Approaching the MPA 8002 Course Project
A (gentle) word of warning: students should watch their language...words do possess meaning! Specifically, this "project" is not a "term paper," although for many students the terms are synonymous. Be clear: the terms are not synonymous. A "project" is a developmental "work in process," one subject to revision and change as one works with various elements of the project, receives feedback about them, and thinks differently about the project as the course and events influence one's thoughts. A "term paper" is a final project judged solely on the basis of its merits as presented by the student.
Students should understand that the MPA 8002 course project is more "fluid" than "static." The percentages assigned to each exercise (as one component of the overall project) reflect how each exercise builds upon what precedes. The goal is that the final project reflects the best scholarship bridging theory and practice as best as each student knows how bridge them...at this point in one's academic career. Please understand that it's the mindset implied by the words "project" and "term paper" that students need to be clear about, because the mindset implicit in each influences how students will approach the course project, in general, and each exercise, in particular.
Students should be careful of expanding each of the exercises that constitute the course project into much larger, more onerous undertakings than each is intended to be. Remember: the course project is neither a dissertation or research paper (article) nor is it intended to be. The explicit purpose in assigning the course project is for students to conduct an organizational analysis utilizing various perspectives and to engage in decision making about a program for organizational change that accounts for the strengths and weaknesses presented by each frame (Bolman & Deal, 2003) or image of organization (Morgan, 1997) as well as the idiosyncratic variables in each student's organizational context. The implicit purpose of the course project, then, is for students to develop cognitive complexity so that they will be capable of identifying the organizational issues evidencing themselves in the many problems negatively impacting their organization's functioning, to complicate their understanding about organizational functioning, how all of this relates to management and leadership and, then, to engage in ethical decision making.
Also, students should be very careful about a trap that many of them as well as others unwittingly fall into (consultants especially). The course project is not intended for students to use a unitary template (theory of practice) or quiver of templates (theories of practice) and to impose it (them) as an assessment device upon an organizational entity (Sergiovanni, 1986). No, the purpose of the course project is for students—through what they are reading/studying (in this class or in other classes, for that matter)—to unearth new insights into the organizational reality they may well have already experienced and interpreted but, as a consequence of one's research, now understand in a new or quite different way. The process of this project is to open the students' eyes to the possibilities of the mysterious and unknown, the unforeseen, and the unanticipated, what Bolman and Deal refer to as organization's "deceptive" aspect (2003, p. 26).
That is why the prospectus for Exercise #2 states "let the data take on a life of their own" and "you may feel like it is a hopeless mess." Insight, ingenuity, creativity, and a comprehensive resolution to the issue underlying the numerous problems emerging in human organizations derive from a combination of the mind AND the heart. (A brief commercial: that's the specific contribution of Augustinian educational theory—what only VU has as its heritage that no other USA university does). Students, then, should be very careful about engaging in the project with any pre-packaged template and imposing it upon the data the students are amassing about their organizations and their functioning. Students who do this will have failed to enter into their organization's substantive substructure because they have donned conceptual blinders.
In addition, students should remember that the three exercises constituting the course project are bound by the rules of strict confidentiality. That is, unless an individual student makes the information contained in the project public, it is considered private and privileged information.
Somewhat more practically...
more companies, small and large, will identify opportunities in which
In the course project for MPA 8002, and particularly in the organization change plan presented in Exercise #2, students should not worry so much about writing what they believe others (especially the professor) want to read. Students should worry more about what they want to state and how to state it in the most efficient and effective way possible. In this sense, students should be guided by two clauses, namely, "less is more" and "simple is elegant."
For most students, the course project will be one of their first experiences with professional writing according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). At first, students will normally experience writing according to this style manual to be somewhat artificial, especially until students learn how to express themselves in the most forcible and compelling way possible. Students should remember that becoming a proficient writer requires trial and error, editing, and rewriting/revising. That is, students will learn to write by writing and confronting the sometimes embarrassing fact that one does not write quite as well as one believes or has been led to believe! Learning to write professionally also involves learning to read more critically (i.e., among other matters, appreciating how authors express themselves for better or worse). Lastly, professional writing demands a personal commitment to inculcate the self-disciplines required if one is to write well.
In light of the fact that students are provided the opportunity to edit and revise Exercise #1, students should focus upon attending to clarity of expression in Exercise #1 more than to the details of citing and referencing resources so as to learn these very important elements of style. Students have been taught much of the former and should be capable of executing these well, especially considering the fact that they have completed their undergraduate degree programs. Many students will learn the latter through the challenging experience of not citing and referencing correctly in Exercise #1 and being corrected for it.
Somewhat very practically...
Three written exercises comprise the MPA 8002 project. Using the organizational context where students are currently employed (or, in some instances, were previously employed), they will inquire into their organization's purpose and current context, applying and adapting organizational theory to that context, and suggesting a theory-based, practical organizational change plan that offers the promise of ameliorating the issue that underlies many of the problems impeding organizational success. Then, in light of this, students will formulate a provisional definition of "leadership." Throughout this project, students will engage in these activities as if each currently occupies the mid-level management position to which one aspires. (If a student already occupies that position, e.g., township manager, school principal, hospital CEO, Human Resources Director, the student will study the organization from that leadership position unless the student is preparing to assume an upper-level management position.)
In Exercise #1, students will write an organizational biography that details their organization's purpose and current context. In addition, the biography will identify those problems each student believes are impeding the organization from successfully achieving its strategy and goals. Lastly, students will conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. Exercise #1 accounts for 20% of the course project grade. (Students should follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association [6th ed.] To assist students as they begin integrating the APA style into their writing, Exercise #1 will be corrected and critiqued for textual and logical errors and returned returned to students the following week. In turn, students will be expected to correct for those errors in future written work in light of the critique received.)
In Exercise #2, students will formulate an organizational change plan. In this plan, students will use theory to evaluate and, if necessary, to refine the organizational biography presented in Exercise #1, as students develop the "cognitive complexity" (Jacobs, n.d.) needed to identify the issue at the heart of the problems currently impeding organizational success. Using at least three theories to deal with this issue, the organizational change plan will provide a step-by-step path that offers promise of ameliorating the issue by engaging employees in purposive behaviors through which they will learn to solve their problems. Exercise #2 accounts for 50% of the course project grade.
In Exercise #3, students will formulate a provisional statement of organizational leadership. In this statement, students will reflect upon Exercises #1 and #2 to identify what they believe is needed on the part of managers in their organizations if these individuals are to lead their followers in a successful organizational change effort. In addition, students will engage in a self-evaluation, identifying what they have learned in the process of completing the course project for MPA 8002. Exercise #3 accounts for 30% of the course project grade.
Students should note the following requirements when preparing this project:
Taken individually and collectively, the three exercises that comprise the course project for MPA 8002 will enable students to develop a relevant theory of organizational leadership for actual practice. When students have completed these three exercises, they will have explicated a clear and comprehensive organizational analysis and organizational change proposal that will serve as a sound foundation for future organizational decision-making activities. And, students will become more capable of making ethical decisions, as Aristotle used that term in the Nicomachean Ethics. Lastly, students will have developed their skills in written communication.
The course project accounts for 80% of the final grade.
If students have any questions concerning this project as they are working on it, please email those questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.