Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ecology of Impact: Applying Barker's Behavior Settings to Onsite Post-training Assessments

Typically, when assessing training, we focus on individual's recall of content, and perhaps on the extent of application of the new knowledge to the task at hand. This narrow focus misses the larger and, arguably, more significant social context, within which, when change efforts succeed, we find enduring structures that continue to shape the behavior of all who dwell there over time. these structures are the real fruit of learning. Absence of such structures are evidence that the instructional effort has failed, despite individual differences in achievement.

This approach might be called an ecological one. It premises that interactions among individuals explain the tools which Barker and his disciples created to describe them in detail.

From Wikipedia:

"Behavior settings are mediating structures that help explain the relationship between the dynamic behavior of individuals and stable social structure. Social scientist Roger Barker first developed this theoretical framework in the late 1940s.
Behavior settings also may serve as a bridge between the foundational work of Humberto Maturana & Francisco Varela on Autopoiesis and the insights developed in AmericanPragmatism and Continental Activity Theory.
A behavior setting exists at the interface between the standing patterns of behavior and the milieu (environment), wherein the behavior is happening in the 'milieu', and the 'milieu' in some sense "matches" the 'behavior'. In technical parlance, the "behavior-milieu interface" is called the synomorph, and the 'milieu' is said to be circumjacent and 'synomorphic' to the 'behavior'.
In a dentist’s office, for example, "patients get their cavities filled". This is the standing pattern (the behavior/milieu part or 'synomorph') because we are in the office (the 'milieu' surrounds us, i.e. 'circumjacent') and the pieces of the 'milieu' 'fit' the standing pattern (the drill is meant to fit in my mouth and drill my tooth, i.e. 'synomorphic' with the 'behavior'). Further, to be considered a 'behavior setting', these 'behavior/milieu parts' or 'synomorphs' must have a specific degree of interdependence that is greater than their interdependence with other parts of other settings.
There is an empirical test that can determine the relative robustness of behavior settings, depending on the index of interdependence between and among specific standing patterns of behavior. By itself, a standing pattern of behavior is meaningless; it would be like watching a person pretending to go to the dentist’s office and having a cavity filled. Also, a dentist’s office without patients (or the possibility of patients) would be a meaningless artifact.
So, a behavior setting is a self-referenced (internally interdependent and self-defined) entity that consists of one or more standing patterns of behavior. Just as the standing pattern is synomorphic with the artifacts in the milieu, so are standing patterns synomorphic with other standing patterns in the behavior setting. We see in the eminent ecological psychologistRoger G. Barker’s conception, an elegant and stable view of the nested interrelationships that exist within our common experience. The pieces fit, and in their fitting we see the larger structure-in-a-context that is necessary for making claims about developmentcausality, or purpose.