What is practice anyway?

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My first routine use of the word “practice” was when I had piano lessons as a kid.  Practice was about repetition – playing the same pieces again and again until somehow they became easier to do.  My husband is currently studying the OU’s Beginner’s French course – there seems to be a lot of practice in that – partly the motor skills of pronunciation but again lots of repetition until it ‘goes in’.  So I suppose at its most basic level, the word “practice” is about becoming much more familiar with doing something so that it becomes a more natural part of your skill set.  I think that one of the reasons I have chosen to study Systems Practice is so that I can practice it – to keep using it so it is a much more natural part of the way I think and do.

Another use I became familiar with was its association with a profession, such as “social work practice” or “nursing practice”.     Professionals learn a set of ideas and a set of methods through their training that they can then apply in their work role.  It also seems that there is a lot about professional identity here.  It’s funny but during my MBA, I don’t think I remember mention of “management practice” – is that because it is a confused profession, with little identity or because they don’t approach the training of managers from a practice perspective or maybe both of those things. In the systems community, we do talk about “systems practice” but it seems to be a phrase only understood by those who are part of the community – so it creates an internal identity but not an external one.

The use of the word “practice” in TU812 and also a thread of discussion in the course forum, reminded me of something I covered in B823 Managing Knowledge.

I remember it was one of the hardest things to get my head round and now I have pulled out the course materials, I’m still confused.  It does seem to be a theory based on a relational thinking and they cite Vickers who is included in the Systems Thinkers book*.

Anyway, to boil it down to the bit that is relevant to this post:

Cook and Brown (1999)**  describe an epistemology of practice – based on their claim that epistemic work is part and parcel of human action and they provide these three really useful definitions:

  1. doing of any sort = behaviour
  2. action = behaviour imbued with meaning
  3. practice = action informed by meaning drawn from a particular group context (aka community)

Moving onto TU812, and the notion of Practice comes up again***.  Here, practice is the result of a relational dynamic between the practitioner, their framework of ideas, the methods they use and the situation they are in.  Practice (the phenomenon or performance we observe) arises from the relationship between these elements.  In this conceptual model, practice is not explicitly linked to a wider community but I can see that an individual’s framework of ideas and methods would be learned through socialisation in a particular community.

Well, as TU812 is about practice, I imagine my current understanding will develop but I think this is an okay summary of my current understanding.

*Ramage and Shipp (2009) “Systems Thinkers” The Open University, Milton Keynes

**Cook S and Brown J (1999) “Bridging Epistemologies: the Generative Dance between Organisational Knowledge and Organisational Knowing” in Little, Quintas and Ray (2002) “Managing Knowledge: an essential reader” The Open University/Sage Publications, Milton Keynes/London. reprinted from Organizational Science, Jul/Aug99, Vol. 10 Issue 4, p381-400

*** Open University (2010) ” TU812 Managing Systemic Change: inquiry, action and interaction Study Guide” The Open University, Milton Keynes

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