Order and Diversity: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning in Non-Government Aid Organisations.

By Rick Davies. Webpages at http://richardjdavies.wordpress.com/ . Email rick AT mande.co.uk
Full text available below, in MS Word. Please cite as:
Davies, R.J. (1998) Order and Diversity: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning in Non-Government Aid Organisations. Ph.D Thesis. University of Wales - Swansea.

Summary of Thesis

The aim of this thesis is to develop a coherent theory of organisational learning which can generate practical means of assisting organisational learning. The thesis develops and applies this theory to one class of organisations known as non-government organisations (NGOs), and more specifically to those NGOs who receive funds from high income countries but who work for the benefit of the poor in low income countries. Of central concern are the processes whereby these NGOs learn from the rural and urban poor with whom they work.

The basis of the theory of organisational learning used in this thesis is modern evolutionary theory, and more particularly, evolutionary epistemology. It is argued that this theory provides a means of both representing and assisting organisational learning. Firstly, it provides a simple definition of learning that can be operationalised at multiple levels of analysis: that of individuals, organisations, and populations of organisations. Differences in the forms of organisational learning that do take place can be represented using a number of observable attributes of learning which are derived from an interpretation of evolutionary theory. The same evolutionary theory can also provide useful explanations of processes thus defined and represented. Secondly, an analysis of organisational learning using these observable attributes and background theory also suggest two ways in which organisational learning can be assisted. One is the use of specific methods within NGOs: a type of participatory monitoring. The second is the use of particular interventions by their donors: demands for particular types of information which are indicative of how and where the NGO is learning

In addition to these practical implications, it is argued that a specific concern with organisational learning can be related to a wider problematic which should be of concern to Development Studies: one which is described as "the management of diversity". Theories, organisations and larger social structures must all manage diversity. They must sustain a degree of order and coherence, while being responsive to important differences in their environment. In managing to do so they may constrain or enable others, effecting the scale of diversity possible thereafter. The management of diversity can be analysed descriptively in retrospect, and prescriptively in anticipation, at multiple levels of aggregation.



  1. Introduction (12 pages)
    1. Objective and Argument
    2. The Fieldwork
    3. An Overview of the Chapters
  2. Development Theory and Organisations: Managing Diversity (14 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. Development Studies in Context
    3. The Survival of Aid
    4. Parallel Crises
    5. Responses: The Management of Diversity
    6. The Relevance of Diversity as a Problematic
    7. Resolution
  3. Individual and Organisational Learning: An Evolutionary Perspective (20 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. The Nature of Evolutionary Theory
    3. Evolutionary Epistemology
    4. Bateson's Ecological Epistemology
    5. Evolutionary Process in Their Social Context
    6. Conclusions: Observing and Representing Learning Processes
  4. Contending Perspective on Organisational Learning (56 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. The Emergence of Organisational Learning
    3. Influential Writers Outside of Development Studies
    4. An Interim Summary: Attributes of Organisational Learning
    5. Organisational Learning Within Development Studies
    6. Conclusions
  5. The Problematic Nature of Non-Government Organisations (22 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. Defining and Differentiating NGOs
    3. The Growing Significance of NGOs
    4. The Consequences of Growth
    5. Summary
  6. Learning At the Population Level: The NGO Sector in Bangladesh (53 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. Methodology
    3. A Structural View of Organisational Learning
    4. An Interim Summary: Learning Evident in Structures
    5. Actors Interpretations of Developments in the NGO Sector
    6. Conclusions
  7. Learning Within One NGO: The Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (83 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. Methodology
    3. The Structure of CCDB
    4. Major Organisational Routines
    5. CCDB's Annual Reflection
    6. Conclusions
  8. Assisting Organisational Learning: CCDB's Participatory Monitoring System (64 pages)
    1. Introduction
    2. Background to the Development of the PMS
    3. The Design of the PMS
    4. Analysis of the Results of the PMS
    5. Evaluating the PMS
    6. Conclusions
  9. Conclusions: Representing and Assisting Organisational Learning (14pages)
    1. The Aim of the Thesis
    2. The Foundations of the Theory
    3. The Structure of Learning
    4. The Context of Learning
    5. The Management of Diversity

References (22 pages) [available on request]

Return toRick Davies's webpages at CDS Swansea or Shimbir Email rick AT shimbir.demon.co.uk

This page was last edited 15th May 2004