Organizational Change in the 21st Century

I am involved right now in two meaningful and somewhat parallel discussions online. The first is the discussion over the new draft National Standards for Music Education, sponsored by NAfME but organized through the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. The second is a discussion about another organization of which I am an active member, and it’s desire to be relevant to 21st century needs. (Sounds just like standards reform, no?)

In both instances, well-meaning people with elected authority have sought to bring about change to improve the situation for music education and music teachers. In both cases, the effort for membership/public feedback was taken care of through an online survey. In both cases, there is a concern by some that the leadership is not listening or did not listen or will not listen to feedback.

First, I believe in the goals of both organizations. I truly do believe that the leadership seeks positive feedback and has positive intentions.

Second, I can see that in both instances, a survey may be the cleanest, but not necessarily the most informative, way to gain feedback. The advantage of a survey is that it is standardized, quick, and easy to understand the results. The disadvantage of the survey is that it is standardized, quick, and does not elicit ongoing conversation. In the vacuum left by the closed nature of the survey, those outside of the leadership looking to speak up in dialogue have turned to social media.

Welcome to the 20-teens. A decade ago, an emailed survey would have been the best solution for a situation like this. Today? Look at what a computer programmer does to perfect his or her app. An online forum, reviews open to the public, and constant adaptation and updates. Built in feedback tools that highlight problems immediately. Contrast this with education “Standards,” where we as a nation get one shot at the right answer, which could potentially dominate the educational institution for the next generation or longer.

We need to figure out how to apply crowd sourcing to our large music education organizations. But as one of my mentors has pointed out in these discussions, we need to do this in a way where we don’t just value the “quick fix,” but also constantly reflect on historical practice and involve those with the greatest knowledge and experience.

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