Organization Development as a Source

In Organization Development as Source,  Ingrid traces the evolution of organization development to show the contributions it can make to the field of capacity development, especially concerning long-term systemic change.  This paper was originally published in Ubels, J.; Acquaye-Baddoo, N; and Fowler, A. (Ed.). (2010. Capacity Development in Practice. Earthscan. Washington, D.C.

A major source for thinking about, and practising capacity development, is the professional field of organizational development (OD). Capacity development (CD) practitioners will therefore benefit from a good understanding of this rather eclectic discipline.

In her insightful contribution, Ingrid Richter traces the evolution of OD and describes the multiple influences that have shaped it. She draws on her own experience and that of other OD practitioners to show how much convergence there is between OD and CD practice, especially with regard to approaches and methods for supporting long-term change. This convergence is a growing resource for the work of CD advisers. Practitioners will find this chapter illuminating in locating the roots of some capacity-development practices and approaches with which they may be familiar.

Riding the Pendulum Between ‘Clocks’
and ‘Clouds’: The History of OD and
Its Relation to CD
Ingrid Richter
According to the scientific philosopher Karl Popper (1972), all complex systems fall on a continuum between clouds and clocks. He described cloud systems as irregular and unpredictable and clock systems as regular and predictable. Over the years the practice of organization development (OD) might be described as riding the pendulum between activities driven by ‘clock’ thinking assumptions and activities driven by ‘cloud’ thinking assumptions. In this respect it has much in common with the swinging pendulum of assumptions behind capacity development (CD) practice. Both sets of activity are focused on facilitating change in complex systems.
Organizational Development as a Source 101
Organization development, while rooted in human relations and social sciences, has evolved into a field which is truly cross-disciplinary. Historically it has deep roots in social psychology and social change, but has increasingly been focused on improving the effectiveness and productivity of organizations in general, and work places in particular. It is important to acknowledge that there are many practitioners, especially in the Southern hemisphere, who have always been committed to the support of organizations and social movements by applying OD and capacity development practices in an integrated way.1
Organization Development grew out of the human relations traditions of the 1940s and 1950s, and it has had enormous influence on management practices and thinking about how organizational effectiveness can be achieved. Many of its original proponents would have agreed that there is a significant overlap between OD and CD, as defined earlier in this volume:
Capacity is the ability of a human system to perform, sustain itself and self-renew.
(SNV, 2007)
This chapter stimulates further thinking and debate about what OD brings to capacity development thinking and practice in three ways. Firstly, it provides a historical overview of the roots and branches of OD and some of the ‘pendulum’ of ideas that it has shaped it over time. Secondly, it suggestsg and points to what OD offers to our understanding and practice of capacity development as the evolution is traced. Finally the chapter proposes some implications, trends and future perspectives that seem to draw the two practices closer together.

Organization Development as Source


© Ray Gordezky, Ingrid Richter