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In Working the Planning Table, Ronald M. Cervero and Arthur L. Wilson offer a theory that accounts for planners’ lived experience and provides a guide for developing effective educational programs for adults. The book presents three planning case studies that illustrate how power, interests, ethical commitment, and negotiation are central to planners’ everyday work. These stories offer guidance on how to respond to the realities of practice and clearly point out that the technical work of planning is always political. Working the Planning Table reveals how people work to negotiate educational and political outcomes for multiple stakeholders.
Cervero and Wilson introduced their groundbreaking framework in their 1994 book Planning Responsibly for Adult Education. Their theory provided a new understanding of the everyday realities faced in planning educational programs for adults. Since that time, they have further developed this effective approach to educational planning. Working the Planning Table reflects their most recent research and offers a practical, user-friendly guide for planners of adult education programs.
Working the Planning Table is an essential resource for all educational planners. In addressing the perennial topics of planning, Cervero and Wilson show how assessing needs, developing objectives, designing instruction, and administering and evaluating programs always require planners’ ethical commitment and astute political negotiation of interests in social and organizational contexts.
Education as a Struggle for Knowledge and Power
Real people plan real programs in real places to produce adult education. Experienced educators understand what it takes to work effectively with other people in social and organizational settings to produce educational programs for adults. These educators typically have particular ways of "seeing" (that is, understanding) the conditions in which they work and how to get the work done. Even though educators often recognize the contingencies, dilemmas, ambiguities, challenges, and opportunities of working with other people to plan programs, most adult education planning theory has not taken these into account. Over the decades, the gamut of rational decision-making models, linear and feedback procedural task systems, and general planning theories have not produced working understandings of the context in which people plan programs. Most planning theory, with its lack of attention to context and its pervasive focus on planning steps, is only partially helpful in focusing attention on what matters in planning programs. These planning steps frame practice as an iterative series of activities that begins with needs-assessments, includes educational design, and concludes with evaluation. In contrast, we frame planning practice as a social activity of negotiating interests in relationships of power (Cervero & Wilson, 1994a). To better understand power, interests, and the practical action of negotiation, we have focused on the "people work" of planning (Wilson & Cervero, 1996). This work happens in complex, messy settings in which people gather at planning tables to make decisions about the educational objectives and the social and political objectives of educational programs.
In the first part of this chapter we introduce three planning stories that illustrate where educators do the work that matters: at the planning table. In the second part we introduce the major theme of the book: planners work to produce educational outcomes and, simultaneously, social and political outcomes for multiple stakeholders. In the last part, we discuss the historical development of our theory and its relationship to other educational planning theories.
Seeing What Matters I
The Planning Table
Each of the following vignettes introduces an actual planning story that shows the everyday life of educators making decisions about programs in social and organizational contexts. Each vignette is followed by the identification of the planning tables. We use the term planning table as a metaphor to focus attention on what matters in educational planning: namely, the fact that people make judgments with others in social contexts about specific program features. The many variants of this metaphor speak to issues of power, participation, and decision making across all areas of social life. The variants include references to people "sitting at the table," "who was (or was not) at the table," what people "bring to the table," and putting issues "on the table." The planning table can be either a physical one where people meet to make decisions or a metaphorical one where people make decisions with others on the telephone, in hallways, or privately in offices.
Management Education at the Phoenix Company
We tell this story as researchers who investigated the planning practices of people at the Phoenix Company, which was first reported in our 1994 book. This incident introduces Pete, a vice president, and his early struggles to understand and manage the power relations as he was attempting to change the company's organizational culture.
The Phoenix Company is a service-oriented business that has conducted an annual management education program for the past ten years. The president, Mr. Jones, along with his top management team of vice presidents, has used this program to review the past year's efforts and present plans for the coming year to the middle management of the Phoenix Company. Over the past two years, however, an organizational struggle has emerged about the focus and type of activities used for this program.
As vice president for human resources, Pete has been one of the primary planners of the program. The program was typically held as a two-day retreat at a site away from the company, in which the executives made "informational presentations" announcing plans, projects, and goals for the coming year. Pete has been trying to work with Mr. Jones to include interactive and experiential learning activities in the retreat to make it more focused on organizational development.
Pete told this story of planning the program with Mr. Jones and Brad, the executive vice president. Pete had wanted to develop a retreat program in the spring that was more interactive than previous programs, "but the president was not ready to do it ... he said that he might want to do it in the fall, but I never heard from him again." At about this same time, Pete was embroiled in a contentious relationship with Brad, who perceived that Pete was trying to undermine his authority. In the summer, this situation erupted into a serious confrontation between the two, at which time Pete was also informed that Mr. Jones expected him to hold the annual retreat in one month's time. Pete recalled that at that moment he felt as if he were standing on the deck of "a sinking ship":
We [Pete and Brad] got into a couple of real shouting matches in the budget preparation that I didn't understand. Apparently, the executive VP believed I was trying to undermine his authority and that I was questioning his judgment in an inappropriate way. He really got upset about it. We continued to have disagreements on into the summer, and that's when he shook his finger in my face one day in July and said, "Goddammit, where is our retreat, Pete? The boss said he wants to have a retreat; I just talked to him last night, and he wonders why you haven't planned it. His understanding was that you were going to do one in August, and he wants to know why you haven't got it together." That's exactly what he said in front of a whole group of people when I had not even heard the word retreat in the last sixty days ... much less been given the mandate to do it.
When Pete tried to explain the circumstances to Mr. Jones, the president "was very critical." Pete knew Brad "had done a real good job of letting [Mr. Jones] hear his side of it before I ever got there" and, consequently, felt "like a lamb taken to the slaughter." So Pete pulled together the program using Harvard Business School cases as directed by Brad, secured the site, and hired an outside consultant from a local university to facilitate the program. As Pete recounted his planning, he said: "In some ways it was really good, but I was still in this real struggle because I threw it together at the last minute, I planned it under pressure, I didn't go to the right person for direction. So I really did a lot of reflecting on why I had screwed up and why I had gotten blamed for not doing a good job." However, Pete felt that the program "ended up being a real success, very positive." This was due, in large measure, to the fact that Mr. Jones himself was very positive about what had happened and publicly commended Pete at the end of the program.
* * *
Planning tables abound in this story. The initial table is structured by the traditions and protocols in which people have planned previous retreats; the decisions made and protocols established at those tables are the ones Pete is attempting to change. A second table lies in the informal conversations Pete has had with the president in trying to persuade him to endorse a more experiential, interactive retreat format. The most obvious planning table is the literal one in the budget meetings. The "shouting matches" at this table further the deteriorating relationship Pete has with Brad. The open conflict at this table bleeds into another planning table in which the vice president does "a good job of letting [Mr. Jones] hear his side of the story" so that Pete felt "like a lamb taken to the slaughter" for not doing the planning for the retreat.
The slaughter metaphor is perhaps not overstated, for it represents Pete's sense of how power is being exercised at these various planning tables. The metaphor points directly to the people-work of planning in complex organizational settings. Although important activities of planning programs are clearly being tended to (decisions are being made about where the retreat will be held, what the curriculum will be, how it will be facilitated), the people making decisions at these planning tables are also embroiled in power struggles over whose educational vision for the retreats will prevail. This planning is about more than collecting data to be used in a needs-assessment; it is also about who has the power to determine the features of the educational program. This opening scenario shows that Pete's initial efforts to alter the function and purpose of the retreat flounder because he "threw it together at the last minute ... planned it under pressure ... didn't go to the right person for direction." Pete may be managing some parts of planning properly, but he certainly struggled with managing the people-work. Whose educational vision will prevail as the planning begins for the next retreat?
Continuing Education in the Society for Valuation Professions
This planning story, told in the first person by Arthur Wilson, is about the development of a new continuing education program for a professional society. Arthur describes his first meeting with the Society's president, who explains to Arthur how he should understand the reasons for the Society's new educational program. This meeting takes place at that ubiquitous planning venue in adult education: the restaurant table.
It was my first day "at the office." I'd only been there once before to interview for a position as director of education for the Society for Valuation Professions (SVP), a professional association for testing and certifying the technical expertise of property valuators. When I entered the office suite, briefcase and trench coat in hand, I wasn't entirely sure they were expecting me, as I was asked to sit in the reception area for some time while the receptionist went looking for the executive director.
I had only met the director during the interview. We had talked then for about an hour, in which I recounted my adult education experience-mostly adult literacy teaching and professional development for literacy educators-while trying to disguise my lack of "corporate" experience. I was also trying to find out what this job-vaguely described as "helping this group do adult education"-was about.
I learned that the director had been in the position only a few months himself-the reason he could shed little light on what the issues were. Neither of us had any professional experience as valuators either. The little I learned in this meeting was not greatly increased in the subsequent phone call offering the position. Three weeks later I found myself in new clothes in a new city in a new job as I heard the executive director's voice from down the hall. Greeting me warmly, he said, "Let's go see your office." Winding through the maze of suites, we got there and he indicated for me to put my coat and case down. He then said, "You might want to get something to take notes with. You're going to meet the president." Almost before I had a chance, literally, to hang up my coat, I was about to meet SVP's president-a major architect in reorienting the focus of this organization and the person who, as I soon would learn, was going to "brief me about how things are."
The director and I went next door to a conference hotel restaurant where the president was eating breakfast. He had just taken the early shuttle from the city where he worked as a senior manager in a major accounting firm; he would be returning on the afternoon flight. As we joined him (we wouldn't leave the table for several hours, two meals, and countless cigarettes and cups of coffee later), I noticed on the floor next to him a bulging case marked "SVP," crammed with papers, folders, and notebooks. The president said he had come to town on my first day to welcome me and to help me "learn who was important" and "what our plans are."
As the president talked, his SVP case grew smaller as a stack of documents-lists of names, committee memos, meeting minutes, Society resolutions, educational marketing brochures and appraisal programs of study from competitor societies, even organizational train-the-trainer manuals-grew in front of me. I tried, gamely, to ask questions, to talk educationally, to inquire about objectives, instructors, courses. But that was not why I was there. Never, in what I had thought would be a program development discussion, did we talk about education other than as a "product we have to deliver to members if the Society is to survive." Never was it discussed what the education was really about or how it was going to get done, just that they were going to do it. What we did talk about-or rather what I was told-was the recent history and circumstances that had led to the organization's taking on something it had historically shunned.
Here is what the president wanted to be sure I understood as I began the work of assisting the creation of their new educational program: the newly created director's position was part of an organizational identity change-an attempt to reconfigure the Society's relationship with its members, with the occupation it represented, and with the public it served. Part of that transformation included doing something the association had officially said for decades it would not do: becoming a teaching society to provide entry-level professional education for aspiring and novice valuators. Teaching was something other organizations did, not the Society for Valuation Professions. In the words of one of its presidents, this Society was different because it was "multi-disciplinary ... the only Society that tests and certifies professionals who appraise all types of tangible and intangible, real and personal property." As echoed by the chair of the Education Committee, "SVP has traditionally been a testing and certifying association. Its mission ... has been to provide public testimony of the practicing appraiser's competence in his or her chosen specialty. This testifying process is substantiated by a rigorous system of examination and appraisal practice review." Thus the organizational function was to "certify" the expertise of established valuators rather than train new ones. The president's and chair's words represented a dominant Society mantra that had long stood as an organizational definer of its identity and purpose. If applicants successfully completed the Society's technical expertise examinations, such candidates could then append the Society's initials to their professional identity in the way that RN, JD, AIA, MD, and PhD are appended in other occupations. People's professional identities were constituted by such "designations"; the designations could make significant differences in professional standing, capacity to generate income, or even whether or not the profession could be practiced. What the president emphatically wanted to be sure I understood was how crucial a successful continuing professional education program was, not just to the Society's makeover but also to how that makeover would alter the relationships with its members (the appraisal profession) and their clients (the general public).
Excerpted from Working the Planning Table by Ronald M. Cervero Excerpted by permission.
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Working the Planning Table: A Theory for Practice
1. Seeing What Matters: Education as a Struggle for Knowledge and Power 5
2. Practicing Educational Planning: Three Stories 27
3. Negotiating Democratically for Educational and Political Outcomes 77
Working the Planning Table: The Theory in Practice
4. Negotiating the Program’s Needs-Assessment 107
5. Negotiating the Program’s Educational, Management, and Political Objectives 137
6. Negotiating the Program’s Instructional Design and Implementation 161
7. Negotiating the Program’s Administrative Organization and Operation 187
8. Negotiating the Program’s Formal and Informal Evaluation 213
9. Working the Planning Table in the Struggle for Knowledge and Power 241
The Authors 285