Second order change: Systemic and irreversible


OUR topic last week was on Personal Mastery, the first of Peter Senge’s five disciplines which are the tools and guiding ideas for an organization to transform itself into a learning organization. In refrain, we quote Senge’s description of a learning organization as ”organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.”

To fully appreciate the transformation process of an organization — to keep its place under the sun — seeking to sustain itself to grow and keep learning what it is to know, to be capable of objective distance whilst examining self so it can hinder bias and “innovate fast enough to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing environment,” let’s venture on a basic view what transforming an organization means.

We keep to the subject on CHANGE. The National Academy for Academic Leadership notes that over thirty definitions of the word change could be found in dictionaries. Synonyms include “to transform, to make different in form, and to replace or substitute.” It stressed that academic leaders (and for that matter, any leader today), are not only leaders of change “but to be sensitive (to) the many reasons why change in programs or procedures are not only needed but becoming more urgent.”<>

In his January 2012 presentation with the Waters Foundation to the Nevada Department of Education, Peter Senge defined second-order change as “doing something significant or fundamentally different from what we have done before. The process is irreversible: once you begin, it is impossible to return to the way you were doing things before.”

Let’s take an example close to home. In the past decades, research papers close to a master’s thesis were not part of all first degree (baccalaureate) requirements except for science majors. Several years after the establishment of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Commission provided policies and mandates largely geared towards the improvement of research productivity and which fostered the capstone requirement of a research paper in all first degree programs. Clemena and Acosta wrote, “The HEIs in the country have responded in varied ways to the call for a stronger research orientation among the universities.” Comparing the research orientation of universities in developed with that in developing countries, the said authors wrote, “Universities in the developed world have a firm tradition of research. Citing Sanyal & Varghese, 2006, Clemena and Acosta continued, “On the other hand, universities in the developing world have retained strong teaching functions and weak research functions.” The same source, referred to Dr. Alan Bernardo’s study (2003) on the typology of HEIs in the Philippines, which found out that “‘only 15 out of 223 HEIs in the sample met the requirements for the graduate-capable HEI category, and only two HEIs met the criteria for doctoral/research university categories.’” Thus, the CHED relentlessly advocates, fosters, supports the transformation of Philippine HEI’s towards a research culture. It formulated in 1996 the National Higher Education Research Agenda (NHERA), and a NHERA 2, established funding scheme for research, 12 Zonal Research Centers (ZRC) in the country, made research productivity a criterion for university status, set up the Journal Accreditation Service (JAS),etc — all these and more to further ”promote and encourage research in the 1,605 public and private HEIs.” This paradigm shift in Philippine HEI’s is making research a component in faculty workload and a built-in expectation for academic ranking and tenure. Bottom line, introducing this change in higher education culture from primarily a teaching to a research orientation that is securely installed in the system may be irreversible. In this sense, CHED is introducing second order change.

The same issue of the National Academy for Academic Leadership earlier referred to in this discussion, lists the characteristics of first and second order change. I invite our peers to visit websites on first and second order change for the very healthy ideas one can draw from them. Those that I have read echo the ideas I gathered from Peter Senge’s Dance of Change (1999) several of them being these: <www.thenational academe org/ready/change.html> <www.tisd.

%20Change…> and this < id=Kp G3-r9nu R0C&pg=PA 16 & lpg=PA16&dq=second+order+change+of+irreversible&sourc e= bl&ots=JHkbe_ u9g4& sig =rcLOiTcuLsEyFudN8rjfP29-Kh0&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v= onepage& q=second% 20order%20change%20of%20irreversible&f=false>. This third is from the ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Vol. 28 No. 4 – Adriana J. Kezar (series editor) Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century; the series being part of the Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education Series which Jossey Bass publishes six times a year.

Discussions on second order change, how such is introduced, the processes and language that explain how such transformation could be brought about would need much more than a weekly presentation as we have today. Summarizing what second order change is as distinguished from first order change, the above hyperlinks describe second order change as a paradigm shift – from merely “fine-tuning” to transforming a system – a systemic shift in an organization’s philosophy, “beliefs, values, structures, policies, and operations that characterize the organization.” Systemic, hence irreversible change. However, “recent scholarship dissolves the dichotomy of first and second order change examining a continuum or combination of change levels.”

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature. She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years concurrent to her ten years as dean in the Graduate Studies of the same university. She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.


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