What Is a Learning Organization? Reflections on the Literature and Practitioner Perspectives
What is a "learning organization," and does this model help organizations achieve desired outcomes? The impetus for investigating literature and talking with practitioners about organizational learning was to understand whether it is relevant to my thesis project, an endeavor to improve environmental protection work at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). This project is the focus of my graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Environmental Studies, Land Resources Program. My advisor, Dr. Patrick Eagan, and I began work on this project in May 2002 through the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Engineering Professional Development (EPD) Department. During the first six months of the project, Dr. Eagan and I worked with several leaders at the WDNR to scope out project goals, objectives, and desired outcomes. In brief, the goal of WDNR leaders is to improve environmental protection by promoting continuous improvement, innovation, and stakeholder collaboration. While scoping out the project and conducting some reconnaissance literature reviews of effectiveness and innovation in environmental management, I encountered a number of references to organizational change and learning. In fact, a number of practitioners suggest that barriers to effective and innovative environmental programs, such as an environmental management system, are largely organizational issues (Kirkland and Thompson,1999), (Allenby, 1999), (Klein and Sorra, 1996). In addition to understanding the essence and effectiveness of organizational learning, I hoped to find some effective approaches for building a learning organization that would support implementation of organizational change at WDNR. Work on this project also involves understanding similar efforts worldwide and led to a dialogue and information exchange with the Gelderland Department of Environment and Water in the Netherlands, underscoring an international interest in organizational learning.