditation for Novermber 30th in The Book of Life, J. Krishnamurti 1995, Harper Collins- iii -


ContentsPage number Abstract Acknowledgements Dedication Boxes, figures and tables i ii iii vii

Part 1Chapter 11.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

OrientationIntroducing the thesis

122 3 16 18 22

This thesis Introducing The Natural Step UK (TNS UK) and its Pathfinder Companies Research purpose Thesis outline Reflecting on the chapter

Chapter 22.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8

A conversational means of assessing organisational learning for sustainable development (OLSD) with TNS UK

2525 26 29 34 40 46 51 57

Introduction Research strategy Searching for a sensemaking device Reviewing previous research into organisational learning with TNS Grounding my views of organisation and organisational learning in relevant theoretical literature An 'aha moment' encountering the notion of a conversational lineage Developing a model of OLSD Reflecting on the chapter

Chapter 33.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5

Building researching relationships with members of TNS UK and their Pathfinder Companies

5959 60 67 71 75

Introduction Two research traditions Methodological underpinnings Methods-in-practice Three emergent phases of inquiry- iv -


Reflecting on the chapter


Part 2Chapter 44.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7

Evaluative inquiryAnalytical approach and representation of OLSD

949595 95 97 99 101 103 110

Introduction A narrating approach An analytical method Representing OLSD Constructing the narrative accounts The practice of analysis Reflecting on the chapter

Chapter 55.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9

Possibilities for OLSD with TNS UK

112112 119 123 134 139 152 168 172 178

Introduction 'Making us think' (An aviation fuel company see Figure 5.1) A 'landmark building' (Carillion Building see Figure 5.2) 'A longish term thing' (Schal see Figure 5.2) Uncorking the Green Genie (The Co-operative Bank see Figure 5.3) Questing to become a restorative enterprise (Interface see Figure 5.4) 'Word getting about' (Sainsbury's see Figure 5.5) Meta-analysis 1: discerning types of possibility for OLSD Reflecting on the chapter

Chapter 66.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9

Constraints to OLSD with TNS UK

181181 182 184 187 190 194 200 204 208 210 217

Introduction 'Living in a commercial world' (An aviation fuel company see Figure 5.1) 'Swings in society' (Carillion see Figure 5.2) 'Like eating an elephant' (Carillion see Figure 5.2) 'I've got targets to hit' (The Co-operative Bank see Figure 5.3) Screening complexities (The Co-operative Bank s