Academic departments can be viewed as complex, knowledge-intense social systems of interacting and interdependent agents (e.g. students, faculty, and staff). When these agents interact, they change one another’s information content, permitting the social network to process information in ways that create emergent outcomes. In such systems, information merges, diverges, combines, and gets extinguished; sometimes, it evolves into something entirely unexpected. The complexity leadership theory posits that managing certain enabling conditions within the social network (e.g. interactions, interdependencies, and adaptive pressures) can accomplish visionary outcomes (e.g., collaborative problem solving and creativity).
The main research question is on assessing the efficacy of complexity leadership theory (CLT) as a change model for inculcating a shared vision in an engineering department and for fostering transformation. We are particularly interested in the collective impetus for action and change that emerges from the interplay among the agents of a social network; which, is quite different from the traditional sub-discipline silo-based operations and decision-making evident in most civil engineering departments. Hence, to answer the main research question, the research plan will test a suite of research questions regarding such things as faculty innovation, satisfaction and engagement, and creativity.
Clemson's RED initiative draws on network analysis and agent-based modeling (ABM) to identify strengths and weaknesses in its RED program. As inputs to analysis and modeling tools, baseline data on grant collaborations, task interdependencies, and social networks among faculty as well as their attitudes were collected at the program’s inception and will be repeated at the beginning of each academic year. Follow-up data, supplemented with interviews and artifacts, were collected several months into the project and were triangulated with results from the surveys and subsequent network analyses. Tools for social network analyses provide profiles of group functions. Longitudinal analyses of these profiles and functions then reveal how networks evolve over time. This aspect will be particularly useful in assessing the efficacy of CLT in revolutionizing engineering departments. Assessing faculty members’ “constructed realities” about the civil engineering department from interview data will apply case study methodologies. Qualitative analyses allow us to identify group perceptions of what is going on in the program.
Complexity leadership theory describes how practitioners can foster the emergence of complexly interactive dynamics in a group or organization, and how to effectively lead and influence such organizations. Complex leaders foster interactive, networked relationships; interdependency and ensuing pressure; task-related struggles and elaborations; heterogeneity; pressure to create, adapt, produce and learn; robustness; and psychological safety (among other things). Such dynamics enable creativity, productivity, and change outcomes.
This paper summarizes the power of network analysis and ABM in explaining social outcomes, presents an overview of complexity theory, demonstrates how data is processed using anonymized data produced by Clemson’s RED program, provides initial faculty reactions to CLT network analysis, and explains how results are used to improve group outcomes.
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