Learning is hard. Hard to understand, hard to apply, hard to make consistent, hard to apply and change behaviour.
Learning about learning is a lot harder.
So when someone starts talking about ‘double loop learning’, eyes start rolling out. And when ‘triple loop learning’ splashes in a conversation, it ends in a circle of silence baked out of disbelief, compassion and impatience mixed with utter confusion…
Thing is: Are there genuine instances of ‘triple loop learning’ we can point to? There’s enough written about the theory of triple-loop learning but exceedingly little about when (where and how) it happens.
I can however think of a couple of examples:
- People working hand-in-hand with the people involved in a given initiative to understand and evaluate their learning about what they’re trying to do – like the IKM-Emergent programme evaluation approach perhaps.
- A community that has managed to work with all stakeholders in and around it to actually self-organise and find its own ways of dealing with its own wicked problems – possibly this was one of the objectives of the Millennium Villages.
Now the question is: can this be funded (by global development actors)? So far, very little chance, it seems. High risk, low certainty, extreme degree of complexity and abstraction (to start with).
But it’s, at the same time, remarkable that we haven’t yet put more attention to this if we want to be more efficient, more effective, more sustainable, scaled up and out and about…
How long before one funding agency, or one collective of people with a strong sense of agency, finds the boldness to just start an initiative that puts triple loop learning front and centre?
How long can we afford to stay at the surface of complex problems? When it’s too late?