LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Agency for Unimagined Events

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In the first presentation, Ivano shared a model of agency and structure and how they interact. In this presentation he explored two topics which are connected, how to increase employees’ sense of agency in what they do and the the problem of uncertainty.

Ivano describes agentic employees  as knowing that they can have a say on what objectives they pursue in the organization and how to go about them. This includes understanding how they interact with the structures such as the routines they engage in within their position and what is expected from those.

Ivano suggests that we can help employees become more agentic by helping them become aware of the pre-reflective aspect of agency so they can be in touch with how their own history in past positions is reflected in the habitual aspect of their work as well as how others approach their work. In this way we can leverage diversity and increase innovations. Ivano asked us to consider how we might balance these two aspects of agency – what can actually be changed in terms of the reflective agency – the choice of objectives and means, and what we can do to make everyone aware of the uniqueness of the contribution they bring which is given by their own way of addressing problems.

The second area of Ivano’s presentation dealt with how we deal with unimagined events – those were we don’t know the event space and don’t know what can happen in the future – like Covid.  In this case , the event sits outside our imagination.

Agency and structure matter for how you act but also for what future events you imagine or can’t imagine.  Lets look at reflective agency – when you consider scenarios that could happen, you do so based on your current position and the information available to you at the time which lead you to consider different alternatives and contingency plans.  Pre-reflective agency driven by past experiences, will lead you to take for granted that some aspects of reality will be as they have been in the past – leaving you in the dark about the future.

So this leads us to consider, why is it that there are things we can’t imagine?  One explanation might be that there is a mismatch between the structures out there and the structures within. We might ask ourselves, How do we develop the ability to recognize when the structures have changed so we can be more agentic and expand our imagination?

Ivano urged us to consider the following questions.  Feel free to comment below.

  • In your organization, can you think of situations where different people imagine different futures?
  • Can you think of situations where mismatches between structures ‘within’ and ‘out there’ led to some event remaining unimagined until it occurred?
  • How would your organization benefit from the variety of imagined futures as imagined by different people?


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