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Board 116: Assessing Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) as a Change Model for Inculcating a Shared Vision and Fostering Transformation in an Engineering Department

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Harper Ogle Clemson University

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Dr. Jennifer Ogle is currently an Associate Professor in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University. She specializes in transportation infrastructure design, safety, and management, and has been the faculty advisor for the Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC) program since 2011. During this time, the CEDC program has tripled in growth and has been recognized by the Institute for International Education (IIE) with the Andrew Heiskell Award as a model program, and was also recognized by the State of South Carolina for the Service Learning Award in 2011. Dr. Ogle was also recognized in 2012 by President Obama as a Champion of Change for Women in STEM, and participates in a number of diversity-enhancement programs at the university including serving as the Deputy Chair of the Women's Commission and as a member of the ADA Task Force.

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Russ Marion Clemson University

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Russ Marion, Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership at Clemson University, has written research and theoretical articles on complexity leadership, one of which was honored as best paper of the year by The Leadership Quarterly and the Center for Creative Leadership in 2001 and another which was recognized as Best Paper of the Last Ten Years in 2017 (this paper has been cited over 1800 times according to Google Scholar). He served as a guest co-editor of a special issue of The Leadership Quarterly on leadership and complexity in 2007. Marion is author of the books, The Edge of Organization (1999), Leadership in Education (2002 and 2015), and Complexity Leadership (2007). h has conducted consultation evaluations in aeronautics, banking, research firms, hospitals, p-12 schools and in universities. He co-organized workshops on complexity leadership at the Center for Creative Leadership and at George Washington University. Marion has lectured on complexity leadership at the India Institute of Technology at Kanpur, the Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, and in workshops on destructing complex movements for a US Department of Defense contractor. Marion has guest taught for Kenya’s Maasai Mara University, and at JUFE University and Nanchang Normal University in China. He is currently co-PI on NSF-NRT and NSF-RED grants in Engineering and is using Complexity Leadership Theory to provide guidance for, and to evaluate those programs.

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Academic departments can be viewed as complex, knowledge-intense social systems of interacting and interdependent agents (e.g. students, faculty, and staff). When these agents interact, they change one another’s information content, permitting the social network to process information in ways that create emergent outcomes. In such systems, information merges, diverges, combines, and gets extinguished; sometimes, it evolves into something entirely unexpected. The complexity leadership theory posits that managing certain enabling conditions within the social network (e.g. interactions, interdependencies, and adaptive pressures) can accomplish visionary outcomes (e.g., collaborative problem solving and creativity).

The main research question is on assessing the efficacy of complexity leadership theory (CLT) as a change model for inculcating a shared vision in an engineering department and for fostering transformation. We are particularly interested in the collective impetus for action and change that emerges from the interplay among the agents of a social network; which, is quite different from the traditional sub-discipline silo-based operations and decision-making evident in most civil engineering departments. Hence, to answer the main research question, the research plan will test a suite of research questions regarding such things as faculty innovation, satisfaction and engagement, and creativity.

Clemson's RED initiative draws on network analysis and agent-based modeling (ABM) to identify strengths and weaknesses in its RED program. As inputs to analysis and modeling tools, baseline data on grant collaborations, task interdependencies, and social networks among faculty as well as their attitudes were collected at the program’s inception and will be repeated at the beginning of each academic year. Follow-up data, supplemented with interviews and artifacts, were collected several months into the project and were triangulated with results from the surveys and subsequent network analyses. Tools for social network analyses provide profiles of group functions. Longitudinal analyses of these profiles and functions then reveal how networks evolve over time. This aspect will be particularly useful in assessing the efficacy of CLT in revolutionizing engineering departments. Assessing faculty members’ “constructed realities” about the civil engineering department from interview data will apply case study methodologies. Qualitative analyses allow us to identify group perceptions of what is going on in the program.

Complexity leadership theory describes how practitioners can foster the emergence of complexly interactive dynamics in a group or organization, and how to effectively lead and influence such organizations. Complex leaders foster interactive, networked relationships; interdependency and ensuing pressure; task-related struggles and elaborations; heterogeneity; pressure to create, adapt, produce and learn; robustness; and psychological safety (among other things). Such dynamics enable creativity, productivity, and change outcomes.

This paper summarizes the power of network analysis and ABM in explaining social outcomes, presents an overview of complexity theory, demonstrates how data is processed using anonymized data produced by Clemson’s RED program, provides initial faculty reactions to CLT network analysis, and explains how results are used to improve group outcomes.

Ogle, J. H., & Marion, R. (2019, June), Board 116: Assessing Complexity Leadership Theory (CLT) as a Change Model for Inculcating a Shared Vision and Fostering Transformation in an Engineering Department Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32199

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