Assumptions and triple loop learning

Cy Twombly, Untileld (Bacchus)

Triple loop learning

See: Argyris, 1977; Argyris and Schön 1992; Sinek, 2009; Ramalingam et al. 2009; Roche, 2010; Ørnemark, 2015; Prieto Martin et al. 2017; Cabaj, 2019 for some inspiration

Matching learning loops and assumptions

  1. Paradigmatic assumptions: Structuring assumptions we use to order the world into fundamental categories. Most commonly, these are belief systems, world views, and philosophies. So, this is primarily about the WHY we do what we do and WHO we want to be.
  2. Prescriptive assumptions: Assumptions about what we think ought to be happening in a particular situation. Such assumptions are about how we believe we and other actors should behave. It’s about our view of what is deemed appropriate in a particular context. These assumptions underlie WHY we do what we do based on shared norms and values. So, this is also chiefly about the WHY and the WHO.
  3. Causal assumptions: These are assumptions about how different parts of the world work and about the conditions under which these can be changed. This is about the events and conditions needed (i.e. necessary) for the associated causal link to work — for the cause (or set of causes) to lead to the effect. This can be idiosyncratic to a particular location or may hold across locations. So, this is more about the way in which the WHAT connects to the HOW.
  4. Operational assumptions: These are assumptions about the operating environment for delivering a programme. This is about what it takes to implement. These assumptions might includes external context, such as issues of political stability, freedom of expression or movement, environmental factors, but they more commonly relate to operational logistics (resources, access, participation). So, this is chiefly about the WHAT.



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Thomas Aston

I'm an independent consultant specialising in theory-based and participatory evaluation methods.