Originally published May 23, 2019
This is the 44th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Alice MacGillivray is a systems thinker, most interested in complexity thinking, who enjoys helping groups and organizations work through challenging problems and opportunities. She strives to work her way out of jobs, leaving organizations with greater capability, capacity and resilience. Although often asked to make presentations, Alice believes that engaging people in different forms of dialogue and deliberation is much more powerful and effective.
Alice’s work involves the strengthening of leadership throughout organizations or communities, and improving the generation and flow of knowledge across boundaries. It is frequently inspired by principles and examples from natural systems. One of her areas of interest and expertise is the design of learning environments where people build their knowledge, confidence, and skills for work with complexity.
Her specialties include:
- knowledge management
- leadership development (especially for complex work)
- qualitative research to help organizations better understand key issues
- communities of practice
- park and environmental management
- organizational culture
- organizational development
- application of complexity thinking and natural systems principles to organizations
Alice and I got to know each other virtually through our blogs, tweets, and communities. I first met her in person in June, 2008 in Fairfax, Virginia. Here is a photo that she took of John Hovell and me on that occasion, when I presented to Mantech on authentic leadership. She traveled there from Canada to interview me as part of the research for her PhD dissertation, Perceptions and Uses of Boundaries by Respected Leaders: a Transdisciplinary Inquiry.
Alice helps people in organizations and communities gain new insights, adapt to changing environments, lead and learn. One of the key ways in which she does this is to use principles from nature. Without even realizing it, we have adopted terms, phrases and habits that are very machine-like. They once served a purpose, but in most modern work contexts, they cause harm. They can dehumanize staff, kill innovation, and hamper learning.
A more ecosystem-like workplace can have many benefits. Connections among the groups you care about, such as employees, departments, clients, customers, suppliers, and citizens are recognized and enriched. Ideas can flow through many conduits. If an employee leaves, the system can repair itself more easily. Leadership can emerge as needed. Shifts in the environment bring many existing ideas to the surface. People and their knowledge are respected and work becomes more interesting and rewarding.
During her doctoral studies, Alice worked with leaders in all sectors who were mastering these new, more organic forms of working. Her PhD is in systems from Fielding Graduate University, which specializes in human and organizational development. Alice also has degrees in leadership and in human development. She began her post-secondary studies in biology to complement her work with natural systems in three major government organizations. Alice has worked with public, private and not for profit organizations, has published several papers and book chapters, and speaks at international conferences.
Almost all of the research, consulting and teaching relates to work with knowledge and the related development of leadership in our modern, increasingly complex work environments. Knowledge is the most valuable asset in many organizations. We are gradually learning that skills with the creation, acquisition, sharing and use of knowledge are critical for survival, growth and progress. Alice’s work in this area influenced being chosen by MindTouch as one of the Top 10 Knowledge Management Influencers.
Alice always tries to have one foot in the world of practice and the other in the world of scholarship. She graduated from secondary school at 16, but it was many years before she went back to formal education and did so to be a better practitioner. Alice’s background is eclectic, but there are themes that flow through almost everything:
- appreciation of the natural world
- belief in the use of powerful questions
- deep interest in leadership, including leadership as an emergent property
- passion for understanding how groups acquire, develop, share and use knowledge
- commitment to ways of working effectively and fairly in a complex and rapidly changing world
- Fielding Graduate University
- PhD, Human and Organizational Systems, 2004–2009
- Certificate, Dialogue, Deliberation & Public Engagement, 2007–2008
- MA, Human Development, 2004–2005
- Royal Roads University, MA, Leadership, 1998–2000
- Athabasca University, BGS, education and environmental management, 1992–1998
- Web Site
- Lead by Nature Course
- Research and Presentations
- Google Scholar Citations
- Fielding Graduate University
- Civic Tech
- Turning Leadership Outside In: Boundary Spanners’ Internal Boundary Work
- Learning at the edge — Part 1: Transdisciplinary conceptions of boundaries
- Learning at the edge — Part 2: Scholar-practitioner reflections on boundaries
- A Policy Paradox: Social Complexity Emergence Around an Ordered Science Attractor
- Consulting on the Edge: Use of Strategies Rooted in Nature
- Leadership in a network of communities: a phenomenographic study
- Educating for Competence
- Sustaining Intellectual Capital through Business Intelligence with Andrew Faulkner
- A Business Lens on Business Intelligence — Twelve Tips for Success with Andrew Faulkner
- Using business intelligence tools to facilitate front line priority-setting in a public sector organization
- Genetic Diversity as Inspiration for Instructional Design with John D. Smith
- A New Sustainability Leadership Graduate Certificate Program
Articles by Others
- KMers — Let Go of Control: Encourage and Monitor — Tweet Chat Recap by Luis Suarez
- 9 Top Knowledge Managers to Follow on Twitter in 2018 by Mila Urosevic
- What’s more important for knowledge managers: education, or skills and experience? by Bruce Boyes — Broadening out to encompass the individuals in the top ten of the MindTouch list, it appears that just one of the eight individuals has qualifications relevant to KM. This is Alice MacGillivray, who is very well qualified and also has very considerable experience.
- Let’s Get More Positive About the Term ‘Lurker’: Lurking from a Legitimate Peripheral Participation perspective — Mentor for project led by Jacquie McDonald
- Why Leaders Matter for a Culture of Collaboration
- A Conversation About Boundaries
- APQC Knowledge Management and Process Improvement Tweet Chat Recap
As Quoted by Me
- Walk to honor Melissie Rumizen
- KM Metrics — Most metrics ignore collaboration, relationship building, capacity building, knowledge generation, and kindness.
- SIKM Leaders Discussion on KM and BI
I would say that BI greatly impacted KM but not the reverse. We did use a few home grown KM-like techniques in the BI project (similar to Action Reviews and Peer Assists), but the BI work was the catalyst for people from different fields and organizations sitting down and talking in depth when they hadn’t before. We didn’t map social networks, but the changes in knowledge flow were dramatic.
Instead of a sort of contradictory, one-upmanship, zero sum kind of process for land management decisions, the ad hoc reporting from the BI tool (Oracle Discoverer at that time) prompted people to:
- share new knowledge
- agree or disagree with the increasingly refined priority lists generated through BI
- justify decisions
- collaborate in their implementation
SIKM Leaders Community
- A review of “Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technologies for Communities”
- A review of “Managing Uncertainties in Networks: A Network Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making”
- A review of “Complexity and the Experience of Leading Organizations”
- Amazon Author Page
- Communities of Practice: Facilitating Social Learning in Higher Education edited by Jacquie McDonald and Aileen Cater-Steel — Chapter 2: Social Learning in Higher Education: A Clash of Cultures?
- Complexity and Knowledge Management: Understanding the Role of Knowledge in the Management of Social Networks edited by Andrew Tait and Kurt A. Richardson — Chapter 12: Metaphors from Nature for Knowledge Work in a Complex World
- Handbook of Research on Knowledge-Intensive Organizations edited by Dariusz Jemielniak and Jerzy Kociatkiewicz — Chapter 27: Knowledge Intensive Work in a Network of Counter-Terrorism Communities
- Sustainability Leadership: Integrating Values, Meaning, and Action edited by David Blake Willis, Fredrick Steier, and Paul Stillman — Chapter 8: Leadership, Boundaries, and Sustainability
- Establishing a Successful Knowledge-Driven Culture edited by Fiona Prowting
- Table of Contents and Summary
- Chapter 1: Cultural context — A complex whole
- Successful Knowledge Leadership: Principles and Practice edited by Helen Roche
- Table of Contents and summary
- Chapter 7: Knowledge leadership on the edge