How organisations learn: lessons from flood risk management in England

What is a learning organisation? It is one that adapts to challenges, that has an internal structure that allows communication and reflection, and that hosts individuals that trust each other enough to experiment and work together. A new open access article published in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, one of the highest ranked journals in the field of Development Studies and Environmental studies, looks into Mukhtarov et al. (2019), co-written by Farhad Mukhtarov (ISS, Erasmus University Rotterdam), Carel Dieperink (Utrecht University), Peter Driessen (Utrecht University) and Janet Riley (De Montfort University), undertake 18 semi-structured interviews as part of process tracing and directly ask interviewees about products and process factors associated with learning in their organisation. They also asked what external issues facilitated or hindered collaborative learning in Leicester City Council in England with regard to discussion and encouragement to sustainable drainage systems, such as greenroofs, permeable surfaces, swales and urban ponds and wetlands. These methods are supplemented by ethnographic observations and NVivo coding of interview transcripts, field journals, and policy documents. The issue that has been studied was the decentralised flood risk management in Leicester, United Kingdom. Although the focus of the study if on learning, it has important implications for understanding what happens with flood risk management when it is decentralised, like it is in England.

The study uses the framework for collaborative learnign from the work of Andrea Gerlak and Tanya Heikkila that lists important factors in what facilitates or hinders learning. This is a good starting point for exploration of the complex subject of learning.

Mukhtarov et al. find that social factors are very important: trust, ability to speak openly and criticise each other. They also find that the nature of the issue at hand plays an important role: floods are relatively less salient in Leicester than other issues, such as poverty or crime, and hence, there is less priority given to it within the Leicester City Council. Finally, the study places a premium on leadership, policy entrepreneurs within the organisation that champion innovations, in this particular case, sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). They are the real catalysts of change.

The article is available for download for FREE at this link.

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