“The STAIR model: a knowledge management tool for transforming Greek public bureaucracies to learnin

The Problem

Globalization, the impact of the information society, demographic change and persistently high levels of unemployment are placing unprecedented competitive pressures on public organizations and their employees.
Greek public administration in its effort to deal with these demands has initiated various reform projects aimed at making government more efficient, effective, productive, flexible, transparent and responsive.
However, dissatisfied citizens, low levels of government and public service performance, trust decline, corruption, political scandals, black markets, more tax avoidance strategies, and cynicism are some of the signs that the empirical research has shown.
It is suggested that these unsuccessful reform efforts can be attributed to the fact that the majority of these modernization initiatives viewed organizational change as a mechanical process, as a matter of restructuring departments, rearranging functions and personnel or other top-drive technical solutions, rather than an attempt to change individual and organizational culture.
We argue that successfully modernizing the public sector in Greece mainly depends on how human capital i.e. public leaders and their staff, think, learn and behave. A shift from a bureaucratic organizational learning - single loop learning, towards an innovative and reflective organizational learning - double loop learning, is vital to achieving such a successful transition. In other words, modernization is a dynamic transformative learning process tantamount to creating a learning public organization.
Learning does not occur naturally, it is a complex organizational process that needs to be initiated and sustained. Thus, creating a learning public administration requires a framework which embodies both the formal and informal frames of learning. A holistic framework which emphasizes the structural and policy making systems and at the same time goes beyond formal initiatives to foster a deeper understanding of the behavioral and cultural systems of the organization.
In response to this challenge we devised the STAIR (Strategy, Targets, Assignment, Implementation, Results) model, as a Knowledge management tool, that can be utilized for modernizing Greek government organizations. In particular, the STAIR framework consists of three distinct but complementary phases: strategy design (STA), strategy implementation (I) and strategy evaluation (R) - which represent the operational core of the model. Additionally the STAIR model puts an emphasis on the development of the intangible assets that underpin its operational core e.g. employee commitment, citizen focus, transparency, meritocracy, trust, learning and innovation etc. These intangible elements constitute the cultural core of the STAIR model and are considered as the cornerstone for perpetual achievement and sustainable results.
We argue, therefore, that STAIR can become a tool for managing organizational change towards the learning public organization if it is used as an ideal state, a conceptual framework for testing and evaluating organizational reality - namely, the more the thinking, reasoning and reflecting on the two cores of the STAIR, the easier the road for establishing the learning public organization. In other words competence in climbing up the steps of the STAIR can transform organizations into strategically thinking and acting - learning entities.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
As mentioned above, the main objective of the initiative was to devise an innovative knowledge management framework that can help Greek public organizations to pursue change and modernization effectively. Arguing that modernization means creating a learning public organization viz. developing new ways of thinking and behaving within every single public organization, we offer the STAIR model as a vehicle for critical reflection, learning generation and organizational development. Its significance rests on capturing the dual nature of the contemporary public sector organization viz. the visible and invisible domain of the organization (STAIR’s operational and cultural core respectively). The STAIR comprehends the dynamics of change within an organization as the mutual reinforcement of formal & informal learning / tangible & intangible elements/ technocratic & organic structures/ operational & cultural systems.
The STAIR model was implemented as a pilot study in a Greek public organization. The Institute of Continuing Training – the main provider of training in the Greek Public Sector, and more particularly the Department of Initial Training (DIT) was chosen as the unit of analysis for the present case study.
The case study purpose was twofold. (a), to test the validity of STAIR as a framework for managing knowledge and developing learning capabilities and (b), to optimize the STAIR process in order to improve departmental and organizational performance. Both purposes were achieved and benefits derived for the internal as well as the external stakeholders (e.g. DIT’s employees and trainees).
Following the above mentioned encouraging pilot study, efforts were made in applying the STAIR model through a quantitative and qualitative approach (please see section 4).

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The project team: 2 members of the scientific personnel of NCPA (Contact’s name: Dr Maria Zeppou)
Greek government has published the Modernizing Government Acts (2001; 2007) and the NCPA - the main provider of training within Greek public administration – provided seminars for those actively involved in the implementation of reform Acts.
Being members of the scientific personnel of the NCPA, we considered the government’s call for change and modernization as an intellectual professional challenge - a developmental opportunity - beyond the call to devise training programs. Therefore we designed and implemented the relevant initiative.
The project participants: 1200 public employees from various public organizations, who were involved in the implementation of the above mentioned reform acts and participated in the relevant training programs.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
According to the objectives of the project/ initiative various strategies were employed as follows:
Objective 1: To design a knowledge management tool for change
Strategy: qualitative approach – case study
Objective 2: To identify the organizational competences needed for initiating and implementing change
Strategy: quantitative approach - survey
Objective 3: To identify any obstacles affecting the change process
Strategy: qualitative approach - focus groups discussion
Objective 4: To ensure continuity in the change process
Strategy: qualitative approach – virtual school

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The key steps in the implementation process are the following:
(1) Conceptualization of the STAIR model, conduct the case study, , analysis of results (2001-2002)
(2) Building awareness about the STAIR - and its use in implementing Greek modernization reform Acts , conduct the survey, analysis of results (2002-2003)
(3) Identification of the factors that inhibit change, conduct the focus groups discussions, analysis of results (2003-2005)
(4) Spreading the STAIR & creating learning communities of STAIR users, provision of training and on line learning, collaboration with the UK National School of Government (2006 – to date)

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Implementing the STAIR knowledge management initiative we attempted to change individual and collective thinking, acting and learning within Greek public sector. The most common obstacles encountered during that process were mainly cognitive and behavioral e.g. there is lack of knowledge and skills in regard to design a clear and understandable strategy; there is a difficulty in defining goals and measuring goals & performance; there is a difficulty in conceptualizing change, innovation, reflection etc; there is lack of positive attitude towards change/ skepticisms and resistance to change; there are low levels of participation in goal setting, low levels of communication, team working and collaboration; there is lack of job autonomy; lack of transparency, meritocracy, trust; there is lack of motivation / incentives and insufficient commitment from staff to the organization; there is lack of leadership qualities.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The human resources and costs associated with the initiative are the following.
The project team: 2 members of the scientific personnel of NCPA (Contact’s name: Dr Maria Zeppou)
As already mentioned, we decided to undertake this initiative in parallel with our other responsibilities in the NCPA. In particular, the project design and its implementation was an initiative derived purely from our personal scientific interest and no financial charges were made for the very many extra working hours devoted to the project.
The learning experience gained during the long term running of the project (2001 –to date) constitutes the intrinsic rewards that keep us fully committed to its implementation.
The project participants: 1200 public employees from various public organizations
The majority of project participants were public employees who received training during office hours - within the context of Modernization Acts training seminars offered by the NCPA- and therefore there wasn’t any extra cost for the present project.
Administrative cost: The administrative cost of the project includes the normal expenses applied in every research project e.g. conference participation fees, travel expenses, photocopying, training material etc.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The results show that each public organization is unique and must follow its own path for change. Using STAIR as terms of reference for handling change, public leaders and their staff can perform self-evaluation and formulate their own plans and improvement strategies. This means that organization wide training is needed so that every member of the public organization becomes conversant with using STAIR.
The UK National School of Government, on the basis of its collaboration with NCPA, delivers training for Greek public sector employees. Trying to raise awareness on the issue of organizational development and change they presented the STAIR model, in parallel with their Investor in People model as best practices for achieving organizational change.
STAIR is also available on the UK National School of Government - Virtual School site for those wishing to learn-online about Best International Practices (http://www.nationalschool.gov.uk/virtualschool/index.asp).

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Organizational change towards the establishment of a learning public organizational is not a mechanical process. It is a unique, organization-specific learning process, that must be developed as an internalized continuous process, which is embedded in the organizational culture and is considered by every member of the organization as a strategic tactic for learning and innovation.

Organizational change has to be fashioned in each sub-unit of the organization as a bottom up process. Organizational change occurs on a unit-by-unit basis by building communities of reflective practitioners that will cross the boundaries of a specific department and spread across the whole organization.

The successful application of the STAIR model requires competent staff, able to fully understand the learning philosophy - which underpins the two cores of the Model (operational & cultural core).

Last but not least inspired leadership is a prerequisite for the development of increased thinking, reasoning and reflecting on the two core systems of the STAIR model. Continuous experimentation and feedback of how an organization thinks and acts creates shifts in people mental models, influences their actual behavior and smoothens the road for Greek public sector modernization

STAIR is far from being a panacea for organizational change and learning, but it can be seen certainly as a practical tool towards the establishment of the learning public organization in Greece.

Contact Information

Institution Type:   Public Organization  
Contact Person:   MARIA ZEPPOU
Telephone/ Fax:   00306978206960
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   zeppou@ekdd.gr  
Address:   211 PIREAUS STREET
Postal Code:   17778
City:   ATHENS
Country:   Greece

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