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Definitions Circle of Work Update

A request is that, "readers consider and reflect on this definition appreciatively. Rather than note missing items, note what is present. Think about whether this will work for us." 


Some additional points to keep in mind about it:

- This is the outcome that we committed to complete within the 4-5 month time frame (late 2018-early 2019).

- We will not further revise the definition within our Circle at this time.

- We will rely on the Gathering organizers to identify the next steps for our Circle and for the other Circles.


Twenty-two people comprised the OD Definition Circle, with four of the individuals serving as the Circle Design Leaders. Our purpose was to review and synthesize a shared definition of OD.


PROCESS. We held 4 meetings of the entire Circle between January and April 2019, and reviewed materials and completed assignments between meetings. The Circle began its work with 38 definitions, some were published previously, some were submitted by Gathering participants in December 2018, some were written by participants in this Circle. We met via Zoom online services, to clarify purpose, develop criteria for our definition, and arrive at conclusions. We also used Google docs to take meeting notes, provide resources for consideration, capture analyses by individuals, and hold decisions.


RESULT. Before our final large group meeting, a subgroup of eight deliberated on the conversations to that point. Pros and cons of various elements were surfaced and discussed, and the group agreed that the definition should consist of "what," "how," and "why."  Participants valued the process, but not all completely agreed with the outcome.   Our 80-95% resulting definition is below.


OD is a field, grounded in the organizational, behavioral, and social sciences, that engages organizations and their members to develop system-wide capacity, effectiveness, and resilience."


NEXT STEPS. Our Circle requests that readers consider and reflect on this definition appreciatively. Rather than note missing items, note what is present. Think about whether this will work for us. The Circle will reconvene as needed to consider feedback received from the Gathering participants.


Background Information:

Decisions agreed in support of the definition:

- That OD is a "field" -- not an approach or a discipline; not a profession

- That is grounded in organizational, behavioral, and social sciences -- broader than "applied behavioral science"

- That engages organizations and their members -- includes people, groups, teams, and communities

- To develop system-wide capacity, effectiveness, and resilience -- chosen terms rather than "learning," "capacity building," "improved performance," and "organization health."


These were some of the major discussion points for the group:

- There were strong and appealing arguments for including "organizational health" but it had too many different meanings for most, resulting in "resilience."

- There was a conversation about "sustainable" organizations, but that word seemed to connote bare survival for many. 

- There was a search for a synonym for "engage," but we could not come up with anything stronger or more accurate. We did look at "guides" but settled on "engage."

- Much work is currently done in communities around large issues such as technology changes and climate issues. Question whether "organization" includes "communities" or vice versa. "organizations and their members" was seen as encompassing both.

- "System-wide" was intended to suggest OD's macro reach; some concern that it connotes "mechanical" or "information technology." Also, complexity science - e.g., Ralph Stacey - argues that human interaction is not a system so suggestion that we remove it and include instead..."to develop improved organizational effectiveness and resilience." Most were not concerned about leaving in systems language when this was raised with the group.


Submitted by Julie Smendzuik-O'Brien for the Circle Design Group - Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, Mona Pandeya, Vince Chapa, and Julie Smendzuik-O'Brien

OD Definition Circle Members - Amma Napier, Carla D. Smith, Dave Jamieson, Gary Mangiofico, Ilene Wasserman, Jillian Hubbard, Kathleen Garrett, Kathryn Goldman-Schuyler, Laura Gramling, Martha Kesler, Matt Minahan, Megan LaRocque, Peter Norlin, Rebecca Mintz

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