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Scenarios of practice and innovation

May 30th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

On a long trip around Romania and Poland – hence few opportunities to post here in the last few days. But, I have met many wonderful people and will come away with much to think about.

On Saturday I spoke at a seminar attended by the leaders of the Romanian students movement. Hope very much we will continue to keep in touch.

Monday I was in Constanta where I helped with a case study being undertaken as part of the European commission funded TT Plus project. The TT Plus project is looking at the changing roles and responsibilities of trainers. It is coordinated by my organisation, Pontydysgu, and has partners in six different European countries.

What makes the project especially interesting is that we are trying to develop new methodologies for comparative research. The main paradigm of comparative research, in education in Europe at least, has been to compare national studies – be it through surveys or case studies . We have borrowed from the computer world and are instead attempting to identify scenarios of practice and use cases (although these terms are difficult to define).

We are focusing not on functions and roles but on actual practice in providing training – whether or not the person is called a trainer. And we are attempting to look at practice from the perspective of different actors – including the trainer, managers and learners.

Rather than compare national studies we wish to identify different patterns in the scenarios of practice and use cases. Of course, practice will reflect national cultures. But we expect more in common between  scenarios of practice than differences based on country.

The scenarios of practice are based on case studies which is how I came to be in a cement factory in Constanta on Monday. Very interesting it was too. I will post the results fo the case study as soon as it is finished. For the moment, though, I just wanted to say a few comments about innovation. The cement factory, along with much of the industrial base in Romania, is old and in desperate need of investment. Much of the plant and machinery dates form the 1960s. If it was in the UK it would almost certainly be closed down on health and safety grounds – and in fact it is planned to relocate the plant outside Constanta because of new environmental regulations.

Not an obvious candidate for an innovation reward? Little modern technology. Basic products. But the innovation in maintaining and keeping such plant running is truly impressive. Monday I was talking to Paul, who used to be a ships engineer. He was telling me Romanian engineers were always on demand on cargo ships because they could mend anything. If a pump failed a British or German engineer would merely radio for a new one to be flown to the next port of call. The Romanians would fix the pump on the fly.

And such a tradition of innovation seems much closer to the ideas behind Web 2.0. We do not want shiny out of the box software – or even beautiful bespoke applications. Instead we need the electronic equivalent of the Romanian engineer, able to take what is available and make it work – hopefully adding value in the process. Such skills are very close to what John Seeely Brown has called bricolage.. Bricolage relates to the concrete and has to do with the ability to find something – an object or a tool, a piece of code, a document – and to use it in a new way and in a new context. This is exactly what is happening in the pre-digital world of the Constanta cement factory.

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