The real work starts now

I had my mid-candidature review session in October and I’ve had a break from all things PhD for a few weeks now. The review session went well, some very excellent feedback and comments from the panel which have reinforced my desire to get this PhD done.

Many thanks must go to my supervisor Joseph Voros for his continuing support before and during the review session as I work through this process to its endpoint.

Here’s a link to the Contested Ideas of the University presentation to the confirmation panel.

So what next? The real work begins, and the end goal is emerging.

First, I need to do some more work to finalise the literature review and finish the analysis using the combined Three Horizons/Integral framework I’ve developed. This provides some evidence that we do indeed have contested ideas of the university at play today – we know this intuitively and it’s not a particular aha moment – but it makes it clear to me that we can’t ignore this side of how people in universities face the future anymore.

The other issue is that we rarely sit down and talk about what having contested ideas mean for our actions and decisions today. Much of the literature is based on an assumption that ‘my’ idea is the one that matters, that holds the true heart and soul of the university in it, and everyone else is wrong. These ideas are neither right nor wrong and all have elements that make sense, but they can be more or less useful at different points in time.

Arrow Chamber Funnel ChartThen, I need to get my Causal Layered Analysis underway. This exercise will allow me to identify the nature of the contested ideas more deeply and the worldviews and stories that underpin each idea.

This step is about finding, surfacing and understanding the worldviews we have today about the future of the university as a social institution. How much agency we think we have to use the future today also depends on those mindsets.

Next is the step where I put it together by designing some scenario archetypes to reflect the types of universities that might evolve from each of the contested ideas. This is about thinking in multiples, understanding that no single future for the university exists – there are alternatives that must be explored first before making decisions and taking action today.

The final step is looking at the archetypes as a whole and looking for patterns across them that suggest implications for today’s policymakers and university leaders. This is the stage where I’m looking to identify pathways to the future.

The literature review has identified some elements of universities as organisations that I’ll use across these steps such as leadership, work roles, relationships, structures and culture. This will allow me to link the thinking as I work through each step.

This all is, of course, the starting point of this next phase of my PhD. I’ll change what I’m doing, adapt it, refine it and maybe even discard some of it as I do these tasks and write them up. The excitement is still there which is a good sign. I’ll check back in here as I go to update you on both excitement levels and progress.

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