A simpatico relation: Learning to Change in Italian

A simpatico relation: Learning to Change in Italian

A review of the Italian translation of a collection of articles and essays by Jean Neumann.

A review of the Italian translation of a collection of articles and essays by Jean Neumann.

This is the first book that collects a series of contributions Jean Neumann has made with her work over the years. This work conceptualises the understanding of the complexity of the organisational change as an interdisciplinary scholarly practice with professional implications for change agents. The book is also the result of applying the Tavistock Institute’s traditions to the Italian Third Sector.

In February 2017 the first Italian edition of a selection of Jean Neumann’s articles was released by Maggioli Editori[1]. The book Apprendere per Cambiare. La ricerca azione per il cambiamento e la consulenza organizzativa[2] is a translation of Jean’s work on two levels. The first, and most obvious, is the translation from English into Italian. The second is less evident and more of a cultural and professional project: the translation of ideas.

The occasion for an initial translation of three of Jean’s articles (Chapters 1, 2 and 5 in this volume) was the idea of translating concepts, theoretical frameworks and professional practice around organisational change for Italian Third Sector organisations. Based on a formal collaboration between the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) and C.N.C.A.[3] Jean and Antonio Sama delivered two residential education events in 2009 in Rome and 2013 in Lamezia Terme. The chapters were then translated for educational purpose and circulated only among participants.

Behind these activities there was an assumption (also to be tested) that Third Sector Organisations, in general, and Italian ones, in particular, could have a “simpatico” relation, more than with other approaches, with action research and the Tavistock Institute traditions when it comes to analyse, design and implement participative organisational change. Making a combination of systemic psychodynamics, organisational theory, change management and consultancy practice[4] the events intended to provide an experiential learning process for leaders, managers and change agents of Italian Third Sector Organisations.

The Italian volume contains articles and book chapters that cover almost twenty years of Jean’s publications from “difficult beginnings” in 1994 to the “Lewinian rules” in 2013. Jean’s work continues the long tradition of social sciences applied to understanding and addressing societal and organisational issues. The choice of material to be translated and published follows three strategic lines that can be identified, among others, in Jean’s work. The first is the integration of disciplines (mainly system psychodynamics and organisational sciences) relevant to understanding and supporting the complexity of organisational change projects. The second, logically following on from this focusses on the skills, competencies and abilities any change agent (internal or external) uses when it comes to work with their client systems. The third looks at how change agents (for example organisational consultants) can acquire and develop such skills and competencies as part of, or the core of their professional development.

Jean’s entry point in these areas and in their connections and integration is that of a scholarly practitioner[5] that requires and promotes the rigour of a scholar and at the same time the insights and experience of a practitioner. This makes her work interesting and useful for a variety of professional and scientific constituencies. The choice and structure of the chapters try to maintain this balance between theory and practice, academic interest and professional expertise.

The book is divided into three parts and an Introduction.

The Introduction to the book is our contribution to introducing Jean’s work to the Italian audience and positioning it within the challenges that organisational change, and change agents, are facing.

The first part (L’eredita’ di Lewin)[6] contain two contributions. The first chapter is about the theoretical and practical influence Kurt Lewin had on the various generations of the Tavistock Institute over a period of 40 years. Data gathered from direct conversions and philological work on published materials provides a picture of the changing degree of explicit presence but, at the same time, of enduring influence.

The second chapter is about the operationalisation for the practice of four of Lewin principles (Dynamic Approach Rule, Field Theory Rule, Contemporaneity Rule and Constructive Method Rule). Each principle is presented with reference to Lewin’s work, a project from the TIHR archive and one more recent project are provided as evidence of the principle. For each principle Jean provides a “practice pointer” (the cases from the TIHR archive and recent practice) and a “diagnosis tip” (that can help and support consultants’ learning and practice).

The second part (L’integrazione disciplinare)[7] contains two more contributions. The third chapter is an editorial Jean wrote with Larry Hirschhorn on the need for integrating system psychodynamics and organisational theories for a special issue of Human Relations. The editorial provides an account of the state of the art of the integration and of the difficulties in promoting such an integration. The fourth chapter uses a case study for an analysis and a critique of what can go wrong in practice when such integration is weak.

The third part (La pratica consulenziale)[8] includes two final contributions focussing on consultancy practice at the beginning of a consultancy intervention. The fifth chapter addresses, with an integration of theory and cases from the author’s practice, the stage of entry and contracting. The sixth chapter analyses and discusses what happens in difficult beginnings and what can be learned from reflecting on both consultants’ competence and consultancy practice. The chapter also provides an original framework for linking difficulties with diagnostic and theoretical issues.

We echo Jean’s words in the Foreword, we hope that the book will

“(…) contribute to the practical effectiveness of: (a) outsiders who are intervening across a boundary into a social system that is not their own; and, (b) insiders taking a social science approach to program management and implementation from the position of belonging. (…) [and] that readers [will] find something to put into practice as well as their own idiosyncratic ways of integrating theory and practice.

We would like to show our gratitude to Jean Neumann for welcoming this project and helping us choosing the material to be translated and published. We would also like to thank Francesco Sinibaldi, from Maggiori Editori, for embracing and supporting this editorial project, and others, and Elvira Calabrese for helping us with the translation. Of course we take full responsibility for the translation.

By Francesca Falcone and Antonio Sama


[1] The fact that this book is released on the 70th anniversary of the TIHR is pure coincidence. However some of the published chapters have a direct or indirect reference to the archive

[2] Learning to Change. Action research for organisational consultancy and change

[3] CNCA ‐ Coordinamento Nazionale Comunità di Accoglienza (National Coordination of Care Communities) was established in Turin in 1982. It is a Federation of about 250 Third‐Sector organisations, located in 19 out of 20 regions in Italy, including social cooperatives, support centres, care and treatment communities, etc.

CNCA is active in all fields of disadvantage and marginalisation, with the aim of promoting citizens’ rights and social well‐being. Its main aim is to foster debate and channel the views of member organisations, in order to contribute to local and national development on social and economic policies and on the organisation of social services, in the different fields of intervention.

[4] This “blend” of disciplines constitutes the epistemological and educational core of the Advanced Organisational Consultation (AOC) programme that the TIHR, also in collaboration with the City University, has delivered for 16 years. This programme was the basis of the formal agreement between TIHR and CNCA.

[5] It is not by chance that Jean’s title at the TIHR is Senior Fellow in Scholarly Practice.

[6] Lewin legacy.

[7] The integration of disciplines.

[8] The consultancy practice.

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