Involving, understanding, shaping – Networking and organisation development for adult learning and education

A global network has come together for the first time to develop and apply a joint definition and vision of Adult Learning and Education – ALE. The processes of change among the network and the partners were based on the three principles of organisation development, namely “involving, understanding, shaping”.

How a worldwide campaign is triggering sustainable change processes

Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of organisation development, put it quite simply: B = f (P, E). This general formula states that a person’s life space determines their behaviour, referred to as helping or hindering field forces. Organisation development continues to remain true to this basic concept from the 20th Century. It presumes that change processes can only be successful if the individual is the focus of attention, whilst at the same time interaction with the life space is taken into account. In this social science approach, organisation development actually goes one step further. It is not only the individual human being, but the organisation as a whole, which is understood as a social being interacting with his or her environment.

An organisation may take deliberate decisions as to which motivations and what information it absorbs from its environment and uses for its own change processes. In the same vein, an organisation may deliberately decide with which external exchange groups it wishes to engage in an active relationship. This exchange may be lived out in the form of cooperation or networks. Whilst cooperation is generally used to designate autonomous partners working together in order to also achieve their own goals, networks tend to stand for a complex combination of several partners aiming to both achieve an objective which in most cases is shared, as well as to strengthen all those involved.

Marketing conveying identity

DVV International, the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, maintains relationships with large numbers of external exchange groups. As a specialist adult learning and education organisation, DVV International carries out project work with more than 200 partners in roughly 40 countries. DVV International also has staff representing it in international adult learning and education (ALE) associations, and works together with a large number of national, regional and local networks from five continents.

DVV International uses its cooperation and networking with partners not only in project work, but above all in its lobbying activities. The Institute collaborates with numerous international and global partners worldwide to advocate for the human right to education, and to improve framework conditions for adult learning and education. DVV International entrusts its marketing department to enhance its lobbying work. The Institute’s marketing seeks to remove ALE from its niche existence and aims to better position it worldwide and to increase its visibility. This includes developing strategical measures to promote political and societal perceptions of adult education. DVV International´s marketing uses the relationships and interactions with exchange groups in order to achieve the Institute’s strategic goals. One method consists of designing sustainable change processes through networking. Marketing functions as a mouthpiece here, and as a bridge to the world around. It targetedly spreads and collects information and stimuli from outside, and to the outside. Institutional marketing furthermore steers measures which create identity in order to develop a feeling of involvement and cross-border commonality in networking in order to advance global lobbying processes. It is not only the benefit attaching to the jointly-achieved goal, but also the jointly-developed identity in networking, that ensures long-term success and offers an added value for all partners.

ALE Campaign

One example is the process that was initiated by DVV International in order to create a uniform global understanding and brand of adult education – the ALE project. A global network has come together for the first time to develop and apply a joint logo, definition and vision of adult education (Adult Learning and Education – ALE). The project consists of a complex network, amongst them the global alliance founding partners ASPBAE (Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education), CEAAL (Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina), CLADE (Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education, DVV International (Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association), EAEA (European Association for the Education of Adults), ICAE (International Council for Adult Education) and UIL – UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Starting as an informal grouping, the network has developed to become a stable group initiating and guiding change both within and outside its organisations. In the first phase, the branding and lobbying project was steered by DVV International´s marketing, and in the second phase, the five year campaign is steered by ICAE (International Council for Adult Education). As part of the project, ICAE and DVV International developed a short film that explains the ALE campaign and its importance for global lobbying regarding the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The processes of change among the network and the partners were based on the three principles of organisation development, namely “involving, understanding, shaping”. Organisation development tools were used to moderate and steer the network. Constructive dialogue, analysis and feedback methods, skill development, discovering shared values, workshops in the shape of a future conference, and participative decision-making structures, are some of the key words from the network’s learning and change process that has been ongoing for several years. The network created itself in order first and foremost to change itself, and then society. The change in the understanding of ALE started within the individual associations and organisations. They communicate change and the vision of ALE to their individual member organisations, and these in turn to the regions and countries.

Instead of a campaign engaged in by a single organisation which invests considerable resources in its attempt to make inroads into individual countries, what is taking place here is an organisational learning and change process which takes itself into the world alone, more or less autonomously, via interactions. The partners complete a change in the acceptance of the global definition of ALE, and are at the same time ambassadors of the change that all of them wish to see happen. The partners’ global campaign is thus entitled “We are ALE”. The campaign is consistently gaining supporters and unites ALE advocates, organisations, and practitioners including health, workplaces, communities, universities, and media, to strive for a healthier planet and a better world.

This is where Kurt Lewin’s formula on behaviour comes into play once more. In order to achieve successful change, people need to become involved. If human individuals change, then an organisation changes, and this process in turn exerts an influence on society. Global, sustainable learning and change processes come into being.

Global Alliance Founding Partners

ASPBAE – Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education 

CEAAL – Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina 

CLADE – Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education 

DVV International – Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (DVV) 

EAEA – European Association for the Education of Adults

GCE – Global Campaign for Education

ICAE – International Council for Adult Education

Pamoja West Africa – West African Network of Reflect practitioners

PIMA – Pascal International Members Association

REPEM – Red de Educación Popular entre Mujeres

UIL – UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning

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DVV International operates worldwide with more than 200 partners in over 30 countries.

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