A Doctorate With A Difference: Ashridge’s Executive Doctorate In Organizational Change

Ashridge’s Executive Doctorate in Organizational Change sees participants put their own practice under the microscope

“What we’re trying to understand is how we as practitioners effect change in the world,” says Steve Marshall, academic director for Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School’s ground-breaking Executive Doctorate in Organizational Change (EDOC).

A leading proponent of the Action Research methodology, Ashridge’s EDOC sees participants put their own practice under the microscope.

Through group conversations, discussions and peer supervision, participants go through a four-to-five-year journey of inquiry as they seek to achieve positive, sustainable change within and across organizations.

Diverse cohorts of 20 participants are split into four supervision groups. One of Steve’s groups includes a medic, a supply chain practitioner, an HR professional, a photographer, and an artist.

How is it different?

“A typical PhD will enable you to make a ‘doctoral contribution' to theory from the position of a detached, neutral observer,” says Steve.

“You’ll work one-on-one with a professor with a research agenda – often based on what the professor can get funding for – and your impact is measured by how many times your work is cited in journals by other academics.

“What we’re saying is things change – we don’t accept that position of the detached observer. We want to get right in there with our subjects, work with them and alongside them, to help them develop a shift in their organizations, and achieve change in whatever they want to achieve.

“What they’re actually doing is going out in the world and changing things rather than studying what other people have done. They become much more effective professionals as a consequence.”

The idea: rather than developing new theoretical models of organizational change, Ashridge EDOC students go out there and impact change in their own practice – in a way that’s sustainable, ethical, and socially democratic.

Why is Action Research important?

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“Generalizing theory is a problem these days,” Steve continues. “I think the old ways of thinking are getting to the end of their lives.

“The world is shifting very quickly. We’re rushing towards population crisis and sustainability crisis – the challenge is there. So, people’s contexts are very different, and people are looking for more inclusive and participative ways of working in the world.”

Steve was part of the EDOC’s first ever intake back in 2007. Since then, classes have been oversubscribed. After the program, Steve noticed that his consulting clients started to pay more attention to what he was saying and his impact, as a practitioner, increased as his clients responded differently to him.

BusinessBecause caught up with two current EDOC students – Roger Wadsworth and Joeri Kabalt – to find out more about their experiences.

Roger Wadsworth

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Roger spent over a decade as a partner at Deloitte – and three years as global leader of learning and development in London – before deciding to leave the firm and start his own independent consultancy. For Roger, now living in his native South Africa, Ashridge’s EDOC is serving as a process of self-discovery.

On choosing Ashridge… I first looked at some more traditional academic institutions and I realized that, for me, after spending 25 years in professional practice, that was going to be quite a hard shift and not necessarily the most useful. I wanted a program that was going to bring together both academic rigor and practical application. My area of study is learning and development, and Ashridge is a leader in the field.

On profiting from the program… Where you start with the EDOC is not necessarily where you end up. It’s a much broader, life-changing program.

Yes, you will get the doctorate and a whole load of knowledge and skills that come with it. But also, you will be able to deeply reflect on your place in the world and your practice, and how that might evolve.

I’ve started asking myself the question of why I want to do what I do. It’s making me realize what I may want to do in the future in terms of learning and development – taking a broader role in South Africa which is in dire need of change.

On the EDOC vs the MBA… Any doctorate program will take you to the next level and allow you to go deeper into a chosen subject. An MBA is really broad; a doctorate allows you to go deep. They complement each other.

Joeri Kabalt

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Joeri is a firm believer in the action research method championed by Ashridge. She’s a partner at a 50-person learning and development consultancy in the Netherlands. She’s also the author of two books.

On choosing Ashridge… I was eager to do a PhD. However, I only wanted to embark on such a long journey if the PhD would directly relate to and strengthen my practice. I did not want it to be something on top of or separate from my consulting work.

This proved quite difficult to find. When a friend pointed out Ashridge to me, with its focus on Action Research and practice, I immediately knew I had found my place.

On profiting from the program… What has probably influenced me most is Action Research’s focus on research for me, us and them. I was always trying to bring about a change in whichever system I worked, without deeply looking into myself and my own questions. I have learned how when I live my life as inquiry, I can create deeper and more meaningful spaces of inquiry for others.

I am applying my learnings on a daily basis. Sometimes in a small way, for instance by how I show up as a facilitator. Sometimes in a bigger way, for instance in how I go about designing a whole leadership program.

The EDOC has brought me closer to the essence of who I am and what I want to bring to the world as a practitioner and human being, while at the same time providing me with new tools and theoretical perspectives that I can apply in my work.

On the future… The program has made me realize how much I love writing about my work. Last year I published two books and I intend to continue writing more after finishing my PhD. I would also like to explore how I can support others with learning about Action Research and how to integrate it into their working lives. 

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