Changing the social system of a Catholic secondary school: An examination of salient design features pertinient to the change process from a permacultural perspective


Harney, Peter John. (1997) Changing the social system of a Catholic secondary school: An examination of salient design features pertinient to the change process from a permacultural perspective [Thesis].
AuthorsHarney, Peter John
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The purpose of the research documented in this thesis is to identify and investigate the organisational design principles that influence change processes in a school context. The study analyses the various design features of the system which impinge on the processes of organisation change. Organisational design for the purpose of this study is defined as the beneficial assembly of organisational components in their proper relationships, a notion derived from studies in the natural order - permaculture (Mollison, 1990). There are four design principles that provide a perspective for the study of salient features that impinge on the processes of organisational change. These four perspectives are - site, social, energy and abstract. This conceptual framework based on a ""living systems"" approach to understanding complex systems was adopted for the study. Such a framework proposes that the same principles of operation underlie the dynamics of both natural and social orders. Such dynamic processes are in many instances, unpredictable and nonlinear in nature. Systems tend to develop progressively more complex levels of operation through the dynamic interaction of self-producing and self-renewal processes. Ironically, chaos and order are simultaneously present in complex systems. This dialectical tension has contributed to a deeper understanding of the influence of chaos theory and its impact on explaining social change. Since the study focused upon the complex nature of living systems, a research design incorporating a case study approach which was multi-disciplinary in scope and based on the research orientations of phenomenology, symbolic interactionism and chaos theory, was considered an appropriate framework to guide the research. The study concluded that the functioning of societal structures and processes manifested in a school undergoing change may be facilitated by the use of a framework derived from similar natural, complex systems.;So the four windows of site, social, energy and abstract used in the natural system of permaculture, were found to be an effective framework to arrive at a deeper understanding of the operation of change processes within a social system. The location and physical characteristics of the site seem to impact on the change process. The environment should be studied so that its full potential can be maximised in designing systems for change. It was also concluded that change in the school, if it is to be sustained within the system, needs to actively incorporate the participation of staff and students. There needs to be a sense of ownership by members of the community. This is consistent with the permacultural principle of working in a complementary way with all the elements within a naturally occurring system. In addition, the study found that those who manage change within a school context need to take into account the views of the community members in the generation of the new vision and the type of strategies suitable to actualise this vision. Permaculture asserts that for change to be productive the authority managing change must share responsibilities with the people who constitute the organisation. The role of the managers of change is to create self-managing systems through the correct assembly of components. Moreover, dissonance among partIcIpants should not be interpreted by school administrators as immovable opposition but as a challenge to instigate strategies to implement the vision. This reflects the principle of disorder within the permacultural system which holds that any system can only accept that quantity of resource which can be used productively. Any resource input beyond that point throws the system or organism into disorder or chaos. Leaders of school systems need to be aware of the influence that rapid change can have on stakeholders when they experience information overload.;The study also indicated that values and traditional beliefs can persist in a school undergoing significant change as long as current stakeholders contribute to the reformulation of foundational statements of beliefs. Permaculture maintains that stability of the values in a system is the result of the number of beneficial connections in a system which in turn increase the yield while maintaining the system's essential nature. In addition, it was found that stress associated with the change processes in the school need to be acknowledged and given deliberate appropriate expression. Timing of events associated with the proposed change was found to be significant. The individual's and group's ""tolerance of ambiguity"" need to be addressed through the redesign of elements in a way that promotes a movement towards sustainability. Finally, the study concluded that some perceived minor changes often occurring at the edges of the organisation often cause quite profound influences elsewhere within the system that were never anticipated by the change planners. This seems to resonate with the ""butterfly effect"" that is found in chaos theory

PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Final version
Publication dates01 Feb 1997
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