Learning Layers – What can we learn during on-site visits? (Part 1)

My latest blog postings on Learning Layers focused on lessons to be learned from predecessor projects. We still need to follow that track. There is surely something to be discussed when we get statements from colleagues who have been involved (and taken the opportunity to think aloud about their learning gains).

However, now the current phase of the Learning Layers is pushing forward the on-site visits and the work with interview materials. At the moment we are just making the very first interviews and the editing of recordings and the detailed analyses are on the agenda in January 2013. Yet, already at this point it is worthwhile to consider, what we (as researchers) can learn during the on-site visits when talking to people who know their trade (and the issues  to be studied)  via their own practical experience.

Three members of the  ITB team visited earlier this week our Application organisation “Agentur für Nachhaltiges Bauen” in Verden near Bremen. We didn’t have much time to look around at their exhibition areas or at their test sites. Yet, we got interesting insights into the wide area of  ‘ecological construction work’.  Here some points as starters while waiting for the analyses and the Application Partner Days (that provide an opportunity for more partners to make such on-site visits):

 1) Who are our counterparts and what do they represent: We were told that we would be having interviews with a student (doing his Praktikum at the Agentur) and with two architects. During the discussion we learned that they all seemed to have a background as skilled workers (and eventually as master craftsmen – Meister) in the construction sector before starting their studies. Thus, their learning histories and occupational careers combined practical work experience and academic studies.

2) What is “ecological construction work” about: Another issue to be considered was the diversity of approaches to ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecological construction work’. Some approaches emphasise sustainability without thinking that much on ecological impact of preparatory processes, logistic chains etc. Some approaches are very thoroughly committed to ecological materials and to construction tehniques with minor ecological consequences. These different positions may also have implications on the use and acceptance of mobile devices and ICT in general.

3) What is the relation between ‘competitiveness’ and ‘knowledge sharing’: Our counterparts gave us a colourful picture of constraints to share knowledge (and make the construction site work together) and to keeping one’s professional secrets to themselves. Both pressures are there – at the individual level and at the level of organisations. It was interesting to discuss, what kind of experiences and observations our counterparts had made about readiness to share knowledge (and with whom, in particular).

4) What works in knowledge transfer and what doesn’t: Each of our counterparts had made experiences of the use of different media to support knowledge transfer.  They drew our attention to personal trust and to social relations (how to get good communication work) above any ranking of possible (old or new media). Yet, they had interesting views on, what kind of media are OK for certain target groups and what might not be considered OK.

5) Cultural changes – readiness or resistance: The pioneers of ecological construction work had made a lot of experiences with changes in construction techniques – both regarding the resistance and regarding the readiness to accept new ideas once you had tried. This was also important for the discussion on usability of web tools and services.

I could go on with this list but prefer to stop here. As I said before, these were just first impressions and rather vague answers to the question, what we as researchers can learn during on-site visits.

The story will be continued …