In response to input from University Libraries’ colleagues requesting to hear more about what our Associate Directors are working on and/or thinking about, we are interspersing guest posts from the ADs on the From the Director blog. Here’s a guest post from Jennifer Vinopal, Associate Director for Distinctive Collections and Digital Programs

I recently published a short piece in Educause Review entitled Designing IT Projects to Advance the Learning Organization. I’d like to pick up here a couple of thoughts from this piece and add a bit more context.

First, it’s important to understand what a learning organization is and why we strive to be one. Learning organizations are adept at creating new knowledge through exploration, and then integrating what’s learned into improved work practices. It’s a virtuous circle of learning and integrating that also includes taking risks and learning from mistakes. To be successful, learning organizations emphasize knowledge sharing, curiosity, and a culture of collaborative learning. Our strategic plan articulates the need for these and related skills in order to Invest in People and to Model Excellence.

Organizational learning–and becoming a learning organization–don’t just happen spontaneously: it takes
thoughtful intention and daily work on the part of leaders throughout the organization. (See Peter Senge’s article Rethinking Leadership in the Learning Organization on the need for leadership throughout the organization.)

How do we learn to be a learning organization? Just like we learn everything else: we practice. In my article I describe how we have used two recent Libraries IT projects—website redesign and the development of our Discover platform—to advance our organizational understanding of and learning in six areas: communication; collaboration; decision-making; shared leadership; user-centeredness; and agile, iterative planning and operations. In addition to actually producing the services we intended, over the course of these two projects I believe we as an organization did get more experience with agile and iterative development, design driven by user experience, and incremental release of new content and features.

This intentional design of projects, initiatives, and actions to advance organizational learning is not special to IT. We’re lifelong learners as individuals and as an organization. And through all our initiatives large and small, we need to be thoughtful and persistent in advancing our practices of shared leadership, participatory decision-making, active engagement, and cross-organizational work and communication.

I would like to acknowledge the people, in alphabetical order, who did the project work I mention above:

Website redesign:

Chris Bartos
Sue Beck
Stephen Cassidy
Eric Haskett
Michelle Henley
Travis Julian
Ousmane Kebe
Phoebe Kim
Meris Longmeier
Jason Michel
Kati Minsavage
Robyn Ness, project lead
Erika Pryor
Russell Schelby
Beth Snapp, implementation lead

Discovery Platform Initiative:

Chris Bartos
Morag Boyd
Jolie Braun
Stephen Cassidy
Anita Foster
Eric Haskett
Michelle Henley
Travis Julian
Ousmane Kebe
Phoebe Kim
Meris Longmeier
Jason Michel
Brian Miller
Jessica Page
Terry Reese, project lead
Russell Schelby
Beth Snapp, implementation lead
Gene Springs
Nicholas Wilkenson