Marco Koning is operations manager at StoryConnect, and as such is involved in developing applications centred around “learning and improving with experiences”. On this basis, Arno Korpershoek developed Agile Sensing together with StoryConnect. Marco tells about his journey as an applied scientist and “working with experiences” the foundation of Agile Sensing.
After his degree in Social and Organisational Psychology, Marco Koning spent 7 years as a military pilot psychologist with the Royal Netherlands Air Force (KLu). In the Netherlands, and in deployment areas he supported military operations and undertook debriefings of Dutch soldiers. He also did a lot of qualitative and quantitative (perception) research. This was followed by 7 years at Schiphol, with the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMar); The Identity Fraud and Documents Centre of Expertise and as project manager for a complex change project in the field of automatic border crossing systems.
This actually stemmed from some frustrations in my work. I think that every scientist can identify with this. We receive a broad education in our studies, especially in psychology a lot of attention is devoted to Research and Statistics Methods and Techniques. These were my favourite subjects. As an applied scientist, I discovered in practice, however, the limitations of doing scientific research. When I did quantitative research, I was often asked what the story was behind the figures. And when I did qualitative research, I was asked if this could not be converted into figures. I missed a smart combination of the two. As researcher, I was often confronted with complex issues, which I tried to approach on the basis of what I knew about the issue and the theory. I then asked questions to test whether hypotheses held true. People gave answers to the things I wanted to know as researcher. And I would always wonder, which part of the reality have I now identified? It occurred to me that little was done with the research carried out. These frustrations meant that after my time in the military I looked for something else. I had to read some innovation proposals for a client, one of which was about working with experiences and using the knowledge of patients as co-researchers. This really inspired me; I called the submitter, and one thing led to another. How does this differ from a standard process of questioning?
To return to my frustrations: – I missed a smart combination of qualitative and quantitative research: Working with experiences implies that you simultaneously map out qualitative information (the experience) and quantitative data (questions about the experience, the context and the narrator). I saw that as a major benefit. – Not the scientist is key but the narrator and how it is being done: In working with experiences, people say what they want to tell you. And all focused on common experiences so that you can increase your understanding and can develop improvement measures. Consequently, working with experiences is more a strategy for change than a form of research.
It is also important to note that we work in a participatory manner. This means that we develop the project with customers – how to get from collecting experiences to creating change. The questions asked about an experience are also developed together, where three main ingredients are: the focus of the project, the scientific insights and the living environment. For the district teams in the municipality of Enschede, for example, we go through this process together. They consider themselves the owner of the Narrative points (they can share experiences online via laptop, tablet or smartphone and answer questions about experiences). We teach them how they can hold work sessions with customers and colleagues in order to create insight from the collected information and develop improvement measures. In brief, we facilitate in the transformation but also teach the customer to facilitate independently.
Yes, it plays a big part, of course. Indeed, you are always faced with a change in behaviour – as an organisation, as a group of employees and as an individual person. People, groups of people and organisations have a tendency to do what they have been doing for a long time. In depth knowledge of psychology is then required to support changes, slowly with small nudges. You need to know how you to positively influence this. If you work with experiences, everyone’s living environment comes very close. This is how I experience it; it has happened to me. This makes it very tangible for people, so they want to think for themselves about how things can be done differently. And that gives a huge amount of positive energy.
The great thing about Agile Sensing is that you can continuously feel and monitor the informal undercurrent – on the work floor – within an organisation. With organisational change, it is important to take small incremental steps. Always coordinate with the people around you by listening to what they are going through. We continuously collect these experiences using Agile Sensing. Not only is the professional world of your employees included but their perceptions as a whole. Anyone who works well in this way, using narrative accounts and Agile Sensing, increases the chance of a ‘successful’ change. An important side-effect is that we adapt the speed of change in this way to the pace of change of the organisation. This is how we can affect natural and non-disruptive change.
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