Harvesting, as you know being from a tribe of long standing agrarian practice, (!) is constituted of all kinds of things. Mostly though, you need an artifact and a feedback loop. What is the tangible piece I can hold in my hand and point to, and how does it fold back into the system to create learning. many systems do well at harvesting the artifacts (evaluations, studies, reports) but do very little in creating an architecture for implementing the results. Think Royal commission. It’s the equivalent of harvesting the corn and then storing it on a shelf and inviting people over to come and look at it. Anyone in their right mind would call you crazy, but that is what passes for harvesting in the organizations and institutions of our day.
Within schools there is a special kind of problem with harvesting. When I work in organizations and communities I take great care to make sure that we harvest both the intentional results (evaluations against objectives and so on) AND the emergent results. If we are trying to do new things we need to work with the complex dynamics of emergence. Schools get stuck when they just look at how well the year went with respect to the goals they set out in the first place. It is a set of blinders that turns them away from emergent practice and limits innovation. You will not get much information about the new practices, instead you get a sense of best practices, which is fine but which, by definition, gets us stuck in the past.
The problem is that this analytical, reductionist view is driven in education by accountabilities which are more and more tight every year. Under the guise of spending tax dollars well, there is a real shackle being put on innovation and learning about new ways to do education. Much of the innovations is happening therefore in the private sphere, but the results aren’t being brought to public education. This is BAD harvesting. If someone has figured out a better way to grow corn (what if we planted beans and squash along side the corn?) but didn’t share it or have any way for that information to get to those that need it, well, that’s not working. People go hungry when they don’t have to, and that is happening in education. I’ll bet when you go to conferences mostly you hear about how well people are meeting their targets and you get presentations on best practices. But you are probably not hearing about the trials and tribulations of experiments that fail.
Evaluating emergence and creating the conditions for SAFEFAIL experiments (as opposed to the fail safe plans that every school authority wants) requires a very different mindset. Instead of “merit and worth evaluation” people are starting to use methodologies like developmental evaluation which works with emergence and complexity. I think you need both, and not to privilege one over the other.
At any rate, this is a long conversation obviously, but it comes down to a couple of things:
And as a special treat, here is an hour of me teaching harvesting at a recent Art of Hosting in Calgary.