In my introductory post I told how I was pushed to write a series of blog posts about the value of learning from everyday life situations in different work organisations (including our own ones). This was posed as a challenge for the research partners and technical partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project. After some hesitation I got the point and came to the motto “Socio-technical fantasy and learning in everyday life situations”. (I owe much to C. Wright Mills and to Oskar Negt.)
Here, I want to report of a strange story that we experienced when we here at ITB (Bremen) tried to complete some administrative duties for the LL project and for that purpose sent a letter quickly to CIMNE (Barcelona). This is how the story went on:
1. Episode: We had to provide documents with signatures of the authorised persons of the University of Bremen and to send them by post (not only as scanned copies) to CIMNE. We were among the first to obtain the signatures and were ready to send the letter long before the end of November. I was about to engage a courier service (DHL) but colleagues from our administration convinced my that DHL is only the other part of the German post and that a registered letter would be delivered just as quickly.
2. Episode: One week passes and another week has started and the letter has not arrived in CIMNE. Most of the other partners have sent their ones and we are in the rearguard. The web monitoring service of the German post only tells us that the letter has been delivered to a foreign partner. The website of the Spanish post could not inform of the adventure of the letter. So, since we got concerned, we sent an official inquiry to the German post (date 30.11.2012) to find out, what had happened to the letter. We received an automated answer that the German post will promptly examine, what has been the cause of the delay and inform us asap.
3. Episode: Immediately after sending the inquiry we received the good news that the letter had reached CIMNE and that the finalisation of main contract between European Commission and CIMNE could be completed immediately. So, the big problem was no longer there. Nevertheless, we wanted to keep the inquiry going on to find out what had happened (and to see how it will be explained to us).
4. Episode: Just before the Easter holidays we get an official letter from the German post (dated 18.3.2013) informing that the letter has unfortunately not been delivered to the recipient (CIMNE). There is no explanation what might have happened. Instead, there is a helpful advice, what to do to get a compensation for eventual damage.
Concerning our theme, “learning from everyday life situations in work organisations” we can draw several lessons and locate them on different levels (or – if you insist - layers):
a. Lessons learned by the individuals involved: We at ITB have drawn our own conclusions on the question, which means of delivery we can rely on in our international correspondence. We also noticed the limits of the web-based monitoring services.
b. Lessons learned at the level of ‘knowledge sharing’ in the organisation: At the moment this story is being shared as a joke that is being told to colleagues as a part of informal chatting. However, there is a far more important lesson that needs to be learned across the organisation. This time a threatening problem situation was avoided but one should be prepared.
c. Lessons learned at the level of ‘knowledge sharing’ in a wider international community: Looking at this story from a wider international perspective, it is again one of those stories of things that have gone (almost) wrong because of practicalities (like sending the letter securely). In some cases huge consortia have lost the chance to submit bids because letters of commitment have not reached the coordinators in due time. This raises a question, whether someone should create a knowledge sharing tool (“Erfahrungssammler”) to raise awareness of such problems and to give recommendations for appropriate practice. …
I stop my story here before the fantasy carries us too far away from the realities of everyday life. Of course I have put a bit of exaggeration into my last point. Indeed, it is easy to try to push others to examine their everyday life situations (with the hope that they find the episodes as stimulus for learning). It is a bit more difficult to get inspired of one’s own experiences with everyday life situations as described above. However, this is the motivational hurdle that the LL project and the partners try to overcome.
To be continued …