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Evaluation of the Vocational Training System in Qatar’s Public Sector

Abstract

The concept of policing a state has had to undergo a change of mindset due to the global nature of today’s world. There was anecdotal evidence that the training was outdated and did not take into account the cross cultural differences that exist in Qatar. This study investigates this hypothesis and evaluates the quality of training at the Police Training Institute in Qatar After conducting an exhaustive literature review covering cross cultural differences, systems thinking and different delivery methods a methodological evaluation of public sector training was conducted using the Soft Systems Methodology of Professor Peter Checkland.

The key findings to come out of the SSM Analysis were: the police training did not meet the participants’ expectations, course content failed to provide trainees with new skills, the delivery of the courses lacks interaction and courses were not useful or challenging.  A conceptual model was developed that dealt with:

  • new content
  • cultural differences and;
  • new delivery methods

A new course was designed, delivered, tested and evaluated. This was a course on Systems Thinking.  Also a App was designed for mobile phones which enabled the course to be delivered in a more modern manner which used the concept of social media.

The final analysis showed that the Systems Thinking ideas were well received and more courses need to be designed at all levels. It suggested that there is a future for mobile technology in training and it encouraged organisations to experiment with this form of delivery.  Recommendations were made for future training at the Police Training Institute and these were well received by the Ministry of Interior of Qatar .

It also suggests that the PTI is an ideal candidate for a learning organisation, which would help it to understand what is happening in the outside environment and produce creative solutions using the knowledge and skills of all within the organization

 

Acknowledgement

 

 

I would like to extend my gratitude to all my colleagues at the Ministry of Interior and The Prime Minister & Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdulla Bin Naser Aal Thani who encouraged and supported me to do this thesis.

Particular thanks are due to Professor Moscardini for his supervision, insight and dedication over a long period of time.

My warmest appreciation to Professor Mohamed Loutfi, Vice-chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University for his care and advice.

My special thanks are also due to all participants for their patience, understanding and generous love during work on interviews.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this work to my beloved parents and home country Qatar.

Hamad Al Kaabi

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Research

1.2 Need for This Study

1.3 Plan of the Thesis

Chapter 2 Literature Review

2.1 Training

2.1.1 Course Content

2.1.2 Characteristics of Effective Course Content

2.2 Cultural Differences

2.2.1 Theoretical Frameworks Relevant to ‘Cultural Differences’

2.2.2 Studies That Focus on Cultural Differences Relevant to Learning & Training

2.3 The SSM Concept

2.3.1 Purpose of SSM

2.3.2 The SSM Paradigm

2.3.3 The Seven Stages

2.3.4 Strengths and Weaknesses of SSM

2.3.5 SSM Applications in Learning Environments

2.4 Systems Thinking and the Learning Organization

2.4.1 The Concept of Systems Thinking

2.4.2. The Concept of Systems Dynamics (SD)

2.5 Delivery of Training Courses

2.5.1 The Role of ICT in Learning and Vocational Training

2.6 Summary of the Chapter

2.7 Conclusions

Chapter 3 Research Methodology

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Research Philosophy

3.3 Research Design – Use of a Pluralistic Approach

3.3.1 SSM with Case Study and Action Research

3.3.2 Qualitative and Quantitative Research Strategies

3.4 Research Methods

3.4.1 Data Collection Methods

3.4.2 Study Sample

3.4.3 Data Analysis

3.5 Research Procedures Adopted for the Present Study

3.6 Research Aims and Objectives

3.6.1 Research Aim

3.6.2 Research Objectives

3.6.3 Originality

3.7 Ethical Considerations

3.8 Summary of the Chapter

3.9 Conclusions

Chapter 4 Soft System Analysis of the Problem

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Stage One of SSM – The  Methodological Evaluation

4.2.1 Results of the Analysis of Data Obtained from the Questionnaire

4.2.2 Results of the Analysis of Data Obtained from the first set of Semi-Structured Interviews

4.3 Stage 2 of SSM: Problem Situation Expressed (Rich Picture)

4.4 Stage 3 of SSM: Problem Orientated Root Definitions

4.4.1 Problem-oriented Root Definitions

4.4.2  Formulation of Performance Measures

4.5 Stage 4 Creation of a Conceptual Model

4.6 Stage 5 Comparison with the Real World

4.6.1 Cultural Differences

4.6.2 Course Content

4.6.3 Methods of Delivery of Training Courses

4.7 Stage 6 Identification of Changes

4.7.1 Action Plan

4.8 Summary of the Chapter

Chapter 5 Response to the Soft System Analysis

5.1 Cultural differences

5.1.1 Course to Test Cultural Differences and Teaching Skills

5.1.2 Evaluation of Changed Teaching Style to Reflect Cultural Differences

5.1.3 Evaluation of New Delivery Method

5.1.4 Course to Test New Content

5.2 Part One: How We Think

5.2.1 Session One – Perception

5.2.2 Session Two – Ways of Thinking

5.2.3 Session Three – Problem Solving

5.3 Paradigms

5.3.1 Session Four – Different Paradigms

5.3.2 Session Five – The Systems Paradigm

5.3.3 Session Six – Cybernetic Principles

5.4 Part Three: Thinking Tools

5.4.1 Session Seven – Causal Modelling

5.4.2 Session Eight – Systems Dynamic Modelling

5.4.3 Session Nine – The Learning Organisation

5.5 Evaluation of the New Course

5.6 Discussion of Cultural Differences for the Course

5.6.1 Cultural Factor One

5.6.2 Cultural Factor Two

5.6.3 Cultural Factor Three

5.6.4 Cultural Factor Four

5.7 Summary of the Chapter

5.8 Conclusions

Chapter 6 New Methods of Training Delivery

6.1 Introduction

6.2 The Population and Technology Environment MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Region.

6.2.1 Population Demographics & Technology Penetration

6.2.2   Mobile and General Technology Usage in the Middle East

6.2.3  Social Networks

6.2.4 Choosing a Device for Training Delivery

6.2.5 2014 Technology Trends

6.3 Developments in Training Technologies and Approach

6.4 Mobile Application Concept Overview and Considerations

6.4.1 Introduction

6.4.2 Scope

6.4.3 Training Content

6.4.4 Project Approach

6.4.5 Project Lifecycle and Schedule

6.4.6 Requirements Planning – APP Design Focus

6.4.7 Architecture Overview and Main Components

6.4.8 App Data Model

6.4.9 Technology Choices

6.4.10 Structure of the App

6.4.11 Future Developments

6.5 Planned Usage Mapped to App Design

6.5.1 App Usage

6.5.2 Planned Usage Measures Against the Design

6.6 Data Model

6.7  App Development Schedule

6.8 App Screen Shots

6.8.1 Home Screen

6.8.2  My Profile Screen and Progress

6.8.3  Events and Event Tips

6.8.4  Share Learning and Comments

6.8.5  Training Comments

6.8.6 Learn Screen

6.8.7 Early Design Qualification by Potential Users

6.8.8 App Distribution  and  Consumption

6.9 Evaluation of the Use of Apps in Training

6.9.1 The use of App in delivering a course

6.9.2 The readability of the “notes”

6.9.3 The ability to communicate within the group at anytime and anywhere

6.9.4 The ability to communicate within the group at anytime and anywhere

6.9.5.  The availability of feedback (trainer only)

6.9.6. Feedback on the general idea of using the App

6.10 Further Considerations

6.10.1 Deployment Options and Financial Considerations

6.10.2 Security

6.10.3 Future Developments

6.11 Summary

Chapter 7 Summary, Recommendations and Further Actions

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Work Carried Out

7.3   Context of the work

7.4 SWOT Analysis of the work

7.5 Achievement of the Objectives

7.6 Future Work

REFERENCES

Appendix One

A. Consent Form

B. Survey Questionnaire 1 (Pre-Test)

C. Survey Questionnaire (Post-Test)

Appendix Two

Appendix Three

LIST OF TABLES

Table 2.1 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review on Course Content

Table 2.2 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review Related to the Models of Cultural Differences

Table 2.3 Summary of Literature Review Results Relevant to Studies that Delve on Cultural Differences

Table 2.4 Literature Review Matrix of the Definitions and Connotations of SSM

Table 2.5 Literature Review Matrix Relevant to the Purpose of SSM

Table 2.6 Literature Review Matrix of the Strengths and Weaknesses of SSM

Table 2.7 Literature Review Matrix Relevant to SSM Applications in Learning Systems

Table 2.8 Summary of the Results of Literature Review Related to the Systems Thinking Concept

Table 2.9 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review Related to the Concept of SD

Table 2.10 Summary of Literature Review Results Related to the Different Applications of SD

Table 2.11 Summary of Literature Review Results Related to the Role of ICT in Learning and Vocational Training

Table 3.1 Various Features of the Positivist and Phenomenological Paradigms

Table 3.2 Gantt Chart of Research Activities Involved in the Methodological Evaluation of Public Sector Training in Qatar

Table 4.1 Summary of the Results of Statistics of the Pre-Test Likert- Scale Questions

Table 4.2 Summary of the Results of Statistics of the Post -Test Likert- Scale Questions

Table 4.3 Results of the Content Analysis of Interview Transcripts Showing the Codes Made and the Corresponding Quotations

Table 4.4 Performance Measures Devised to Evaluate the Quality of a Course Offered By one of the Ministries in Qatar

Table 4.5 Action Plan Incorporating the Objectives, Relevant Tasks, Tome Frame and Success Criteria

Table 5.1 Statistics of Demographic Information of Respondents for Semi-Structured Interviews for New Courses

Table 5.2 Statistics of Responses for the Close-Ended Questions of the Semi-Structured Interviews for New Courses

Table 5.3 Results of the Content Analysis of Interview Transcripts for the New Courses Showing the Codes Made and the Corresponding Quotations

Table 6.1 Full Mapping

Table 6.2 Tablet Sales Predictions for 2013, 2014 and 2015

Table 6.3 Planned Usage Measures Against the Design

LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 2.1  Conceptual Framework of the Present Study – Seven Stages Version of SSM

Figure 3.1 Research Methodology of the Present Study

Figure 4.1 Rich Picture of the Problems of Vocational Training in Qatar’s Public Sector

Figure 5.1 Multiple Viewpoints

Figure 5.2 General Methodology for Solving Problems

Figure 5.3 Nine Point Plan

Figure 5.4  Problem Analysis

Figure 5.5 Model Identification

Figure 5.6 Laundry List

Figure 5.7  Signed Diagram

Figure 5.8 Enlarged Diagram

Figure 5.9 Diagram with Loops

Figure 5.10 A Positive Loop

Figure 5.11 A Balancing Loop

Figure 5.12 Expanded Feedback Loop

Figure 5.13 Feedback Loop of Pressure on the Jails

Figure 5.14 Final Diagram

Figure 5.15 Feedback Loops of Petroleum Drilling

Figure 5.16 Generic Structure Producing Overshoot And Collapse (With A Non-Renewable Resource)

Figure 6.1 Mobile Usage in MENA Source: FrootApps (2013)

Figure 6.2 Snapshot of Technology Service Usage in MENA Q2 2014

Figure 6.3 Tablet Adoption Rates for Desktop PC and Tablets in Selected Countries

Figure 6.4  Smartphone Adoption Rates  Around the World

Figure 6.5 Global MEMS Unit Shipment by Consumer Electronics Device, 2006-1013

Figure 6.6 Projected Move to Communicating in Smaller And More Focused Groups

Figure 6.7 RAD Lifecycle Approach

Figure 6.8  Early Architechtural Design

Figure 6.9 Data Model

Figure 6.10 Homescreen

Figure 6.11 My Profile and Progress Screens

Figure 6.12 Events Screen

Figure 6.13 Share Screens

Figure 6.14 Training Comments Screens

Figure 6.15 Learn Screens

Figure 7.1 Process Flow Chart of the Research Aims and Objectives of the Present Study

Figure 7.2 Letter from the Ministry of Interior

Chapter 1  Introduction

1.1 Background to the Research

Flouris and Yilmaz (2010) argue that an “effective management of human resource-based risks is a cornerstone factor” of organisational success. Similarly, PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008), an internationally- successful advisory service, emphasise that addressing human factor-based risks are crucial for the success of the organisation. In fact, they maintained that it is critical to place ‘people’ at the heart of any system. Indeed, Aloini, Dulmin and Mininno (2007) elucidate that inadequate training of employees is one of the main risks associated with human factors. Bhattacharya and Wright (2005) maintain that within the context of today’s market conditions, “the pervasiveness of complex technology in all spheres of business and the fast rate of change in technology create greater risks that an employee is unable to keep up with these changes or is unable to learn new skills.” They also argue that employee skills must be continuously upgraded and that employees must be provided with new growth opportunities in order for them to learn them. Subramanian, Sinha, and Gupta (2012) recommend that training programs also be used to match employee skills to organisational needs. In the same vein, Hartmann et al. (2010) recommended that talent management strategies should focus on recruiting and retaining “highly qualified employees, who are offered higher wages, better job opportunities, a better quality of life and stronger R&D facilities.” Hence, the importance of training and continuous professional development cannot be undermined.

In 1970, Nadler coined the term ‘human resource development’ and provided a model, which featured three components, namely: training, education, and development (Nadler & Nadler, 1991). Since Nadler’s inception of the term, a dichotomous approach to HRD has emerged: on one side was a learning and development paradigm that focused on the enhancement of training and development (Garavan, Heraty & Barnicle,1999); and on the other, a performance outcomes paradigm which focused on developing individuals to enhance organisational performance outcomes (Swanson & Holton, 2001). However, Simmonds and Pedersen (2006) contended that “HRD is a combination of structured and unstructured learning and performance-based activities which develop individual and organisational competency, capability and capacity to cope with and successfully manage change.”

A significant number of contributions have highlighted the various challenges that the public sector had to overcome in the last two decades (McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011).  These challenges were largely anchored on the following issues, namely: an ageing workforce, cost-effective delivery of services, restructuring, and leadership talent shortages (O’Brien, 2010; Whittington & Campion-Smith, 2010; McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). Such premium placed on cost-efficiency in the public sector in the US and the UK since the 1980s and the 1990s, have driven public sector institutions to utilise and implement more ‘business-like’ practices in organisational management (McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). Such a trend in adopting more ‘business-like’ practices in organisational management has been further reinforced by the global economic downturn which has been characterised by budget cuts throughout the UK and Canada, subsequently giving rise to the ‘new public management’ which was centered on efficiency and effectiveness (McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). However, it has been documented by various researchers that public sector professionals were mostly not adequately trained to effectively collaborate in such an exigent setting (McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). It is in this context that Coxhead at al. (2010) explicate that “it is not surprising that government departments and other public sector professionals are constantly looking for ways to develop the skills of their managers and future leaders.”

As explicated by Fernandez and Rainey (2006), “reform initiatives have swept through governments in the United States and overseas, again and again bringing news about efforts to reinvent, transform, or reform government agencies.” Part of such transformation is the premium placed on training public sector employees for increased organisational efficiency and performance (Coxhead at al., 2010; McCraken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). The correlation between training and public service efficiency has been anchored on the premise that human capital (e.g. knowledge, skills, and behaviour)               strengthens the importance of people-related competences that are linked with the ‘new public management’ construct.

Indeed, the important role of training in raising the performance of public sector organisations has generated mainstream political support since the 1980s, particularly in most industrialised nations (Laferty & Roan, 2000). In Australia, policy makers have underscored the critical role that its national skills base plays in the achievement of international competitiveness leading to  the restructuring of its workforce training programs and institutions since the early 1980s (Laferty & Roan, 2000). Canada’s public sector at present, is using talent management to “recruit and retain highly-trained, qualified staff”. Part of its talent management is the training of public sector employees which is considered “central to public service renewal and success […]” (Glenn, 2012).

In Germany (since 1969 and by virtue of its Work Support Act) there has been a consistent yearly increase in the amount of public resources being allocated for the support of vocational training by the Federal Labor Office. After the 1990 reunification, “due to the large effects of the transformation process on the labor market, public vocational training played an even more important role in the eastern part of Germany” (Hujer & Wellner, 2000).  During such time, Germany wisely utilized its strong support for training and considered it “a very important instrument of active labor market policy attempting to increase productivity and to reduce unemployment” (Fitzenberger & Prey, 2000). Since then, training has been viewed as one of the most important and promising components of Germany’s labour market policies —mirroring the case of many continental European countries which “used active labour market policies as important tools for reducing Europe’s notoriously high levels of unemployment without the painful side effects of substantial market reforms” (Lechner, Miquel & Wunsch, 2011).

In the UK, “the provision of world class services remains at the heart of the current government’s political strategy” as has been reflected in government spending data which showed substantial and consistent increase in public services expenditures (Murphy et al., 2008).  Indeed, findings of a study conducted by Murphy et al. (2008) indicate that a significant training advantage exists for public sector workers due to “social externalities, alternative behavioral objectives, tax appropriation,                job security, hierarchical wage structures, differences in wage dispersion, rent sharing and worker sorting ” .

In the same vein, Qatar’s public sector management is centered on the attainment of an efficient delivery of public services. As clearly explicated in the official website of the Qatar National Project Management (QNPM):

Qatar is developing and growing with clear vision and strategy. Qatar’s public service is at the forefront, improving infrastructure, modernizing services, and helping to take its place in the international community. Like governments around the world, Qatar’s public service is increasingly focused on effective, efficient delivery that will support continued success and prosperity. Qatar has many important projects underway, and there are more to come (‘Qatar’, 2007).

Indeed, included in Qatar’s National Development Strategy 2011−2016 are the intended reforms for its vocational training system which include the following plans , namely: (1) strengthening technical education and vocational training; (2) developing  “an organizational model for technical education and vocational training” and building the required capabilities; (3) developing  “a regulatory framework to align technical education and vocational training with the education sector and labour market needs”; (4) aligning “technical education and vocational training programmes and outputs with the needs of society and the labour market”; and (5) increasing “the prominence of technical education and vocational training programmes” (‘Qatar National Development Strategy 2011~2016’,  2011, pp.140-143).

However, despite the strides that governments around the world have taken in order to achieve the goal of public service efficiency through the adoption of ‘business-like’ practices in organisational management, the wide array of   challenges brought about by dynamically-changing environments made achieving the aforementioned goal difficult (OECD, 2008). The OECD (2008) explicates the difficulties faced by public sector institutions around the world:

Personnel systems are becoming less adaptive to these new challenges. Indeed, traditional practices in public administration are the product of a different context with different priorities. Now, governments have a new role in society and are taking on new responsibilities but generally without the necessary tools to manage them effectively. Public managers are expected to improve the performance of their organisations focusing on efficiency, effectiveness, and propriety which were not the priorities 50 years ago. Therefore, to be able to respond to a changing environment the public sector has to transform its structures, processes, procedures, and above all, its culture” (OECD, 2008).

It is in this context that the extant situation of the vocational training system in Qatar’s public sector needs to be understood, thereby requiring a thorough examination of the current situation of the aforementioned vocational training system using an appropriate methodological framework such as the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM). The utility of SSM in problem structuring has been highlighted in extant literature (Goddard et al., 1994). SSM has been found to possess an intrinsically evaluatory characteristic which helps improve problematical situations by bringing about a systematic assessment of the current situation and then prescribing the desirable changes that must be made (Kayrooz & Trevitt, 2005). In addition to the aforementioned benefits of using SSM to diagnose the problems affecting the vocational training system in Qatar’s public sector, SSM has also been recognized to be useful for dealing with real-world problems of management associated with learning and systems design (Checkland & Scholes, 1990; Reid et al., 1999; Hindle, 2011; Hardman and Paucar-Caceres, 2011).

1.2 Need for This Study

Qatar has recently undergone a massive reform of the structure of its ministries and state institutions that comprise its public sector to improve the quality and effectiveness of their civil service. This was evidenced by the consistent promotion of ongoing vocational training of all public sector employees. However, such training is almost exclusively based on Western theory and practice. Yet Arab countries have their own distinctive national culture and practices and there is a significant danger that culturally- inappropriate training will affect all stakeholders in government services. As Lewis (2006) notes:

Westerners and Arabs have very different views about what is right and wrong, good and evil, logical and illogical, acceptable and unacceptable. They live in two different worlds each organised in its own manner. (Lewis, 2006). To be most effective, any government must serve the local population and all its other stakeholders. However, it must do so in a way that is deemed acceptable to the majority served and be seen to reflect the culture of its people. If a significant perceived gap arises between civil service culture and local culture, a great danger is the potential alienation of its civil society. Each of the trends towards overseas training and education potentially widens the cultural gap between Qatari civil servants and the people they serve. Western practice has been exported around the world, including the Gulf Region and Qatar. Often this is spread by training. Yet in the last thirty years, researchers have increasingly noted a strong influence of local culture on many areas of business and organisational practice. “

There is no universally- agreed definition of culture amongst social scientists. Various leading researchers have defined culture in different ways. In the GLOBE Project (Chhokar, Brodbeck & House, 2007, House et al., 2008), researchers from 38 countries came together to develop a collective understanding They defined it as: “shared motives, values, beliefs, identities, and interpretations or meanings of significant events that result from common experience of members of collectives and are transmitted across age generations”

A well -established cultural theory posits that that each group or category of people carries with it a set of common mental programmes that create its national culture. Each of the major studies and many minor studies confirm this and are closely correlated (Hofstede &  Hofstede, 2005). Culturally, the Western world — which is largely represented by Americans, British and Northern Europeans — and the Arab world — are widely separated and clearly delineated. This significantly complicates the interchange of ideas (Lewis, 2006). Importing essentially alien methods of management, education and training go a long way to institutionalising the effects of any westernisation of public services. The result is that pressures to conform to an alternative culture are creating strong resistance and an even stronger trend towards national cultural identity.

When studies exist, other states within the region, notably Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and UAE, have received far more specific attention than Qatar. Even so, the region has long been regarded as displaying a strong common culture (Lewis, 2006). This is because of a common history and the overwhelming influence of Islam in every facet of personal and organisational life in the region (Adler, 2002). This has led to a strong Arab identity, especially in the Gulf, helped by institutions such as the influential Qatar based Al-Jazeera broadcaster. As a result, world-renowned cultural theorists such as Lewis (2006), Trompenaars and Hampden Turner (1997), and Hofstede (1980, 1991) and many other authors use the allusion “the Arab World” to refer to the individual Gulf states .  This facilitates the generalisation and application of research findings to “the Arab World” as a whole.

Welsh and Raven (2006) note that in the Gulf region, family and religious values probably have a major influence on the way organisations are managed. This makes them fundamentally different from public services in the OECD countries. Yet the trend towards overseas education and training potentially widens the cultural gap between Qatari civil servants and the people they serve. This has become a matter of serious concern to people in Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf (Al Kaabi, 2007). Indeed, the Qatar National Vision 2030 (GSDP, 2008) clearly states that the:

Preservation of cultural traditions is a major challenge that confronts many societies in a rapidly globalizing and increasingly interconnected world […].  Qatar’s rapid economic and population growth have created intense strains between the old and new in almost every aspect of life.(GSDP, 2008).

In this thesis, the term ‘training’ has the narrow meaning of vocational training. Thus defined, training improves the skills and knowledge needed for a particular job function or trade. This might include continued professional development (CPD) but not taking the professional qualifications themselves. It might take the form of practical training, a short course, or sometimes full-time or part-time study in a University or College. The latter will not include academic courses such as recognised degrees and higher degrees. The need is therefore to improve the vocational training to help Qatar utilise its workforce to the fullest extent.

1.3 Plan of the Thesis

The thesis consists of seven chapters and appendices.

Chapter One gives the background to the research problem and describes the general aim and the need for this research.

Chapter Two is the literature review. This covers a discussion on training in general, cross-cultural differences especially related to training, methods of analysis in particular the Soft Systems methodology, choice of content for new courses, different methods of delivery, Systems thinking and the Learning Organisation.

Chapter Three describes the research methodology: namely the research philosophy, the research design and the research procedures.  A research aim and objectives are formulated and the originality of the research discussed.  The chapter finishes with discussions of the ethical considerations involved.

Chapter Four describes the application of the Soft Systems methodology to the problem of training in Qatar. This results in a Rich Picture, a set of performance measures and a clear exposition of the problem. The major recommendations were to produce new courses and different delivery methods.

Chapter Five describes, in detail, a new course in Systems thinking which was specifically designed for the top management in the public Sector in Qatar. It also evaluates the course using the agreed performance measures.

Chapter Six examines the use of mobile phone technology for the delivery of courses in Qatar. The researcher commissioned a software company to produce a prototype according to his specifications and design, which was then tested on a selected audience.

Chapter Seven summarises the result of this work and details recommendations for improvement of the public service training in Qatar..

Chapter 2  Literature Review

The present study aims to investigate the vocational training system at the ministries in Qatar and to suggest recommendations for its improvement. To achieve such aim, the present study begins by conducting a literature review relevant to training, cultural differences, soft systems methodology (SSM) and systems thinking.

During the conduct of the review, the following dominant themes relevant to the present study emerged, namely: (1) variations in training; (2) cultural differences which include the different frameworks that are focused on cultural differences, studies that focus on cultural differences relevant to learning and training; (3) the SSM concept; (4) innovative course content which included the systems thinking concept and its application and utility in training; and (5) methods of delivery of training courses which include the role of ICT in learning and vocational training.

The structure of this section is as follows: First, results of the review pertinent to training are presented. This will be followed by a discussion of the following topics: (1) course content, which include the characteristics of effective course content, systems thinking concept and its application and utility in training; (2) cultural differences, which include the different frameworks that are focused on cultural differences, as well as studies that focus on cultural differences relevant to learning and training; (3) the SSM concept, the purpose or goal of SSM, the SSM paradigm, the strengths and weaknesses of SSM, and the application of SSM in learning systems; (4) systems thinking and systems dynamics; and (5) methods of delivery of training courses which include the role of ICT in learning and vocational training.

2.1 Training

Qatar has its economy deeply rooted in oil — particularly in natural gas production. However, like other states in the Arabian Gulf region, Qatar is currently diversifying its economy. Its medium and long-term ambitions are to create the capacity to compete on an international and global level with a much more varied economy. This has invariably meant significant changes in people’s attitudes, especially in business and government. Vocational training has long been seen as a means of improving Qatar’s public services.

While Qatar has recognised the importance of training, the picture on training provision is mixed. There are numerous training centres attached to various ministries and government institutions. Both private and public sectors use various bespoke training courses, while government officials regularly attend training programs organised by internationally- known organisations (GSDP, 2007). Most seem to offer mainly Western style training courses. GSDP (2007) admits that: “officials still a lack necessary expertise to undertake higher tasks they lack skills needed to develop themselves, despite their multiple participation in training.

One institution that is highly involved in public sector training is the Institute of Administrative Development (IAD). The IAD was originally established by Law No. (6) of 1997, although its origins goes back to 1964 as the Institute for Administration. The IAD has for some time, been one of the main official centres of expertise of public services in Qatar. It offers training courses in three major areas, namely: administration, finance and information technology (IAD, 2011a). The IAD has being reorganised three times. The first time was in 1997 under Law No. (6) of 1997. Later, under Decree Law No. (27) of 2007. Its role was expanded to training for administrative development. More recently under Emiri Decision (56) of 2009, IAD’s role was made to be closely aligned with the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV2030) (GSDP, 2008).

In its 2010-2011 planning handbook (IAD, 2010), the IAD makes a firm link between QNV 2030 and its development programmes.  It now offers courses at three management levels and aims to collaborate with ministries, government departments and bodies and public institutions. The IAD fortifies its international links and collaboration with international partners including European and American organisations (IAD, 2011a). Indeed, a specialist independent ‘Co-operation Unit’ has now been created to strengthen overseas links (IAD, 2011b). The IAD now undoubtedly stands at the heart of the public sector training system in Qatar. The boundaries of this training system will be examined and analysed in terms of its ‘sphere of influence’. This will be established by reviewing and analysing:

  1. Extant literature comprised by empirical research and related studies, etc. that have emerged over the course of the past two decades that delve on the role of education and training in enhancing public administration effectiveness/efficiency;
  2. The contribution of the Institute of Administrative Development (IAD) established under Emiri Decision (56) of 2009 as the official ‘hub’ of expertise in the State of Qatar; and
  3. The evolution of discourses regarding public sector training as the key concept in interpreting and redefining knowledge for the realization of an accountable, transparent, effective and efficient public service.

Despite the relatively growing number of academic studies in the region that delve on vocational training, Only a few studies have addressed the subject of public sector training, especially within the context of Qatar. Hence, this study is envisaged to significantly add to the body of knowledge available in this field for researchers, policy makers and practitioners in the Gulf.

Within the context of the present study, the term ‘training’ is taken to mean vocational training. Thus defined, training improves the skills and knowledge needed for a particular job function or trade. This might include continued professional development (CPD) but not taking the professional qualifications themselves. It might take the form of practical training, a short course, or sometimes full-time or part-time study in a university or college. The latter will not include academic courses such as recognised degrees and higher degrees.

The boundaries provided by Buyens and Wouters (2005) will be used to decide whether a particular training programme was excluded from the research. Buyens and Wouters (2005) suggest the following conditions for public sector training programmes: ‘decision’, ‘objectives’, ‘employees’ and ‘financing’. A training programme should result only from a ‘decision’ taken by the enterprise to offer training. The primary ‘objective’ must be to enable the participant to gain new competencies or develop existing ones. Basic familiarisation programmes for the job, organisation or working environment such as induction programmes do not fall within the given classification. The ‘employee’ condition will be met only if the person undertaking training has a working contract with the employer sponsoring training. People such as apprentices or those receiving special training will not be included. Finally, to fall within the survey population, the training activity should be ‘financed’ partly or entirely by the concerned ministry, whether directly by the provider or indirectly by the employees themselves. Part financing includes time off during normal working hours for training, or paying for special training equipment.

The last 50 years has led to the massive development of vocational training in both public and private sectors. Training has generally been ‘outer-directed’ by HRM departments, and training needs often stemmed from organisational goals rather than individual needs (Pedler, 1994). Systematic training is a key aspect of human resource development, although much of the training now takes place with cohorts of trainees being trained in the same skills. Problems with this traditional style of management training subsequently led to a re-focusing on ‘learning’ with significant emphasis on learning-styles development.

Where used, the theory involved in training is often subsumed under a broader learning theory. It borrows most of its principles from the education theory, such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom 1956; Brabrand and Dahl, 2008) and various cognitive theories (Brown, et al. 1989; Dawson, 2008; Lave, 1988; McClelland, 1995; Sitzmann, et al., 2010). Other theories used include Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth, 1987, 1992; Reigeluth & Stein, 1983), Experiential Learning (Chisholm, et al, 2009) from authors such as Kolb (1984) and Honey and Mumford (1982); Organisational Learning (Argyris & Schon 1978; Bennet & Bennet, 2008); and Social Learning Theory (Akdere, 2005; Bandura, 1973, 1986). Gagne’s Instructional Design Theory has particular relevance to the Ministry of Interior (Fields, 2000; Gagne, 1962; Gagne & Driscoll, 1988; ITLS, 2009; Richey 2000) as it developed from military training and key aspects of the Ministry of Interior are organised along military lines.

Extant learning literature points to the three major dimensions of learning: skills, knowledge and attitude (Nadler & Nadler 1994). Training quality in public administration must consider these dimensions along with the views of several key stakeholders and applicable learning perspectives (Rusaw, 2007). These perspectives will include those of the learner, the training facilitator and the organisation. Together, these will allow an organisation to develop an appropriate training model where both the needs of the organisation and the trainees are considered in the drive for quality.

There are many definitions of the term ‘quality’ though many authors agree that Juran’s definition of “fitness for intended use” is at the heart of most quality systems (Juran, et al. 2010). This is expanded in ISO 9000 which defined ‘quality’ “the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.” When it comes to training, most authors agree that quality can only be properly defined by a system of training evaluation (Piskurich, et al. 2000).

There are two major forms of training evaluation. The first is based on a pragmatic system developed by Donald Kirkpatrick (1959) and is underpinned on empirical information. The second form is theoretically- based (Tamkin, et al. 2002). In the USA especially, systems developed by the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction (IBSTPI) are widely- used (Erickson 1982; Fischer 2009).

After 50 years since its development, the Kirkpatrick (1959) approach has received wide recognition (Birnbrauer 1987; Brown and Gerhardt 2002; Dixon 1996; Lopker and Askeland 2009; Phillips 2007). Some authors such as Hamblin (1974); Tannenbaum and Woods (1992); Kaufman and Keller (1994, Kaufman, et al. 1995); Phillips (1995, 1999) incorporated additional features to the Kirkpatrick model. Authors such as Tannenbaum and Dupuree-Burino (1994); Dixon (1996); Alvarez, et al. (2004); Nichols (2005) and Brinkerhoff (2006) expanded the Kirkpatrick model to include more steps and covered a wider range of stakeholders in training evaluation.

Kirkpartrick’s (1959) model has four levels of evaluation, namely: (1) level 1 – reaction or feedback of participants; (2) level 2 – learning or learning success of participants; (3) level 3 – behaviour or learning transfer/application on the job; and (4) level 4 – results as measured by business success (Gessler, 2009). According to Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick (2005), “reactions of participants shall be measured on all programs for two reasons: to let the participants know the value of their reactions and to measure their reactions and obtain suggestions for improvement.” The importance of participant feedback was based on the premise that “if training is going to be effective, it is important that trainees react favourably to it” (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006). For level 2 – Kirkpatrick (1959, cited in Gessler, 2009) explained that the success of the training programme can be gauged if it is able to accomplish the following: (a) if the participants are able to gain an understanding of the “concepts, principles and techniques being taught”; (b) if the participants are able to “develop and/or improve skills”; and (c) if the participants have changes in their attitudes.

In addition, Kirkpatrick (1959, cited in Gessler, 2009) provided some important guidelines for evaluating learning success. These guidelines, as enumerated by Kirkpatrick (1959) include the following: (1) measuring “knowledge, skill and /or attitudes before and after the training”; (2) using “a paper- and- pencil test for knowledge and attitudes”; (3) administering a “performance test for skills”; (3) generating 100% response rate; and (4) using “a control group that does not receive training to compare it with the experimental group that receives training.”

Level 3 evaluation, as explained by Gessler (2009), involves the successful application of the learnt materials in the workplace. Kirkpatrick (1959) developed the following guidelines for measuring behavioural change due to training: (1) if possible, evaluate behaviour pre and post training; (2) since behaviour modification “and the development of new behavioural patterns take time, so the evaluation should be repeated after an appropriate amount of time”; (3) conduct a survey of one or more stakeholder groups consisting of “participants, superiors, colleagues of participants and others  who can evaluate the behaviour of participants”; and (4) undertake “a cost-benefit analysis.”

Level 4 evaluation, as pointed out by Kirkpatrick (1959) involves the evaluation of business results. According to Kirkpatrick (1959, cited in Gessler, 2009), the following question should be addressed during the evaluation: “how have business results changed due to training?” Kirkpatrick (1959) elaborated that “results could be determined by many factors including less turnover, improved quantity of work, improved quality, reduction of waste, reduction in wasted time, increased sales, reduction in costs, increase in profits, and return on investment (ROI).”

However, one of the criticisms of Kirkpatrick’s (1959) model is that it was a largely pragmatist approach with weak theoretical grounding. Developers of other models have attempted to create training evaluation models that are anchored on theoretical grounds and covered areas such as parallel learning, education and knowledge transfer. Holton (1996) was one of Kirkpatrick’s fiercest critics. He believed that any good evaluation model would specify outcomes correctly and account for the effective intervening variables that affect outcomes and indicate causal relationships. He proposed his own model with three primary outcome measures — learning, individual performance, and organisational results — which placed greater emphasis on secondary influences, especially individual learning characteristics that ties training in its evaluation much more closely into the learning theory.

2.1.1 Course Content

A dominant theme that emerged during the literature search related to vocational training is the topic of ‘course content.’ In addition, the importance of ‘systems thinking competencies’ in the context of the learning organisation construct emerged as a new perspective relevant to training. Hence, this section of the literature review will discuss the results of the review pertaining to the following themes: (1) characteristics of effective course content within the context of vocational training; and (2) systems thinking competencies within the context of training in general.

2.1.2 Characteristics of Effective Course Content

Boyce and Pahl (2007) have highlighted the significance of course content in knowledge acquisition by explaining that course content is important in the acquisition of knowledge about a particular subject because knowledge, although intrinsic in nature, is also an implicit aspect of course content. According to Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read (2002), vocational training courses should be designed in such a way that they match the trainees’ needs. This view was supported by Chan et al. (2006) who argued that since the main goal of vocational training organisations is to afford industry-specific knowledge and skills to enhance the employability of individuals, these training organisations must design and subsequently deliver training courses that cater to the needs of trainees. Hence, Chan et al. (2006) elucidated that course content must be designed in such a way that employees or trainees are able to address industry-specific problems in their workplaces. Thus, course content must be designed by taking into consideration, the employee’s own perspective on the manner by which their work-related needs are to be met.

Bradley (2002) suggested that training courses should be designed in such a way that they can be undertaken flexibly. Similarly, in the report commissioned by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (2012) that delves on the selection and structuring of content of vocational training courses, it was emphasised that since vocational training is intended to adapt to current developments, course content should be “adaptable and flexible to account for new circumstances.” Furthermore, the report stressed the following salient points: (1) the training concept must be integrated into the cultural and social conditions of a country; (2) course content must be flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions of labour markets; (3) course content should allow “insights into general connections so that subjectively meaningful, networked knowledge structures can be developed” (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012).

These suggestions buttress earlier recommendations made by Godfey (1997) regarding the design of course content for vocational training programmes. According to Godfey (1997), training institutions should be flexible enough to effectively respond to the dynamically- changing labour market situations. To achieve this, Godfey (1997) recommended the following: (1) course designers should be well in touch with the latest technological trends and international product markets that will affect the future economic structure of the country; (2) course designers should be consistently in touch with educators, trainers, employers, trainees, observers and job seekers in order to have a ‘feel’ for the relevant training programmes and labour markets.

In a study conducted by Pohl et al. (2005) which evaluated the design of an e-learning system for vocational training, it was concluded that the trainees found the course interesting and engaging which accounted for the high success rate of the training based on the completion rate. In addition, the trainees viewed the course as simple and usable — since the course content were perceived by trainees as highly relevant to their work practice. Findings of a study conducted by Nkirina (2009) which explored the challenges associated with integrating entrepreneurship education in Tanzania’s vocational training system point to the need for courses to be less theoretical and more practical; as well as to be more interesting to trainees as opposed to being boring. Hence, findings from the studies conducted by Pohl et al. (2005) and by Nkirina (2009) buttress the claims earlier made by Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read (2002) and by Chan et al. (2006) with regards to the requirement for course content to meet the needs of trainees and to help them address problems specific to their workplaces.

Although most of the aforementioned literature (Godfey, 1997; Bradley, 2002; Rudestam & Schoenholtz-Read, 2002; Chan et al., 2006; Boyce & Pahl, 2007; Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012) is largely prescriptive in nature and hence lacks critical analysis, their key ideas were nonetheless buttressed by empirical studies (Pohl et al., 2005; Nkirina, 2009). Table 2.1 presents the summary of the results of the literature review on course content.

 Table 2.1 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review on Course Content

Author Type of Literature Characteristic of Effective Course Content
Godfey (1997) Peer-reviewed journal article
  • Keeps pace with the latest technological trends and international product markets that will affect the future economic structure of the country.
  • Responsive to the dynamically- changing labour market situations.
Bradley (2002) Case Study Offers flexibility
Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read (2002) Reference book Matches the needs of trainees
Chan et al. (2006) Peer-reviewed journal article
  • Matches the needs of trainees
  • Addresses industry-specific problems in the trainees’ workplaces.
  • Takes into account, the trainees’ own perspective on how their work-related needs are to be met.
Pohl et al. (2005) Peer-reviewed journal article (Empirical research)
  • Interesting and engaging
  • Highly relevant to  the trainees’ work practice
Boyce and Pahl (2007) Peer-reviewed journal article Facilitates knowledge acquisition about a particular subject
Nkirina (2009) Peer-reviewed journal article
  • Less theoretical and more practical
  • Interesting to trainees
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, (2012) Commissioned Report
  • Integrates the cultural and social conditions of a country
  • Flexible and adaptable to the changing conditions of labour markets
  • Permits “insights into general connections so that subjectively meaningful, networked knowledge structures can be developed” (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012).

Source: Created by the Researcher

 

2.2 Cultural Differences

2.2.1 Theoretical Frameworks Relevant to ‘Cultural Differences’

There is a significant body of extant literature that delves on the different frameworks that are focused on cultural differences. These frameworks include the following: (1) cross-cultural dimension framework by Hofstede (1980; 2001); (2) seven dimensions of culture by Schwartz (1992); (3) cultural syndromes by Triandis (1994); and (4) dimensions of culture by Trompenaars (1993).

2.2.1.1 Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework

Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework is anchored on the assumption that the actions of people from all over the world are guided by ethical norms, attitudes, customs, and morals. In his seminal work on cultural differences, Hofstede (1980) elucidated that people possess ‘mental programs’ that contain a dimension of national culture that are cultivated and reinforced through experience. Hofstede’s (1980) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework was based on a primary research involving a large sample of employees from 40 countries employed by IBM. Hofstede’s (1980; 2001) framework consists of five cultural dimensions, namely: (1) Power Distance Index (PDI) which pertains to the extent of power inequality amongst organisational members; (2) Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), which is the extent to which organisational members feel threatened by ambiguous or uncertain situations; (3) Individualism (IDV) vs. Collectivism, which pertains to the extent by which individuals are integrated into groups, with individualism being defined as “a loosely knit social framework in which people are supposed to take care of themselves and of their immediate families only”; and collectivism being “characterised by a tight social framework in which people distinguish between ingroups and outgroups, they expect their in-group to look after them, and in exchange for that they feel they owe absolute loyalty to it” (1980); (4)  Masculinity (MAS)–Femininity (FEM) which pertains to “the extent to which the dominant values in society” are either masculine which is characterised by “assertiveness, the acquisition of money and things, and notcaring for others, the quality of life, or people” (1980); or feminine, which is characterised by those attributes that are opposite of masculine traits; and (5) Confucian dynamism (or long-term vs short-term orientation) which pertains to the way society perceives the dimension of time horizon, whereby long-term oriented societies are deemed likely to place a premium on the future time horizon and place importance on pragmatic values; while short-term oriented societies, on the other hand, are deemed likely to place importance on values relevant to the past and the present such as steadiness and respect for tradition (2000).

A significant body of literature has cited Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework. It has been recognised for its “clarity, parsimony, and resonance with managers” (Kirkman, Lowe & Gibson, 2006). Even Trompenaars (1993) claimed that Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework is responsible “for opening management’s eyes to the importance of the cross-cultural management subject.” Indeed, Hofstede’s framework has been used in wide-ranging contexts since it was able to serve as the foundation for cross-cultural research related to a diverse range of disciplines (Blodgett, Bakir & Rose, 2008).

However, Hofstede’s framework has also received a lot of criticisms. For instance, Blodgett et al. (2001) argued that Hofstede’s framework was largely based on a national level of analysis and is thus used solely for comparing systematic differences in cultures across nations. In a later work, Blodgett, Bakir & Rose (2008) found that Hofstede’s framework lacks construct validity when used at an individual level of analysis. In addition, Blodgett, Bakir & Rose (2008) maintained that “overall, a majority of the items were lacking in face validity, the reliabilities of the four dimensions were low, and the factor analyses did not result in a coherent structure.” Indeed, Hofstede (1996) himself admitted that the Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework is not intended to be used at an individual level of analysis, citing the difference between the analysis within a particular culture and between different national cultures.

2.2.1.2 Schwartz’ (1992) Seven Dimensions of Culture

Schwartz (1992) explored the inner layer of the culture onion which he referred to as ‘value’ by administering a survey to teachers and students in more than 40 countries and asking them to rate the importance of 56 values  that serve as a guiding principle in their lives and are considered “universal human value types” (Ng, Lee & Sautar, 2007). Schwartz (1992) analysed the survey results by categorizing them into two levels — the individual and the cultural level. This categorization in turn lead to the generation of two individual level dimensions (i.e. conversation to openness to change, and self-transcendence to self-enhancement) and three cultural-level dimensions (i.e. embededness vs. autonomy, hierarchy vs. egalitarianism, and mastery vs. harmony). The following are the seven cultural level value types as proposed by Schwartz (1992): (1) conservatism, which occurs when society places a premium on close-knit relations, maintenance of status quo and avoidance of actions that tend to disrupt traditional order; (2) intellectual autonomy, which pertains to the recognition of individuals as autonomous entities who possess the prerogative to pursue their intellectual interests; (3) affective autonomy, which pertains to the recognition of individuals as autonomous entities who possess the prerogative to pursue their hedonistic interests and desires; (4) hierarchy, which pertains to the importance that a society places on the legitimacy of hierarchical roles and the allocation of resources; (5) mastery, which pertains to the manner by which society places importance on the active mastery of the social environment and individuals rights; (6) egalitarian commitment, which pertains to the emphasis placed by society on the supremacy of selfless interests; and (7) harmony, which pertains to the emphasis placed by society on harmony with nature.

Several researchers have compared Hofstede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework with Schwartz’ (1992) Seven Dimensions of Culture in terms of the scope of the cultural dimensions of each respective framework. Steenkamp (2001) and Kagitcibasi (1997) argued that Schwartz’ values capture more cultural aspects than the dimensions developed by Hofstede. In addition, Brett and Okumura (1998) stressed that Schwartz’s framework is superior to Hofstede’s because “[…]it is based on a conceptualization of values; it was developed with systematic sampling, measurement and analysis techniques; and […] its normative data are recent, collected in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” These earlier observations were later supported by Ng, Lee and Soutar (2007) who emphasised that Schwartz’ values contribute more and hence, play a more important role in trade-related studies compared to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. However, a key criticism of Schwartz’ (1992) Seven Dimensions of Culture is that that the cultural values were based purely on assumptions (Peng, Nisbett & Wong, 1997). Peng, Nisbett and Wong (1997) argued that validity for common methods of cross-cultural comparisons of values cannot be assumed but must be proved.

2.2.1.3 Triandis’ (1994, 1995) Cultural Syndromes

Triandis (1994, 1995), using secondary research, conceptualized the Cultural Syndromes Framework based on the cultural dimension of individualism-collectivism which in turn, is comprised of various attitudinal and behavioural dimensions that define self- other relations. Triandis (1994, 1995) analysed the cultural dimension of individualism–collectivism as identified by G. Hofstede (1980), using items developed empirically in 9 different cultures. The individualism-collectivism construct describes “the degree where people feel that care should be taken of or to care of themselves, their organizations and families” (Chung et al., 2011). According to Tafarodi and Walters (1999), Triandis (1994, 1995) hypothesised that “collectivism is high in cultures that are simple and tight.” Chung et al. (2011) explained that when gathered together in groups, collectivists tend to orient themselves towards group interests and consider themselves as “members of extended organizations or family.” Carpenter’s (2000) findings buttressed this hypothesis by affording empirical evidence that highlights the correlation of collectivism and tightness. Mills and Clark (1982) describe collectivists as behaving in a communal manner, having a predilection to prioritise the achievement of common goals and to shape their behaviour in accordance with their in-groups norms.

Triandis and Suh (2002) noted the presence many collectivist cultures and explained that these collectivist cultures that can be grouped into two major categories, namely: (1) vertical collectivist culture; and (2) horizontal collectivist culture. According to Triandis and Suh (2002), in vertical collectivist cultures such as India, the following characteristics are predominant: traditionalism, placing emphasis on in-group cohesion, high respect for in-group norms as well as for the directives of authorities. Such classification was later supported by Altemeyer (1996) and by Bond and Smith (1996). Altemeyer (1996) described vertical collectivist cultures as being closely associated with the following attributes: right wing authoritarianism, an inclination to be submissive to authority and to endorse conventionalism. Bond and Smith (1996) described vertical collectivist cultures to be traditionalists with a high predilection to follow the norms set by the group. On the other hand, horizontal collectivist cultures such as Israel are characterised by emphasize empathy, sociability, and cooperation (Triandis & Suh, 2002).

Triandis et al. (1998; cited in Rogers & Spitzmueller, 2009) maintained that individualism, which is the opposite of collectivism, is defined as “the subordination of a group’s goals to the individual’s goals.” Triandis and Suh (2002) elucidated that the cognitive structure of individualists is primarily comprised by an independent self-construal wherein an individual is inclined to regard oneself to be fixed and the environment to be malleable or changing. Triandis and Suh (2002) further categorized individualist cultures into vertical individualist cultures and horizontal individualist cultures and claimed that in vertical individualist cultures such as the US corporate world, competitiveness is high, and one must be “the best” in order to effectively climb the corporate ladder. On the other hand, Triandis and Suh (2002) argued that in horizontal individualist cultures such as Australia and Sweden, hierarchical differentiation is not accentuated, but rather, the emphasis is placed on self-reliance, uniqueness and on independence from others.

Greenfield (1999) explained that the individualism-collectivism construct corresponds to the deep structure of cultural differences. Many researchers have studied the individualism-collectivism construct at the cultural level of analysis, especially in the field of cultural psychology (Bond & Smith, 1996). For instance, Norenzayan, Choi & Nisbett (1999) found that East Asians who were making dispositional attributions consider traits as changeable, flexible or malleable, whereas Western individualist participants consider them as fixed or unchangeable. Such findings were buttressed by Krull et al. (1999; cited in Triandis & Suh, 2002) who suggested that cultural differences between East Asians and Westerners occur because “samples from East Asia make situational attributions much more frequently and to a greater extent than samples from the West.”

However, a major limitation of Triandis’ (1994, 1995) Cultural Syndromes, as pointed out by Oyserman and Lee (2008), is that despite the observed consistent patterns of cultural differences across nations that are attributed to the individualism-collectivism construct, “cross-national comparisons cannot of themselves provide conclusive support of this causal role, and for this reason the cross-national evidence can be considered spotty.” Thus, the causal role of the individualism-collectivism construct in cross-cultural comparisons need to be supported by data and should not be based on general assumptions alone (Oyserman & Lee, 2008).

2.2.1.4 Trompenaars’ (1994) Dimensions of Culture

To gain a deeper understanding of the concept of cultural diversity within the business context, Dutch management consultant Fons Trompenaars (1993) developed a framework or model of seven fundamental dimensions of national culture which include the following: (1) universalism versus particularism, (2) individualism versus collectivism, (3) neutral versus emotional, (4) specific versus diffuse, (5) achievement versus ascription, (6) orientation in time, and (7) attitudes towards the environment. Hofstede (1996) explained that while the first five dimensions are useful in describing relationships with other people, the remaining two dimensions are associated with time and the external environment. This framework was developed from a questionnaire based largely upon the identification of cultural and “personal pattern variables or value dilemmas” identified by Parsons and Shils (1951; cited in Smith & Dugan, 1996).

In the first dimension of universalism versus particularism, Trompenaars (1996) explicated that universalist cultures tend to believe that moral reference emanates from general rules and obligations, thus, they are predisposed to follow rules and to attempt to change others’ attitudes so that they can conform to the norms. Particularist cultures, on the other hand, place a premium on particular circumstances rather than on rules. Hence, Trompenaars  claimed “bonds of particular relationships (family, friends) are stronger than any abstract rule and the response may change according to circumstances and the people involved.”

In the second dimension, individualism versus collectivism, individualist cultures, are more concerned about individuals’ rights and hence, place lesser importance on the achievement of collective goals than on the achievement of their own individual goals. In contrast, individualist cultures are more concerned about the rights of the society as a whole, than the rights of individuals. Collectivist cultures view the achievement of collective goals more important than the achievement of the goals of individuals.

In the third dimension, neutral versus emotional, He explicated that neutral cultures tend to seek an indirect response wherein different paths to one’s approval is provided. The indirect paths give us emotional support contingent upon the success of an effort of intellect.” On the other hand, emotional cultures tend to provide a direct emotional response which “allows our feelings about a factual proposition to show through, thereby joining feelings with thoughts in a different way.”

In the fourth dimension, specific versus diffuse, Trompenaars  explained that people have different ways of expressing their emotions. Generally, however, these can be categorized into specific or diffuse. Accordingly “in specific-oriented cultures a manager segregates out the task relationship she or he has with subordinates and isolates this from other dealings.” In contrast, in diffuse- oriented cultures, the task relationship with subordinates permeates all other life space and different levels of personality at the same time. Diffuse strategies highlight “the importance of a holistic relationship with the organization and its environment” In contrast, in specific-oriented cultures, private and work are sharply delineated

In the fifth dimension, achievement versus ascription, Trompenaars elucidated that achievement-oriented cultures “justify organisational hierarchies by explaining that senior persons have achieved more for the organisation; their authority, justified by skill and knowledge, benefits the organization.”

In the sixth dimension, orientation in time, Trompenaars maintained that time can either be conceived as a sequence or as synchronization. He claimed that cultures who consider time as a sequence consider events to occur sequentially in a particular time frame and often as a result of rational or conscious actions. On the other hand, cultures who consider time a synchronization of events also consider strategies in the short-term, as a result of emerging conditions.

Finally, the seventh dimension, attitudes towards the environment is primarily concerned with the assignment of meaning to the natural environment. Trompenaar elucidated that people who have an organic view of nature tend to assume that man is subjugated to nature and thus, are more inclined to “orient their actions towards others.” In contrast, people who possess a mechanistic view of nature, “in addition to the belief that man can dominate nature, usually take themselves as the point of departure for determining the right action”

Bickerstaffe (2002) highlighted the utility of Trompenaar’s  Dimensions of Culture by pointing out that the framework has been deemed useful in the areas of organisational management and change management, specially within the context of corporate acquisitions, mergers and alliances — all of which are susceptible to “dilemmas in relationships with people, dilemmas in relationship to time, and dilemmas in relationships between people and the natural environment.” Bickerstaffe  maintained that these dilemmas can be fairly predictable and that the seven fundamental dimensions of national culture can be used to characterize these dilemmas and subsequently reconcile them.

However, the Dimensions of Culture framework did not take into account the impact of individual characteristics on behaviour as the level of analysis is largely on a national or country level of analysis. In addition, in a validation study conducted by Hofstede (1996), wherein Trompenaars’ data were statistically treated using correlation and factor analysis at the country level, Hofstede (1996) criticized Trompenaars’  methodological approach, claiming that only two dimensions could be clearly confirmed statistically — the Individualism / Achievement and Universalism / Diffuse dimensions. Hofstede further elaborated that Trompenaars’ work lacked content validity. Furthermore, Hofstede  argued that Trompenaars’ work failed to address the following concerns that are deemed crucial to cultural conflicts, namely: “power struggle, corruption, exploitation, aggression, anxiety, and differing concepts of masculinity and femininity.”

In response to Hofstede’s criticisms, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (1997 ) argued that Hofstede: (1) misapprehended their database; (2) failed to realize that weighted combinations were used in the study, as opposed to individual questions; (3) preferred the use of parametric scaling “where nonparametric is more appropriate”; and (4) was after the ‘perfect model;’ instead of the ‘models-to-learn-with.’

Table 2.2 below presents the summary of the results of the literature review relevant to the models of cultural differences.

Table 2.2 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review Related to the Models of Cultural Differences

Author Type of Research Conducted Concept of Cultural Differences Framework or Model Benefits Criticisms
Hofstede (1980, 2001) Primary research involving a large sample of employees from 40 countries employed by IBM Cultural differences are anchored on national culture that are cultivated and reinforced through experience. Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework consisting of five cultural dimensions (power distance index, uncertainty avoidance index, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity –femininity, Confucian dynamism Serves as the foundation for cross-cultural research related to a diverse range of disciplines, but has been deemed more valuable to management Largely based on a national level of analysis. Lacks construct validity when used at an individual level of analysis
Schwartz (1992) A survey of teachers and students in more than 40 countries (primary research) Cultural differences are based on universal human value types Seven Dimensions of Culture (conservatism, intellectual autonomy, affective autonomy, hierarchy, mastery, egalitarian commitment, harmony) Captures more cultural aspects than the dimensions developed by Hofstede (Kagitcibasi, 1997). 

Plays a more important role in trade-related studies compared to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (Ng, Lee & Soutar, 2007).

Cultural values were based purely on assumptions (Peng, Nisbett & Wong, 1997)
Triandis’ (1994, 1995) Secondary research Cross-cultural differences are based on the Individualism vs. Collectivism construct Cultural Syndromes (Individualism vs. Collectivism) Consistent patterns of cultural differences across nations that are attributed to the individualism-collectivism construct (Oyserman & Lee, 2008). Used predominantly in cultural psychology. 

Based on general assumptions on cross-national evidence (Oyserman & Lee, 2008).

Trompenaars (1994) Secondary research Cross-cultural differences are based on seven fundamental dimensions of national culture Seven fundamental dimensions of national culture (1) universalism versus particularism, (2) individualism versus collectivism, (3) neutral versus emotional, (4) specific versus diffuse, (5) achievement versus ascription, (6) orientation in time,  and (7) attitudes towards the environment Deemed useful in the areas of organizational management and change management, particularly within the context of corporate acquisitions, mergers and alliances Did not take into account the impact of individual characteristics on behaviour as the level of analysis is largely on a national or country level of analysis. 

Only two dimensions could be clearly confirmed statistically — the Individualism / Achievement and Universalism / Diffuse dimensions (Hofstede, 1996).

It lacks content validity (Hofstede, 1996)

Source: Created by the Researcher

As shown in Table 2.2, these frameworks or models have varying degrees of suitability for different contexts. For instance, Hoftede’s (1980, 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework and Trompenaars’ (1994) Seven Fundamental Dimensions of National Culture are mostly used in management studies. However, Trompenaars’ (1994) Seven Fundamental Dimensions of National Culture is more particularly used in organizational management and change management. On the other hand, Schwartz’ (1992) Seven Dimensions of Culture, is mostly used in trade-related studies; while Triandis’ (1994, 1995) Cultural Syndromes figures prominently in psychology-related studies. Indeed, according to Schwatz’ (1994) theory, cultural dimensions are likely to be organized in coherent or consistent manner. The cultural distance index, for instance, is an example of such measures that has been used in a diverse range of cross-cultural studies (Hakanson & Ambos, 2010).

2.2.2 Studies That Focus on Cultural Differences Relevant to Learning & Training

As pointed out by Mayen (2011), knowledge acquisition is a major characteristic of vocational training. Hence, a review of literature that is related to knowledge acquisition or learning, as well as to training itself is required. This subsection presents the results of the review of studies that explore the impacts of cultural differences on: (1) group activities (Cox, Lobel & McLeod, 1991); (2) deductive reasoning (Unsworth & Medin (2005); (3) learning and achievement motivation (McClelland, 1961; Niles, 1995; Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009); and knowledge transfer (Li et al., 2014).

  1. Impacts of Cultural Differences on Group Activities

Cox, Lobel and McLeod (1991) tested the hypothesis that differences in cultural norms would result in different behaviours while undertaking a group task. Cox, Lobel and McLeod (1991) examined the impacts of ethnic group differences between Asians, Blacks, Hispanics and Anglos              in assessing competitive and cooperative behaviours on a group activity.  The research tool that was used was the Prisoner’s Dilemma Task wherein study participants were given the option to either cooperate or compete with one another. Results of the study indicate that groups consisting of participants with collectivist cultural traditions are more likely to display greater cooperative behaviour compared to those displaying individualistic cultural traditions, who are in turn more likely to be more competitive. Thus, the findings of this study buttress the frameworks that are related to the cultural dimension of individualism versus collectivism proposed by Hofstede (1980, 2001); Triandis (1994); and Trompenaars, (1994). A key limitation of this study, however, is that the results only addressed one cultural difference and one behavioural dimension of a collectivist orientation. In addition, despite the importance given to situational ethnicity and biculturalism, Cox, Lobel and McLeod (1991) did not investigate these factors.

  1. Impacts of Cultural Differences in Deductive Reasoning

Unsworth and Medin (2005) investigated if indeed cultural differences are present in the use of intuitive or deductive as opposed to formal or inductive reasoning. Unsworth and Medin (2005) validated the findings of the study conducted by Norenzayan et al. (2002), wherein results of their experiments confirmed that cultural differences operate in deductive reasoning. According to Norenzayan et al. (2002), compared to European Americans, Koreans who participated in the study were found to be more conservative and were therefore less likely to claim that a particular argument is valid since they tend to have a belief bias. On the other hand, European Americans were found to be more likely to decontextualize an argument from its logical structure and are hence better than Koreans in judging the logical validity of arguments. However, Unsworth and Medin (2005) analysed the average hit and correct rejection rates in each of the experiments conducted by Norenzayan et al. (2002), and found contrasting evidence, claiming that European Americans were no better than Koreans at “determining the validity of concrete deductive arguments with conclusions varying in believability.” Nonetheless, Unsworth and Medin (2005, p.528) claimed that it is possible that East Asians and European Americans use “different cognitive strategies in other cognitive tasks.”

  1. Cultural Differences in Learning and Achievement Motivation

Cultural differences in learning motivation were explored by various scholars in the past. For instance, in McClelland’s (1961) seminal work that focused on the examination of the variations in achievement patterns amongst different cultures, particularly between Far Eastern and Western cultures, it has been argued that motivations for learning and achievement are strongly associated with economic development and the rise and fall of civilisations. McClelland (1961) conducted a qualitative study that was aimed at analysing the achievement motive, as well entrepreneurial characteristics and behaviour and sources of achievement, both past and present, of what he considered as highly achieving societies. McClelland (1961) elucidated that cross-cultural differences in the levels for the need for achievement were attributable to differences in personality, which in turn, was attributed to child-rearing practices and to eco-cultural forces that are likely to generate socialization practices and instil varying levels of need for achievement.

Niles (1995) conducted a study that examined and compared the motivation patterns and learning strategies of Asian and Australian students enrolled at an Australian university. Niles (1995) administered a survey to Australian and overseas students studying at the Norther Territory University in the faculties of Arts, Education, Business, and Science and used the Study Process Questionnaire developed by Briggs (1987; cited in Niles, 1995). Findings of the study suggest the following: (1) there are both similarities and differences when it comes to motivation patterns and learning strategies; (2) while the Australian students were largely motivated by competition, the Asian students, on the other hand, were found to be more motivated by the need for social approval; and (3) the Asian students were not rote learners as claimed in prior literature. Thus, findings of the study highlight the strong influence of cultural differences on achievement motivation and learning strategies. In addition, findings of the study contradicted the earlier proposition of McClelland (1961) which highlighted that economic development was considered to be the key determinant of achievement motivation.

Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) conducted a study that examined the impact of goal orientation and individualism-collectivism construct on the learning processes and performance outcomes of a technical training programme. Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) collected data from 92 employees (all engineers) of a multinational corporation belonging to the oil and energy industry who were then enrolled at a technical training program. The international diversity of the sample was comprised by Americans (33%), Nigerians (25%), Canadians (9%) and other nationalities such as Russians, Qataris, Columbians, Indians, Papua New Guineans and Angolans (30%). Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) used a subset of items from Hofstede’s (1980) measure of individualism and collectivism. For the goal orientation variable, items for learning goal orientation and performance goal orientation from the measure developed by VandeWalle et al. (2001; cited in Rogers & Spitzmueller 2009, p. 191) were used. For the ‘learning variable’, differences between post-test and pre-test were computed. These tests were designed by the company and were subsequently used to ascertain whether participants were able to benefit from the training programme or otherwise. These tests were focused on the technical skills and knowledge relevant to the course content. For the ‘motivation to learn’ variable, a scale developed by Noe and Schmitt (1986, cited in Rogers & Spitzmueller 2009, p. 191) was used to determine whether or not the participants were motivated to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge. Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) found that the individualism-collectivism construct could potentially serve as a key moderator of the influence of goal orientation on learning and motivation during training. Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) highlighted that the individualism-collectivism construct bear some important implications for the training and development programmes of organisations. A key implication of the individualism-collectivism construct within the context of training and development programs is that important individual differences have the capacity or the potential to negatively affect the effectiveness of training for employees who are from different cultural backgrounds. Another important implication, according to Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009), is that since goal orientation is induced by situational influences, simple manipulation of task instructions could increase performance and the likelihood of achieving learning goals. Thus, Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) suggested that for organisations to create a climate for optimal training performance, they should consider the individualism-collectivism construct in shaping instructions and overviews within training.

  1. Knowledge Transfer

Li et al. (2014) conducted a meta-analysis of the influencing factors on knowledge transfer with a particular emphasis on cultural factors. Li et al. (2014) analysed a total of 69 peer-reviewed articles that focus on knowledge transfer and Hofstede’s (1980) Cross-Cultural Dimension Framework. The articles were divided into two groups based on the following cultural characteristics proposed by Hofstede (1980): (1) individualism, low power distance; and (2) collectivism, high power distance. Findings of the study indicate that the following factors affect the knowledge transfer process: “transfer willingness, trust, tie strength, credibility of the source, network centricity, and network density” (Li et al., 2014, p. 292). Furthermore, it was found that “the meta-analytic comparison of the influencing factors across two cultural contexts indicate that significant differences occur due to knowledge ambiguity, transfer capacity, transfer willingness and network centricity (Li et al., 2014, p. 292). Li et al. (2014, p.284) maintained that “in knowledge transfer activities, first, the knowledge seeker evaluates and subjectively locates the potential knowledge source, and the process of doing so is affected by power.” However, a key limitation of the study is that it did not address more detailed dimensions of knowledge transfer such as efficiency and effectiveness as the scope of the analysis was limited to the aforementioned two cultural dimensions. Findings of the study nonetheless support the findings of previous studies.

Table 2.3 summarises the findings from the review of literature related to studies dealing with cultural differences on learning.

Table 2.3 Summary of Literature Review Results Relevant to Studies that Delve on Cultural Differences

Author Type of Research Conducted Main Thrust of Study Findings
Cox, Lobel and McLeod (1991) Primary research Evaluated the impacts of cultural differences on group activities Groups consisting of participants with collectivist cultural traditions are more likely to display greater cooperative behaviour compared to those displaying individualistic cultural traditions, who are in turn more likely to be more competitive
Unsworth and Medin (2005) Secondary research Validated the findings of the study conducted by Norenzayan et al. (2002) Unsworth and Medin (2005) found contrasting evidence, claiming that European Americans were no better than Koreans at “determining the validity of concrete deductive arguments with conclusions varying in believability.”
McClelland (1961) Secondary research Examination of the variations in achievement patterns amongst different cultures, particularly between Far Eastern and Western cultures Cross-cultural differences in the levels for the need for achievement were attributable to differences in personality, which in turn, was attributed to child-rearing practices and to eco-cultural forces that are likely to generate socialization practices and instil varying levels of need for achievement
Niles (1995) Primary research Compared the motivation patterns and learning strategies of Asian and Australian students enrolled at an Australian university (1) There are both similarities and differences when it comes to motivation patterns and learning strategies; (2) While the Australian students were largely motivated by competition, the Asian students, on the other hand, were found to be more motivated by the need for social approval; and (3) The Asian students were not rote learners as claimed in prior literature
Rogers & Spitzmueller (2009) Primary research Examined the impact of goal orientation and individualism-collectivism construct on the learning processes and performance outcomes of a technical training programme The individualism-collectivism construct can potentially serve as a key moderator of the influence of goal orientation on learning and motivation during training
Li et al. (2014) Secondary research Conducted a meta-analysis of the influencing factors on knowledge transfer with a particular emphasis on cultural factors The following factors affect the knowledge transfer process: 

“transfer willingness, trust, tie strength, credibility of the source, network centricity, and network density” (Li et al., 2014, p. 292).

“In knowledge transfer activities, first, the knowledge seeker evaluates and subjectively locates the potential knowledge source, and the process of doing so is affected by power” (Li et al., 2014, p. 284)

Source: Created by the Researcher

2.3 The SSM Concept

If one accepts that training exists as a ‘system’ in Qatar, it is important to methodically evaluate it within a proper framework such as the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) (Checkland and Scholes 1990). This will compel the student too look at the bigger picture within which the ‘system’ must develop (and often, is forced to develop). This bigger picture comprises the geo-political/socio-economic and above all, cultural/multi-cultural dimensions within which the ‘system’ is called upon to operate and/or develop. This bigger picture is what determines the development of the ‘system’ and as such, needs to be at the forefront of any propositions for the future development of this ‘system’. This ‘bigger picture’ moreover, is often missing from much of the research, studies, reports, etc., as well as the discourses that define the ‘system’. To adopt an systems approach will allow a more holistic view and better grounded view of the ‘system’ (Jackson 2003).

As a methodology, Hindle (2011) argued that SSM is inherently multipurpose and flexible in nature. As such, it has been interpreted by practitioners in a diverse number of ways (Ledington & Donaldson, 1997; Checkland, 2000; Jackson, 2000; Munro & Mingers, 2002; Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005; Hindle, 2011). In the same vein, results of the literature review relevant to the SSM concept highlighted the existence of different working definitions of the term ‘soft systems methodology’. Thus, finding a standard definition from the reviewed literature proved to be difficult. However, a key finding that emerged from the review is that working definitions were anchored primarily on the functional dimension of SSM.

For instance, most practitioners considered SSM as a learning process. Specifically, Tsoi (2004), considered SSM as “a learning process which aims at improvement and tries to solve a complex and problematical human situation.” This perspective was supported by Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) who described SSM as “a learning process which takes the form of an enquiry process in a situation that people are concerned.” Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) further explained that such process results in action “in a never ending learning cycle.”

However, for Stowell (2009) and Hindle (2011), SSM is not a learning process, but rather an experiential learning activity. According to  Stowell (2009, p. 883), SSM focuses on  “seeking understanding through experience and learning as this kind of approach to investigation makes the process of learning itself prime rather than seeking a solution.” In the same vein, Hindle (2011) emphasised that SSM is particularly useful in “tackling complex situations through the experiential learning of a group of participants.” This experiential learning perspective places emphasis on the involvement or participation of stakeholders during the conduct of the SSM and is thus more applicable to learning within social contexts such as group learning. This is also applicable in action research and in project management. In contrast, the learning process perspective is limited to the involvement of the researcher in trying to solve a problematical human situation.

Other practitioners see SSM as a tool used in determining the problem and subsequently arriving at a solution. This view of SSM as a tool has led to the formulation of several connotative meanings associated with the use of SSM as a tool, such as: (1) ‘a way of analyzing’ (Kayrooz & Trevitt, 2005); (2) ‘a systematic framework’ (Checkland & Poulter, 2006); (3) ‘a problem-solving tool’ (Leitch & Warren, 2008); (4) ‘a process for managing’ (Hardman and Paucar-Caceres, 2011); and (5) ‘a problem-structuring method’ (Montevechi & Friend , 2012). Kayrooz & Trevitt (2005) defined SSM as “a way of analysing the context of the research study. It comprises a range of interactions involving the context, the ideal envisaged and the interaction between the context and the ideal.” Checkland and Poulter (2006) considered SSM as a systematic framework that is used to deal with problematical social situations. Leitch and Warren (2008) asserted that SSM is “often not referred to as a methodology but a problem solving tool, which makes it suitable for a variety of situations.” According to Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011), SSM pertains to the application of systems principles to “structured thinking about things that happen in the world.” They explicated that in a broader sense, SSM is a process for managing and for arriving at organised action. For Montevechi and Friend (2012), SSM is fundamentally, a problem-structuring method that provides a structured series of phases that are aimed at guiding the “qualitative process involved in complex problem definition.” The diversity of these connotations attests to the earlier claims of Hindle (2011) about the disparate views and interpretations of practitioners regarding SSM.

Table 2.4 below presents the literature review matrix relevant to the various working definitions and connotations of SSM found in extant literature.

Table 2.4 Literature Review Matrix of the Definitions and Connotations of SSM

Main Themes Found in Working Definitions of SSM Authors
SSM as a learning process Tsoi (2004, p. 1027 ) Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005, p. 308)
SSM is “a learning process which aims at improvement and tries to solve a complex and problematical human situation.” SSM is “a learning process which takes the form of an enquiry process in a situation that people are concerned.”
SSM as an experiential learning activity Stowell (2009, p. 883) Hindle (2011)
SSM focuses on “seeking understanding through experience and learning as this kind of approach to investigation makes the process of learning itself prime rather than seeking a solution.” SSM is particularly useful in “tackling complex situations through the experiential learning of a group of participants.”
Connotative meanings of SSM Kayrooz & Trevitt (2005, p. 341) Leitch  and  Warren (2008) Checkland and Poulter (2006) Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) Montevechi and Friend (2012)
A way of analysing the context of the research study.” A problem-solving tool rather than a methodology  A systematic framework that is used to deal with problematical social situations A process for managing and for arriving at organised action A problem-structuring method that provides a structured series of phases

Source: Made by the Researcher

The present study adopts the definition formulated by Tsoi (2004) and by Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) who defined SSM as a learning process “which aims at improvement and tries to solve a complex and problematical human situation” (Tsoi, 2004); and which “takes the form of an enquiry process in a situation that people are concerned” (Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005). Thus, taken together, the present study alludes to SSM as a learning process that follows an enquiry approach aimed at improving and addressing a problematical social situation. The adoption of the aforementioned definition of SSM is underpinned on the focus of the study, which is the training system in IAD, and which places the emphasis on the training courses offered rather than on the organisational context of IAD. As such, this consideration excludes the experiential learning dimension of stakeholders since the design of the improved versions of the courses will be undertaken by this researcher, based on the results of data analysis.

Furthermore, in terms of the connotative meaning, the present study adopts the connotation put forward by Kayrooz & Trevitt (2005) which considers SSM as “a way of analysing the context of the research study. It comprises a range of interactions involving the context, the ideal envisaged and the interaction between the context and the ideal.” Such connotation is deemed well- suited for the present study which intends to analyse the context of the study (training system of IAD), the ideal envisaged (improved versions of training courses), and the interaction between the context and the ideal (evaluation of the real-world view and the conceptual model of the training system of IAD).

2.3.1 Purpose of SSM

A dominant theme that emerged from the literature review centres on the purpose of SSM. Birgitta (2002) claimed that SSM is aimed at dealing with real-world problems of management. As such, several authors have documented its utility for learning and systems design (Checkland & Scholes, 1990; Reid et al., 1999; Hindle, 2011; Hardman and Paucar-Caceres; 2011). In addition, Steinfort (2010) emphasised that SSM is helpful for understanding the determinants of project management.

A significant body of research has also highlighted the evaluatory nature of SSM that enables it to improve problematical situations by assessing the current situation and subsequently bringing about changes. For instance, Kayrooz & Trevitt (2005) asserted that the major purpose of SSM is to distinguish the extant system as well as its interrelated conditions so that the hindrances and opportunities for change can be identified and the potential for improvement, systematically examined.

Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) claimed that SSM effectively separates the ‘real- world’ from the ‘systems thinking world’, which ensures that ‘systems’, considered as abstract concepts, are not seen in the ‘real-world’. This consideration eventually facilitates the achievement of improvements to the situations under scrutiny. This view of SSM was later buttressed by Kotiadis and Robinson (2008) who referred to it as a problem structuring method; and by Baskerville, Pries-Heje and Venable (2009) who argued that SSM effectively “distinguishes thinking in the real world from thinking in an abstract, systems world.” Similarly, Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) supported this inherently evaluatory nature of SSM and claimed that SSM differentiates conceptual models of “potentially realizable systems with each other and the real world, and derives systematically desirable and culturally- feasible improvements.”

From a pragmatic viewpoint, Checkland (1999; cited in Somerville & Howard, 2008) asserted that the purpose of SSM is to provide “management tools for considering chaos and advances forward thinking agreements for action, opening up novel and elegant proposals for change.” Watson (2012, p. 442) explained that the goal of SSM is to “bring about changes” that are aimed at improving problematical situations. Such changes, according to Watson (2012), can take the form of actions such as structural or process changes, or the form of attitudinal changes such as changes in outlook or perspective. In essence therefore, SSM, according to Montevechi and Friend (2012), aims to “transparently structure the understanding process undertaken by researchers.” Table 2.2 presents the summary of the results of the literature review relevant to the purpose of SSM. As shown in Table 2.2, SSM has many purposes or goals which can be categorized into the following: (1) SSM is used for dealing with real-world problems of management, with learning and systems design, and with project management; (2) SSM is used in the evaluation of extant systems; and (3) SSM is used in bringing about changes and improvements to the problematical situation. Table 2.5 shows the findings from the review of literature related to the purpose of SSM.

Table 2.5 Literature Review Matrix Relevant to the Purpose of SSM

Dominant Themes Relevant to the Purpose of SSM Authors
Utility of SSM Birgitta (2002) Checkland & Scholes (1990), Reid et al. (1999), Hindle (2011), Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) Steinfort (2010)
Real-world problems of management Learning and systems design Project Management
 Goal of evaluating extant systems Kayrooz & Trevitt (2005) Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005), Baskerville, Pries-Heje and Venable (2009) Kotiadis and Robinson (2008), Montevechi and Friend (2012)
SSM distinguishes current systems SSM separates ‘real-world’ from systems thinking world SSM structures the problem
Goal of bringing about changes and improvements Checkland (1999; cited in Somerville & Howard, 2008) Watson (2012)
SSM advances forward thinking agreements for action SSM’s goal is to change and improve problematical situations.

Source: Made by the Researcher

2.3.2 The SSM Paradigm

Numerous scholars have asserted that SSM follows an interpretive paradigm (Checkland, 1981, 1985, 1989, 2000; Checkland & Scholes, 1990; Patton, 1990; Brocklesby, 1995; Feather and Sturges, 2003; Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005; Checkland & Poulter, 2006; Pollack, 2007; Hindle, 2011). For instance, Brocklesby (1995) claimed that SSM helps improve the understanding of situations under study by means of “participants’ self- reflective enquiry.” In addition, Brocklesby (1995) maintained that SSM follows the interpretive tradition and is commonly employed as an epistemological tool that enables a greater understanding and appreciation of the problematical situation.

Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) elucidated that various actors involved in the given problematical situation tend to evaluate and perceive the changing flux of events and ideas associated with the situation – subsequently constructing problems that must be addressed. This view buttressed Brocklesby’s (1995) self-reflective enquiry argument regarding SSM. Thus, as Pollack (2007) has asserted, SSM is closely associated with “an interpretive epistemology, inductive reasoning, and exploratory, qualitative techniques, which emphasise contextual relevance rather than objectivity.” Indeed, various practitioners such as Checkland (2000), Feather and Sturges (2003), Checkland and Poulter (2006), and Hindle (2011) have demonstrated that SSM considers any perceived problems to be always inherently subjective. This has been attributed to the importance of the concept of Weltanschauung and the multiple perspectives of a problematical situation (Mingers & Taylor, 1992; Checkland & Poulter, 2006, 2010).

But perhaps the more solid underpinnings of the SSM interpretive paradigm can be found to be deeply rooted in its intrinsic features. Checkland (1989) provided a detailed description of the general features of SSM that fortify its interpretive foundation, namely: (1) SSM posits that due to the autonomy of individuals and groups, widely varying evaluations are often generated eventually leading to different actions; (2) it assumes that “in consciously articulating the process of perceiving, evaluating and deciding to act, system ideas would be helpful”; (3) it takes consideration of the requirement for describing “any human activity in relation to a particular image of the world”; (4) it compares pure models of human activity systems with perceptions of real-world situations; and (5) it is a participative process since it is essentially “an articulation of a complex social process in which assumptions about the world – the relevant myths and meanings as well as the logics of achieving purposes which are expressed in the system models are teased out, challenged and tested”  and hence proceeds via debate.

It is therefore clear that these intrinsic features of SSM result in subjectivity. This subjectivity/ interpretivism argument was strongly supported by many authors such as Atkinson (1984); Mingers (1984); Rennie (1989); Crowe, Beeby and Gammack (1996), Jackson (2006), and Stowell (2009) who all claimed that SSM falls within the phenomenological tradition, which is in turn, linked with qualitative research methods (Patton, 1990). Thus, there is virtually an absence of neither debate nor disagreement as to the interpretivist paradigm of SSM.

SSM has been successfully applied in various learning environments such as in undergraduate teaching and learning (Patel, 1994); in the design of an education programme (Tsoi, 2004); in module development (Hindle, 2011); and in managed learning (Hardman & Paucar-Caceres, 2011). Tsoi (2004) has highlighted the usefulness of SSM in establishing a new methodology for designing an education programme. In the same vein, in the study conducted by Hindle (2011), the utility of SSM in the development of a case study and a teaching module has been documented. Furthermore, results of the literature review have identified the following key themes relevant to SSM: (1) one of its key goals is to evaluate extant systems by distinguishing current systems (Kayrooz & Trevitt, 2004), by separating ‘real-world’ from the systems thinking world (Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres, 2004; Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009); and by structuring the problem (Kotiadis & Robinson, 2008, Montevechi & Friend, 2012); and (2) it brings about changes and improvements to extant systems by advancing forward thinking agreements for action (Checkland, 1999 cited in Somerville & Howard, 2008; Watson, 2012).

2.3.3 The Seven Stages

The resilience of the seven stages version of SSM has been highlighted by Checkland (2000) who asserted that it can be readily understood since the stages unfold in a logical sequence. Additionally, Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres (2004,) assert that the seven stages version of SSM “is still the most convincing and helpful account of the SSM enquiry.” The seven stages version is closely linked with the Mode1 type of enquiry which has been described by Turner (2008) in the following manner:

Mode 1 is seen as an ‘intervention’ into the problem situation, and the underlying intentions are to provide those coming from outside the organisation carrying out the ‘enquiry’ with further insight into SSM itself and those from within the organisation who own the problem with a good idea of how to go about improving the ‘problem situation’. (Turner, 2008, p.39).

Although this researcher comes from within the MOI, the Mode 1 type of enquiry is considered appropriate for the present study due to the following reasons: (1) it is applicable for undertaking a study and is “more accessible to the novice, with more specific activities in the stages and less generalized iteration” than the latter (Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable (2009); and (2) it is typically undertaken by novice researchers as opposed to systems practitioners.

Basically, the SSM concept is hinged on the use of two features, namely: (1) the problem as it is understood in the ‘real world’; and (2) the problem as it is analysed in the ‘systems world’. Results of the analysis and conclusions drawn “from the latter are then brought back into the ‘real world’ with a more substantial understanding of the problem and thus, possible routes to solutions” (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2012). Figure 3.1 presents the conceptual framework of the present study, which is comprised by the seven stages version of SSM. As seen in Figure 3.1, stage 1 and 2 of SSM involve finding out about the problem situation (stage 1) and subsequently expressing it in rich pictures (stage 2). Stage 3 of SSM involves naming relevant human activity systems in ‘root definitions’ which is guided by a technique called CATWOE Analysis. Stage 4 involves building conceptual models from root definitions. Stage 4 consists of comparing the conceptual models with the perceived reality. Stage 6 involves making feasible, desirable changes based on the results of chapter 4. Finally, Stage 7 involves taking action to improve the problematical situation (Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009).  Figure 2.1 presents the conceptual framework of this study which is basically comprised by the seven stages version of SSM.

Figure 2.1  Conceptual Framework of the Present Study – Seven Stages Version of SSM

Source: Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres (2004)

The seven stages version of SSM is discussed in more detail in the succeeding paragraphs.

Stage 1: Finding Out About the Problem Situation

The first stage involves acknowledging and defining the problematical situation and subsequently assessing why it is particularly important (Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy 2012). Williams (2004) explains that stage 1 requires an initial collection of relevant literature and other resources such as focus groups or whatever is appropriate to gain a comprehensive understanding and initial explanation of the problem. Williams (2004) further elucidates that stage 1 is a preliminary evaluation and may change as the problematical situations becomes better understood. Checkland (1989) recommends that the researcher bear in mind that “the personality traits, experience, knowledge, and interests of” the investigator will impact on “what is noticed and what is taken to be significant.”

Stage 2: Problem Expression Expressed

Stage 2 of SSM involves the expression of the problem in rich pictures. This is required in order to examine the problem situation in a holistic manner. The expression of the problem in rich pictures is a powerful step to gain an understanding of the phenomena and events occurring in a particular system of reference where “something is not working well and something needs to be done to improve the problem situation” (Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres, 2004). Cassidy and Cassidy (2012) explain that “rich pictures are cartoon like drawings or sketches, illustrating the different aspects of the problem to be analysed.” Rich pictures are considered epistemological tools that help capture the real situation more vividly (Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres, 2004).

Stage 3: Problem-Oriented Root Definitions

Stage 3 of the SSM involves the formulation of root definitions which describe the purpose of the different systems or the processes of the system- in- question (Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy, 2012; Staadt, 2012). The ‘root definitions’ afford an ideal  mental construct of what the system- in -question must attain (Davis, 2009). Platt and Warwick (1994) and Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy (2012) elucidate that these root definitions are formulated with the use of six key elements that are represented in the CATWOE analysis which is a mnemonic code for the following: (1) ‘C’, which stands for customers, pertains to those who are the people affected by the system- in -question, who could either be beneficiaries or victims of said system; (2) ‘A’, which stands for actor, pertains to those people participating in the system- in- question; (3) ‘T’, which stands for transformation, pertains to the core of the root definition- the transformation carried out by the system in -question; (4) ‘W’, which stands for weltanschauung or world view — which is responsible for the actual sense making of the root definition being developed for the  system- in -question; (4) ‘O’, which stands for ownership, pertains to the persons with the authority to decide on the future of the system- in -question; and (6) ‘E’, which stands for environment, pertains to the wider system or the wider environment in which the system- in -question operates. Cassidy and Cassidy (2012, p. 41) further define the environment as “the world that surrounds and influences the system, but has no control over it.” Checkland (1990, cited in Cassidy & Cassidy, 2012, p. 41) points out that “the environment lies outside the system boundary and the constraints are the assumed impositions.” In addition, Platt and Warwick (1994) recommend the incorporation of the often diverse views of individuals regarding the system- in -question since such views often lead to the formulation of inferences which are not explicit.

Stage 4: Creation of Conceptual Models

The fourth stage of the SSM involves the formulation of a conceptual model, which must be designed, with the primary purpose of identifying the minimum required activities for the system-in-question or human activity system (HAS). It must represent the relationships between the activities and must be based solely on the root definition (Platt & Warwick, 1994). The conceptual model must also be able to show “all the necessary components of the transformation of input to output as described in the root definition” and subsequently present the subsystems that can be drawn from the model in a process called ‘decomposing’ which will show how “sub systems can then be developed individually” (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2012). In addition, the activities must be expressed to show “what is being done as opposed to how it is done. How an activity is achieved can be used within the root definition as a constraint of the system, such as how a particular activity will be controlled” (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2012). Platt and Warwick (1994) recommend the inclusion of all the elements of the CATWOE mnemonic in the conceptual model, but at the same time, the exclusion of the knowledge of the ‘real world.’

Stage 5: Comparison between the Conceptual Model and the Real World

The fifth stage of the SSM involves comparing the conceptual model with the real world (Cassidy & Cassidy, 2012; Staadt, 2012; White, 2012). The purpose of such comparison is to determine if there are potential changes or modifications in the real world since it is likely that activities represented in the conceptual model “do not exist in the real world (Platt & Warwick, 1994). Thus, this particular stage of the SSM is represented by a shift back form systems thinking to the real world flux of events and ideas (Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009).

Stage 6: Identification of Desirable Changes

The sixth stage of the SSM involves making modifications to the conceptual model in order to incorporate the interests of the actors (Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy, 2012). Any disparity arising from the comparison between the conceptual model and the real world (stage 4) will serve as the recommendation for change. However, differences between the conceptual model and the real world must not “never result” in the modification of the conceptual model since the conceptual model already represents the activities for the emergent properties of the system- in -question (Platt & Warwick, 1994). In addition, this stage should also take into consideration whether or not the identified areas for improvement are acceptable and thus, can be eventually integrated into the new model (Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009). In addition, modifications should follow the desired model and be informed by historical, cultural and political aspects whenever feasible. These modifications “may include changes in attitudes, structures or procedures” (Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy, 2012, p. 149).

Stage 7: Taking Action to Bring About Improvement

The seventh stage involves taking action in order to bring about improvement by implementing the model and fixing the identified problem (s) (Platt & Warwick, 1994; Checkland, 2000; Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009; Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy, 2012). Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy (2012, p. 149) assert that “in this step, the conclusions are drawn and long-term solution is formulated.”

2.3.4 Strengths and Weaknesses of SSM

According to Mingers & Taylor (1992), SSM’s strength rests on its consideration of the social, political and historical aspects of the problematical situation. This has been buttressed by the claims of Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) who elucidated that one of the key strengths of SSM with reference to measuring system performance rests on its ability to explicitly cope with the diverse perspectives of stakeholders through the Weltanschauung or the world-view concept. This subsequently results in the reflection of the needs of the different stakeholders within the context of the system in question (Hardman & Paucar-Caceres, 2011). Indeed, many authors considered this interpretive paradigm of SSM as its key strength (Doyle & Wood, 1991; Flood & Jackson, 1991; Flood & Ulrich, 1991; Crowe, Beeby & Gammack., 1996; Stowell, 2009). As Stowell (1993) asserted, SSM’s mode two type of enquiry is “the clearest example of interpretive systems that exists in a practical form.”

On the other hand, Mingers (1984), Flood and Jackson (1991), Rose and Hanes (1991), Jackson (1982, 2003), and Lane and Oliva (1994) uncovered the limitations associated with SSM. They all argued that SSM, in essence, could not be considered a problem-solving methodology due to its interpretive foundation. Lane and Oliva (1994) asserted that SSM is a methodology that is based on the examination of the ‘real-world’ perspective whose models are not accurate representations of the real-world and are thus, not normative. SSM from the viewpoint of Lane and Oliva (1994) is largely a framework of ideal situations. Moreover, Birgitta (2002) argued that due to the very subjective character of SSM, it bears the tendency to lead to regulatory, as opposed to “radical agendas for change.” In addition, Rose and Hanes (1991) maintained that SSM is time consuming and was considered predominantly prescriptive in its early days of use. In addition, Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) found the that the modelling stage particularly limits the intervention due to its failure to afford a technological tool that can be used to help grasp the consequences of the suggested models, resulting in the lack of realization of the impacts of the proposed changes by the analyst. To enrich and further appreciate the intervention, Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005) suggested the incorporation of system dynamics modelling features.

Table 2.6 shows the summary of the results of the literature review relevant to the strengths and weaknesses of SSM.

Table 2.6 Literature Review Matrix of the Strengths and Weaknesses of SSM

Main Theme Authors
Strength of SSM Doyle & Wood (1991); Flood & Jackson (1991); Flood & Ulrich (1991); Stowell (1993); Crowe at al. (1996); Stowell (2009) Mingers & Taylor (1992) Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011)
Interpretivist paradigm of SSM SSM considers the social, political and historical aspects of the problem SSM’s Weltanschauung or the world-view concept
Weakness of SSM Mingers (1984), Flood and Jackson (1991), Rose and Hanes (1991), Jackson (1992, 2003), and Lane and Oliva (1994); Birgitta, 2002) Rose and Hanes (1991) Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres (2005)
Interpretivist paradigm of SSM SSM is time consuming and prescriptive The modelling stage limits the intervention and needs to be complemented with system dynamics modelling features

Source: Made by the Researcher

As shown in Table 2.6, the interpretive paradigm of SSM is considered its key strength as well as its major weakness. Perhaps this dilemma can best be resolved by careful consideration of what is understood by the term ‘interpretive’ within the SSM context, such as ‘interpretive’ as in the case of the Weltanschauung or the world-view concept (strength) or ‘interpretive’ as in the case of non-normative frameworks of ideal situations (weakness).

2.3.5 SSM Applications in Learning Environments

Although by meaning making, the term ‘vocational training’ has often been construed to be somewhat “narrow and function-specific” (Devlin, 2000), such practical or experiential knowledge nevertheless shares prestige with “the scientific disciplines and constituted fields” (Mayen, 2011). Thus, a review of literature relevant to the application of SSM in academic fields and in learning systems in general is required – since knowledge acquisition, is also a key feature of vocational training systems (Mayen, 2011). However, there seems to be a lack in studies that are relevant to the utility of SSM in training systems and only a few studies that focused on the applications of SSM in learning environments were found in extant literature. These studies focused on the examination of the effectiveness of SSM in evaluating the process of teaching and learning at undergraduate education (Patel, 1995), in designing an education programme (Tsoi, 2001), in module development (Hindle, 2011), and in evaluating systems performance in a managed learning environment (Hardman & Paucar-Caceres, 2011).

2.3.5.1 Teaching and Learning at Undergraduate Education

To gain a deeper understanding of the process of teaching and learning at undergraduate education in general, Patel (1995) used SSM to conduct an audit of the teaching and learning strategies employed in the delivery of academic subjects to undergraduate students. In particular, Patel (1995) monitored relevant teaching and learning activities and subsequently compared them to a set of predetermined performance measures. In addition, Patel (1995) provided a detailed discussion of the manner by which SSM can be used to identify the problem and “to generate recommendations for improving the expressed problem area.” In conclusion, Patel (1995) highlighted the usefulness of SSM in analysing real-world concerns pertaining to the field of educational practice. Although the focus of Patel (1995)’s study is on a type of formal education, it remains relevant to the present study because it specified the different steps employed to carry out SSM to evaluate the performance of an educational practice against a set of performance criteria – which is the main thrust of the present study. As such, this study offers a sound methodological insight to the present study. However, this study was very descriptive in nature and was more of a reflective work, thereby lacking in critical analysis of the information presented. Moreover, it failed to discuss the data collection method used, the types of data gathered and the results of data analysis.

2.3.5.2 Designing an Education Programme

Tsoi (2004) investigated the effectiveness of applying SSM to establish a new methodology for designing an education programme within a Computer Science Department of a medium-sized, private, post-secondary, catholic college in Hong Kong. Tsoi (2004) modified the ‘Checkland methodology’, which consisted of seven stages to conduct the study. Tsoi’s (2004) version of the SSM consisted of eight basic stages and was named Soft Systems Programme Planning Methodology (SSPPM). The eight basic stages were as follows: (1) environmental scoping and analysis; (2) analysis of the programme design issues from a social perspective; (3) analysis of the programme design issues from an organisational perspective; (4) analysis of the different perceptions of stakeholders regarding the issues affecting the programme; (5) formulation of root definitions; (6) comparison between the conceptual model and the real-world views of the programme; (7) debate with the  stakeholders regarding the final programme structure; and (8) modifying the programme based on the results of the debate. Tsoi (2004) found SSPPM effective in considering all related information and limitations before the design of the new programme.

Whilst this contribution is a modified version of the standard, widely-used ‘Checkland methodology’, it nevertheless included the fundamental stages of the ‘Checkland methodology’ such as problem structuring, which, in this case, involved stages 1 to 4; formulation of root definitions; comparison between the conceptual model and the real-world views; evaluation of the models; and taking appropriate action based on the evaluation. Furthermore, this contribution is relevant to the present study because the focus of the investigation is on an education programme which is essentially a form of knowledge acquisition. Although the focus of the present study is on vocational training, as opposed to academic, formal education – it is still deemed relevant to the present study since as Mayen (2011) asserted, “practical intelligence and occupational skills and know-how are recognized as forms of knowledge just as noble as academic forms.” In addition, SSM was used by Tsoi (2004) as the overarching approach in designing an education programme, which is also the proposed methodology of the present study. However, this contribution did not present the results of the evaluation and did not provide a discussion on the performance measures used in assessing the effectiveness of the design of the new education programme.

2.3.5.3 Module Development

Hindle (2011) discussed the teaching of soft systems methodology (SSM) to selected undergraduate, postgraduate, and executive students in the UK and suggested a blueprint for a module. The research procedures employed by Hindle consisted of the following: (1) situation mapping; (2) systems modelling; and (3) action planning. In situation mapping, the study participants created a freehand representation of the situation to identify its main elements that include the “basic structure, stakeholder views, and environmental constraints” and to determine the major issues or problems In systems modelling, a range of systems models relevant to the situation were developed resulting in three options. Finally, in action planning, ideas and action plans were developed to address the problems. In this particular stage, each developed model was compared with existing modules to determine the differences between them. Such comparison enabled each participant to assess the viability and desirability of implementing new ideas and module designs. In conclusion, Hindle considered “SSM as an all-purpose approach to tackling complex situations, which can be conceived as an experiential learning cycle.”

This contribution is helpful for the present study because it helps illuminate the required actions necessary to deal with a complex learning situation, to come up with the most appropriate solution, and to use systems modelling to structure discussion between stakeholders. The overall research methodology employed by Hindle is very similar to that proposed by this researcher. Hindle  used SSM in developing a case study and a teaching module that were actually improvements of their previous versions. Similarly, the proposed methodology of the present study involves the following steps, namely: (1) an accurate identification of the problem through the use of SSM; (2) development of a set of performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the training courses offered by IAD  prior to the actual conduct of the research and after improvements or changes are  incorporated with the courses, with the use of SSM; and (3) designing new courses based on the results of the evaluation undertaken in step 2. However, a key limitation of this study is that students with little experience of the real world are likely to find developing the set of performance measures and subsequently designing new courses based on the evaluation results particularly daunting and difficult. In addition, this study was conducted in the UK setting and the results may not be applicable to the specific context of IAD.

2.3.5.4 Managed Learning

The utility of SSM in evaluating systems performance in the field of managed learning has been demonstrated by Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) who used the seven-step version of the SSM to evaluate the managed learning environment at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) justified the use of the seven-step version of the SSM by asserting that it closely depicts “a real-world and a purely conceptual world.” Furthermore, Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) used the following performance measures developed by Checkland and Scholes (2003), namely: efficacy (E1); efficiency (E2); effectiveness (E3); ethicality (E4); and elegance (E5). These performance measures, as explained by Checkland (1981, 1999) are specifically designed to assess the success or failure of the system’s transformation process.

Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) found that SSM effectively coped with the evaluation framework based on the criteria set within the MMU context. The criteria were based on stakeholder expectations across two iterations, namely: availability of the system (hard issues), and the impact of culture on the students (soft issues). However, one important issue that emerged from the study was that by contextualising SSM to the evaluation requirements of a managed learning environment, a need to adjust the performance measures suggested by SSM surfaced.

With reference to the current study which focuses on IAD’s training system, Hardman and Paucar-Caceres’ (2011) study can help illuminate the methodological approach that would be deemed most appropriate for the current study in terms of the following considerations, namely: (1) the particular version of the SSM that must be adopted; and (2) the performance measures that should be used to assess the current training system being used by IAD. These considerations are anchored on the similarity of the current study with the study conducted by Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011) in terms of the evaluation of the impact of culture on the students or trainees.

Table 2.7 below shows the literature review matrix of the summary of results of the review relevant to studies that focused on SSM Applications in learning environments.

Table 2.7 Literature Review Matrix Relevant to SSM Applications in Learning Systems

Main Themes Authors
Main Thrust of the Study Patel (1995) Tsoi (2004) Hindle (2011) Hardman and Paucar-Caceres (2011)
Teaching and Learning at Undergraduate Education Designing an Education Programme Module Development Managed Learning
Specific Application of SSM Audit of the teaching and learning strategies at an undergraduate level Evaluation of current education programme and design of an improved version Identification of issues and development of a case study and a teaching module Evaluation of systems performance of a managed learning environment
Version of the SSM Used Seven Stages Eight Stages (Modification of the Seven Stages Version) Four Stages Seven Stages
Key Findings SSM was useful in  assessing real-world concerns of educational practice SSM was effective in considering all related information and limitations prior to the design of the new education programme SSM is a multi-purpose approach to addressing complex situations. It is an ‘experiential learning cycle.’ SSM effectively coped with the evaluation framework based on the criteria set within the context of a managed learning environment
Limitations More of a reflective work, lacking in critical analysis  Failed to provide a discussion on the performance measures used in assessing the effectiveness of the design of the new education programme Students with little experience of the real world are likely to find developing the set of performance measures difficult There was a need to adjust the performance measures suggested by SSM

Source: Made by the Researcher

The aforementioned studies revealed the utility of SSM in problem-structuring, in the development of performance measures that will be used to assess the performance of the system in question, and in building conceptual models to improve the system in question. As such, they are all deemed relevant to the present study. However, all of these studies were within the context of academic teaching and learning. Hence, there is a lack in studies that focus on training systems in general, and on vocational training, in particular.

2.4 Systems Thinking and the Learning Organization

This subsection will discuss the results of the literature review related to the systems thinking concept and its application and utility in training.

2.4.1 The Concept of Systems Thinking

2.4.1.1. Working Definitions of Systems Thinking

The presence of numerous definitions of systems thinking and conversely, the lack of a univocal definition has been highlighted in extant literature (Frank & Waks, 2001; Cabrera, Colosi & Lobdell, 2008; Kiani, Mirzamohammadi & Hosseini, 2010; Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove, 2012; Ferrat, 2014). For instance, Senge (1990) defined systems thinking as “a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns rather than static snapshots. It is a set of general principles spanning fields as diverse as physical and social sciences, engineering and management.” In essence, therefore, Senge (1993) regarded systems thinking also as a skill that helps an individual: (1) look at feedback and processes of change instead of taking snapshots; and (2) consider interrelationships rather than linear cause -effect chains. Similarly, Richmond (1993) defined systems thinking as a set of skills needed for the competent use of simulation software to facilitate dynamic thinking, closed-loop thinking, generic thinking, structural thinking, operational thinking, continuum thinking and scientific thinking.

Within the context of organizational learning, Senge (1990) elucidated that systems thinking involves “a shift of minds from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future.” Senge (1990) explained that the differences in mental models explained the rationale behind the subjectivity involved in looking at the same thing, yet interpreting it differently. These mental models are “deeply ingrained-assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” As a result, mental models place a limit on the ability of an individual to change due to the likelihood of most people to become “drawn to take in and remember the information that reinforces existing mental models” Systems thinking affords individuals a flexible language that enables the expansion and reshaping of our ordinary ways of thinking insofar as complex issues are concerned

In O’Connor & McDermott’s (1997) viewpoint, systems thinking can be described in the following manner:

Our normal pursuit from a cause and effect perspective is to try and find where the fault lies. A systems thinking perspective, however, enables us to understand…why simply faultfinding is such a futile activity. Systems thinking enables one to progress beyond simply seeing events to seeing patterns…Systems thinking looks at the whole, and the parts, and the interconnection among the parts, studying the whole in order to understand the parts. It is the opposite of reductionism..

In the same vein, Oosterwal (2010) defined systems thinking as an approach that is aimed at investigating “complex problems by understanding the dynamic interdependencies and causal relationships associated with systems issues.” Ferrat (2014) explained that in the context of information systems teaching, systems thinking is viewed as an approach that students as ‘systems analysts’ could use when undertaking systems analysis and design. Ferrat (2014) elaborated that such approach involves gaining an understanding of the general systems theory which posits that “a system consists of interacting subsystems, a system with its subsystems exists within a larger environment, and systems seek multiple goals.”

Similarly, Mingers and White (2010) also considered systems thinking as an approach which involves the following:

  • Viewing the situation holistically, as opposed to reductionistically, as a set of diverse interacting elements within an environment.
  • Recognising that the relationships or interactions between elements are more important than the elements themselves in determining the behaviour of the system.
  • Recognising a hierarchy of levels of systems and the consequent ideas of properties emerging at different levels, and mutual causality both within and between levels.
  • Accepting, especially in social systems, that people will act in accordance with differing purposes or rationalities.

Despite the diversity in working definitions of systems thinking found in extant literature, they can nonetheless be circumscribed under certain dominant attributes which include the following ascriptions to systems thinking: (1) a framework (Senge, 1990); (2) a skill (Senge, 1990; Richmond, 1993); (3) an approach (Mingers & White, 2010; Ferrat, 2014); (4) a holistic view (Senge, 1990; O’Connor & McDermott, 1997); (5) an analytical tool that looks at interrelationships amongst subsystems (Senge, 1990; Mingers & White, 2010; Oosterwal, 2010; Ferrat, 2014); and a paradigm shift (Senge, 1990; O’Connor & McDermott, 1997; Mingers & White, 2010). Table 2.8 presents a summary of the results of the literature review related to the various working definitions of systems thinking.

Table 2.8 Summary of the Results of Literature Review Related to the Systems Thinking Concept

Author Working Definition Ascriptions Made to Systems Thinking
Senge (1990) “A framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns rather than static snapshots. It is a set of general principles spanning fields as diverse as physical and social sciences, engineering and management.”
  • A framework
  • A skill
  • A holistic view
  • An analytical tool that looks at interrelationships amongst subsystems
  • A paradigm shift
Richmond (1993) A set of skills needed for the competent use of simulation software to facilitate  dynamic thinking, closed-loop thinking, generic thinking, structural thinking, operational thinking, continuum thinking and scientific thinking
  • A set of skills
  • An analytical tool that looks at  interrelationships amongst subsystems
O’Connor & McDermott (1997) “[…] Systems thinking looks at the whole, and the parts, and the interconnection among the parts, studying the whole in order to understand the parts. It is the opposite of reductionism.”
  • A holistic view
  • A paradigm shift
Oosterwal (2010) Investigates “complex problems by understanding the dynamic interdependencies and causal relationships associated with systems issues.”
  • An approach
Mingers and White (2010) Involves “viewing the situation holistically, as opposed to reductionistically, as a set of diverse interacting elements within an environment.”
  • An approach
  • An analytical tool that looks at  interrelationships amongst subsystems
  • A paradigm shift
Ferrat (2014) An approach that is based on the general systems theory which posits that “a system consists of interacting subsystems, a system with its subsystems exists within a larger environment, and systems seek multiple goals.”
  • An approach
  • An analytical tool that looks at  interrelationships amongst subsystems

Source: Created by the Researcher

Due to the comprehensiveness of the scope of the working definition put forth by Senge (1990) as evidenced by his various ascriptions to systems thinking (see Table 2.8), as well as its applicability to organisational learning, the present study therefore adopts Senge’s (1990) definition of systems thinking.

2.4.2. The Concept of Systems Dynamics (SD)

Central to systems thinking are the core concepts of: (1) Soft Systems Methodology (SSM); and System Dynamics (SD). SSM has been covered in Sections 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 and 2.6 of this chapter. Thus, this subsection will be devoted to the discussion of SD. Results of the review related to SD point to its lack of a univocal definition since various researchers have formulated different working definitions of the term. This may be attributable to ongoing academic debate regarding the core nature of SD —whether SD is a quantitative or a qualitative paradigm. For instance, there is a stream of literature that considers SD a purely quantitative paradigm (Forrester, 1969; Coyle, 1977; Roberts, 1978; Meadows, 1982; Coyle, 2000; Linder, 2008; Kiani, Mirzamohammadi & Hosseini, 2010; Riccucci, 2010; Wang, Wang and Chen, 2012). On the hand, there is another stream of literature that associates SD to a qualitative paradigm (Senge, 1993; Pollack, 2007; Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove, 2010).

Sanderson and Gruen (2006) maintained that SD is basically a combination of flow and influence models. Linder (2008) claimed that SD is a quantitative approach that focusses on the use of mathematical models that was developed by Jay Forrester during the 1950s. Linder (2008) explicated that SD models that were based on engineering feedback concepts were used by Forrester to diagnose complex managerial problems. Burandt (2011) supported this claim and elucidated that SD’s association with the quantitative perspective has been attributed to Forrester’s (1987) concepts of industrial dynamics and system dynamics. Burandt (2011) argued that the application of Forrester’s (1987) concepts require the use of simulation software and are anchored on a strictly quantitative paradigm. In the same vein, Riccucci (2010) elucidated that SD is primarily underpinned by mathematical reasoning; and requires the use of computer-based modelling methods and information-feedback structures, or loops. Wang, Wang and Chen (2012) argued that SD is “a quantitative method for studying complex systems based on feedback control theory.”

On the other hand, Vester (1989, cited in Burandt, 2011) circumscribed SD under the qualitative paradigm. Vester’s (1989) concept of SD as explained by Gomez and Probst (1995, cited in Burandt, 2011) is employed as a methodological approach used to model and evaluate systems by relying solely on the use of flowcharts to identify relevant feedback loops and system components without the help of a simulation software. According to Wolstenholme (1990; cited in Kennedy, 2011) SD is a “rigorous method for qualitative description, exploration and analysis of complex systems in terms of their processes, information, organizational boundaries and strategies.” Pollack (2007) also explained that SD is “associated with an interpretive epistemology, inductive reasoning, and exploratory, qualitative techniques, which emphasize contextual relevance rather than objectivity.” Pollack (2007) pointed out that SD is anchored on facilitated exploration, participation and on learning. Wolstenholme (1990; cited in Kennedy, 2011) considered SD a “rigorous method for qualitative description, exploration and analysis of complex systems in terms of their processes, information, organizational boundaries and strategies.”

It has been argued that the quantitative nature of SD is better when it comes to gaining a deeper understanding of the system under investigation, compared to the qualitative paradigm. Within the context of policy analysis, Coyle (1977) viewed the quantitative perspective as highly capable of simulating the dynamics of a problematical situation since it facilitates an appreciable understanding of the system in question. In his more recent contribution, Coyle (2000) highlighted the importance of a quantified simulation within the context of policy analysis. On the other hand, Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove (2012) argued that prior to conducting a quantitative simulation modelling; the use of qualitative methods in obtaining data about the system in question would result in more rigorous data gathering. Coyle (2000) also admitted that a key limitation of the quantitative SD paradigm is that the researcher has to resolve quantification difficulties when modelling hard variables. Thus, in reconciling the arguments of the academic debate, Richardson (1999) argued that each paradigm has its own advantages and limitations; and the decision as to whether to map or to model is left to the researcher to make, depending on the goals of the SD investigation. Table 2.9 summarizes the results of the literature review relevant to the SD concept.

Table 2.9 Summary of the Results of the Literature Review Related to the Concept of SD

Author Working Definition of SD Paradigm
Wolstenholme (1990; cited in Kennedy, 2011) “Rigorous method for qualitative description, exploration and analysis of complex systems in terms of their processes, information, organizational boundaries and strategies.” Qualitative
Sanderson and Gruen (2006) A combination of flow and influence models Quantitative
Linder (2008) Primarily underpinned by mathematical reasoning; and requires the use of computer-based modelling methods and information-feedback structures, or loops Quantitative
Gomez and Probst (1995, cited in Burandt, 2011) Employed as a methodological approach used to model and evaluate systems by relying solely on the use of flowcharts to identify relevant feedback loops and system components without the help of simulation software Qualitative
Pollack (2007) “Associated with an interpretive epistemology, inductive reasoning, and exploratory, qualitative techniques, which emphasize contextual relevance rather than objectivity.”  Qualitative
Riccucci (2010) A quantitative approach that focusses on the use of mathematical models Quantitative
Wang, Wang and Chen (2012) “A quantitative method for studying complex systems based on feedback control theory.” Quantitative
Wolstenholme (1990; cited in Kennedy, 2011) “Rigorous method for qualitative description, exploration and analysis of complex systems in terms of their processes, information, organizational boundaries and strategies.” Qualitative

Source: Created by the Researcher

2.4.2.1 Applications of SD

The utility of SD in various situations have been documented in extant literature. In policy formulation and analysis, Kiani, Mirzamohammadi & Hosseini (2010), Janamanchi (2011), and Kennedy (2011) claimed that SD is well- suited for use in the design of corporate and public sector policies. Several authors have highlighted the utility of SD in ascertaining the impacts of decisions because of its ability to identify “vicious or virtuous circles of cause and effect” that often lead to “stable or unstable behaviour of the system as a whole – or parts of it” (Sanderson & Gruen, 2006). Trailer and Garsson (2005) noted that SD modelling enables the separation of single variable adjustments for evaluation, and hence affords “policy-makers a means of testing alternative policies to determine their potential impact.” SD has also been applied in: (1) project management (Godlewski, Lee &  Cooper, 2012); (2) organisational management (Han et. al., 2009; Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove, 2012); (3) strategy (Gary et. al., 2008); and (4) business management (Oosterwal, 2010).

Extant literature hence highlights the utility of SD in many disciplines. For instance, Kiani, Mirzamohammadi and Hosseini (2010) stressed that SD is well-suited for dynamic systems in general and is widely used in various domains such as theory development in the natural and social sciences, public management, energy and environment, biological and medical disciplines, corporate planning, etc. Similarly, Mingers and White (2010) claimed that SD has many contributions in various areas that include the following: strategy, information systems and knowledge management, organisations and corporate social responsibility, production, TQM, project management, agriculture, ecology and the environment,  medicine and health, operational research, and management science. Indeed, in an earlier contribution, Sterman (2000) asserted that SD has been proven helpful in a diverse range of industries — from aircraft to zinc. Thus, results of the review suggest the utility of SD in a wide range of disciplines, making it a useful framework that can be applied in both private and public-sector organizations, particularly in the fields of human resources management and knowledge management.

In his seminal work on systems thinking entitled The Fifth Discipline, Senge (1990) highlighted the importance of applying systems thinking and the key principles of SD in the attainment of the goals of the ‘learning organization.’ In this contribution, Senge (1990) introduced his systems thinking model as well as the allegories that characterise system thinking principles. Senge (1990) identified five disciplines that often characterise learning organizations, namely: personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking. Systems thinking, Senge (1990) explicated, is the fifth discipline which is important for organisations wishing to undertake organizational change or seek to continuously improve. According to Senge (1990), the following allegories limit the usefulness of systems thinking: (1) Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions; (2) The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back; (3) Behaviour gets better before it gets worse; (4) The easy way out usually leads back in; (5)The cure can be worse that the disease; (6) Faster is slower; (7) Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space; (8) Small changes can produce big results; but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious; (9) You can have your cake and eat it too – but not all at once; (10) Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants; and (10) There is no blame.

Senge and Sterman (1990) asserted that the ‘learning organisation’ imbibes a central dogma that is anchored on “vision, values and mental models.” De Gues (1988) defined the term ‘learning organisation’ as an organisation that relies on institutional learning to be able to survive over an extended period. De Gues (1988; cited in Senge & Sterman (1990) further elaborated that institutional learning pertains to the process whereby management teams change their shared mental models of their company, their markets and their competitors. Linard and Aretz (2000), on the other hand, enumerated the following salient characteristics of the ‘learning organisation’, namely: (1) addresses future practice; (2) has unbounded knowledge; (3) promotes debate; (4) has outward focus; (5) encourages reflection; and (6) empowerment. It is in this context that Senge and Sterman (1990), and Linard and Aretz (2000), and Thornton, Peltier and Perreault (2004) regarded systems thinking as a tool that facilitates the attainment of goals related to organisational change and continuous improvement. Table 2.10 presents a summary of the results of literature review related to the applications of SD.

Table 2.10 Summary of Literature Review Results Related to the Different Applications of SD

Authors Function of SD Area (s) of Application
Sanderson and Gruen (2006, p.22 ) Identifies “vicious or virtuous circles of cause and effect” that often lead to “stable or unstable behaviour of the system as a whole – or parts of it” Policy making
Trailer and Garsson (2005) Affords “policy-makers a means of testing alternative policies to determine their potential impact.” Policy making
Godlewski, Lee &  Cooper (2012) Helps resolve important issues or problems in project management Project management
Han et. al. (2009) 

Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove (2012)

Addresses  key issues in organisational management Organisational management
Gary et. al. (2008) Addresses concerns related to strategic management 

Helps identify how decision making can promote dynamics

Strategy
Oosterwal (2010) Helps simplify interdependencies of complex business systems Business Management
Kiani, Mirzamohammadi and Hosseini (2010) Useful in a wide variety of areas that include theory development in the natural and social sciences, public management, energy and environment, biological and medical disciplines, corporate planning, etc. Multidisciplinary
Mingers and White (2010) Useful in various disciplines : strategy,  information systems and knowledge management, organisations and corporate social responsibility, production, TQM, project management, agriculture, ecology and the environment,  medicine and health, operational research, and management science Multidisciplinary
Sterman (2000) Has been proven helpful in a diverse range of industries — from aircraft to zinc Multidisciplinary
Senge (1990); Linard & Aretz (2000); Thornton, Peltier and Perreault (2004) Facilitates the attainment of goals related to organisational change and continuous improvement Organisational learning

Source: Created by the Researcher

2.5 Delivery of Training Courses

The topic of course delivery is another dominant theme that emerged during the literature search related to vocational training. This subsection will discuss the role of ICT in learning in general and vocational training in particular.

2.5.1 The Role of ICT in Learning and Vocational Training

Extant literature pertaining to the use of information technology tools and devices (ICT) in teaching and learning is considerably robust and substantive. The acronym ICT stands for information and communications technology (Toomey, 2001; Plowman & Stephen, 2005; Totter, Stütz & Grote, 2006; Garrido, Sullivan & Gordon, 2012; Wang & Zhou, 2013). Toomey (2001) defined ICT as technologies that are used for “accessing, gathering, manipulating and presenting or communicating information.” This definition was later expanded by Plowman and Stephen (2005) who enumerated the different types of ICT devices. According to Plowman and Stephen (2005), ICT encompasses the different “audio-visual resources, ‘smart’ toys […] remote control devices, photocopiers, telephones, fax machines, televisions, and computers, […] toys that simulate appliances such as mobile phones, laptops, cash registers, microwave ovens, and barcode readers as well as computers […].” On the other hand, the definition put forth by Wang and Zhou (2013), classified these ITC devices into key types of technology. Thus, they defined ICT as “a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information. These technologies include computers, the internet, broadcasting technologies (radio and television), and telephony.”

Extant literature points to the increasing ubiquity of ICT devices in educational settings, as many researchers have documented the benefits of ICT use in teaching and learning (Wheeler & Winter, 2005; Totter, Stütz & Grote, 2006; Clark et al. 2009; Garrido, Sullivan & Gordon, 2012; Wang & Zhou, 2013). Indeed, ICT use in educational settings is now being regarded as transformative and enabling (Clark et al. 2009).

Within the context of course delivery in vocational training, Podhradsky et al. (2010) highlighted the benefits of using ICT devices in the delivery of vocational training courses. Podhradsky et al. (2010) asserted that modern ICT, infrastructure of converged technologies, and Next Generation Networks (NGN) “offers new possibilities, tools and functionalities which can be effectively used in the processes of e/m learning (electronic and mobile learning, respectively) also in the vocational training of companies and institutions staff [sic]. He maintained that the following e-learning forms are applicable to vocational training: Face-to-face, distance and blended learning.He further explicated that amongst these three e-learning forms, blended learning is the most suitable e-learning method for vocational training, since “the knowledge, new skills, expertise and experience acquired in this way” will help secure  “the position of employees in the labour market.” Furthermore, he stressed that it is the new generation of ICT, which features a new set of tools, functionalities, forms and approaches in e/m learning that is considered an effective vocational training platform. This new generation of ICT is an integration of the standard e-leaning platform and the NGN platform. The standard e-leaning platform consists of: (1) the hardware (LMS server, database server, Web server, SMTP server); (2) the software (LMS/LCMS system, OS, database system, software for the development of courses), and (3) internet connection. On the other hand, the NGN platform consists of the standard e-learning platform and the NGN (mobile) architecture.

Wang (2012) buttressed the claims of Podhradsky et al.that e-learning and m-learning are effective in educational settings which include training. However, Wang (2012) added another method of course delivery — mobile cloud learning which is considered by Hirsch and Ng (2011) as a newly- emerging concept of cloud computing that is built on three service models namely: (1) “Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS”; (2) “Platform as a Service- PaaS”; and (3) Software as a Service –SaaS.”

The distinction between mobile learning and mobile cloud learning has been explored by various authors. For instance, Harris (2011) defined mobile learning as “learning with mobile devices.” Wang (2012) on the other hand, defined mobile cloud learning as a “shared pool of learning courses, digital assets, and resources, which instructors and learners can access via computers, laptops, IP-TVs, mobiles, and other portable devices.” Although the principle behind these modes of learning is very similar — facilitation of learning through mobile devices such as laptops and mobile phones, the distinction lies on the amount of available learning resources and on the economics of mobile data exchange (network costs). Wang, Chen and Khan (2014) enumerated the drawbacks associated with mobile learning which include: “high device and network costs, low network transmission rates, and limited education resources available.” Kitanov and Davcev (2012) and Wang (2012) argued that mobile cloud learning addresses these drawbacks by combining the benefits of mobile learning and cloud computing. According to Weber (2011), “greater connectivity between centralized server-side applications and low cost/low processor capacity mobile devices could provide better access, more control, and greater freedom for e-learners.” Table 2.11 summarizes the results of the literature review related to the role of ICT in learning and vocational training.

Table 2.11 Summary of Literature Review Results Related to the Role of ICT in Learning and Vocational Training

Author(s) Key Ideas
Wheeler & Winter (2005); Totter, Stütz & Grote (2006); Clark et al. (2009); Garrido, Sullivan & Gordon (2012); Wang & Zhou (2013) Documented the benefits of ICT use in teaching and learning
Podhradsky et al. (2010)
  • Highlighted the benefits of using ICT devices in the delivery of vocational training courses
  • Modern ICT, infrastructure of converged technologies, and Next Generation Networks (NGN) “offers new possibilities, tools and functionalities which can be effectively used in the processes of e/m learning […] (p. 163)
  • The following e-learning forms are applicable to vocational training: Face-to-face, distance and blended learning.
Wang (2012)
  • E-learning and m-learning are effective in educational settings which include training
  • Mobile cloud learning  is a “shared pool of learning courses, digital assets, and resources, which instructors and learners can access via computers, laptops, IP-TVs, mobiles, and other portable devices” (p. 17)
Wang, Chen and Khan (2014) Drawbacks associated with mobile learning which include: “high device and network costs, low network transmission rates, and limited education resources available” (p. 257)
Weber (2011) Enumerated the advantages of Mobile cloud learning  over mobile learning

Source: Created by the Researcher

2.6 Summary of the Chapter

Results of the literature review related to training highlight the use of bespoke vocational training courses for both of Qatar’s private and public sectors. Extant literature related to training stressed the dominance of the following theoretical frameworks: learning, cognitive, education and educational design theories. To instil quality into the training programme, various authors have documented the utility of Kirkpatrick’s (1959) model in evaluating the success of training programmes using four levels of analysis: (1) level 1 – reaction or feedback of participants; (2) level 2 – learning or learning success of participants; (3) level 3 – behaviour or learning transfer/application on the job; and (4) level 4 – results as measured by business success. Despite criticisms against Kirkpatrick’s (1959) training evaluation model, it has nonetheless received recognition and was later expanded by other researchers to include other metrics.

Results of the literature review related to course content highlight the existence of certain features of an effective course content. These features or characteristics include the following: (1) meets the needs of trainees (Rudestam & Schoenholtz-Read, 2002; Pohl et al., 2005; Chan et al., 2006): (2) keeps pace with the latest technological trends and international product markets (Godfey, 1997); (3) is interesting and engaging to the trainees (Pohl et al., 2005; Nkirina, 2009); (4) is practical as opposed to being theoretical (Pohl et al., 2005; Nkirina, 2009); (5) addresses trainees’ workplace problems (Pohl et al., 2005; Chan et al., 2006); and (6) is flexible and adaptable to labour market changes (Godfey, 1997; Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2012).

Within the context of international business and knowledge management literature, the popularity of cultural differences as an explaining factor gave rise to the development of various cultural frameworks (Hofstede, 1980, 2001; Schwartz, 1992; Triandis, 1994;  Trompenaars, 1994). Despite the pragmatism attached to the use of these cultural frameworks, some methodological approaches require more convenient measures in order to effectively study the impacts of cultural differences. For instance, Hofstede’s (1980; 2001) Cross-Cultural Dimension framework which consists of five cultural dimensions, and Swartz’ (1992) Seven Dimensions of Culture framework which consists of both individual and cultural level values, is more widely used in the management domain. On the other hand, Triandis’ (1994, 1995) Cultural Syndromes model is more aptly used in studies that focus more on cultural psychology. Finally, Trompenaars’ (1994) Dimensions of Culture framework, which consists of seven fundamental dimensions of national culture and personal pattern variables or value dilemmas, is considered well suited for organizational management and change management.

Thus, within the context of the present study, Trompenaars’ (1994) Dimensions of Culture framework is considered to be the most applicable theoretical framework due to the following reasons: (1) the main thrust of the present study is training which resides within the scope of organisational learning, which is in turn, circumscribed under organisational management; (2) Trompenaars’ (1994) framework primarily deals with the how local learning can be globalized (Bickerstaffe, 2002); and (3) the framework is applied in a methodology that is called ‘cultural due diligence’ which an operational framework “intended to be facilitated by the human resources function” so that cultural differences are made tangible” and their consequences made explicit, making it easy to reconcile them (Bickerstaffe, 2002). With particular reference to reason number two, Trompenaars’ (1994) framework can be applied to Qatar’s vocational training system, particularly in the preparation of courses to ensure that they are culturally- relevant and applicable to the Qatari setting. Hence, within the context of the present study, and as Trompenaars (1994) proposed, the following dimensions of culture apply in knowledge/ knowledge management and in training: (1) universalism versus particularism, (2) individualism versus collectivism, (3) neutral versus emotional, (4) specific versus diffuse, (5) achievement versus ascription, (6) orientation in time, and (7) attitudes towards the environment.

Results of the literature review indicate the paucity in studies that focus on the impacts of cultural differences on knowledge acquisition and training in general. Despite such paucity however, results of the review nonetheless highlight the influence of cultural differences on: (1) group activities (Cox, Lobel & McLeod, 1991); (2) achievement motivation (McClelland, 1961); (3) learning motivation (Niles, 1995; Rogers & Spitzmueller, 2009); and (4) knowledge transfer (Li et al. 2014).

The following dominant themes emerged from the review of literature related to SSM: the SSM concept, the purpose or goal of SSM, the SSM paradigm, the strengths and weaknesses of SSM, and the applications of SSM in learning systems. Results of the literature review related to the SSM concept highlight the existence of numerous working definitions of SSM and the lack of a single, univocal definition. Such diversity in the working definitions of SSM has been attributed to its multipurpose and flexible nature. Most of the denotative meanings of SSM consider it either as a learning process or an experiential learning activity. In addition, results of the literature review suggest the existence of several connotations of SSM which consider it: (1) as a way of analysing; (2) as a problem-solving tool; (3) as a systematic framework; (4) as a process for managing; and (5) as a problem-structuring method.

Results of the literature review related to the purpose or goal of SSM indicate that several practitioners have identified the goals of SSM from a more pragmatic viewpoint that highlighted its utility in facilitating changes to address problematical situations; while others have identified the goals of SSM from a more functional viewpoint that emphasised its utility in evaluating extant systems. Still others have highlighted its applicability in dealing with real-world problems of management, with learning and systems design, and with project management.

Results of the literature review related to the SSM paradigm suggest that SSM follows an interpretive paradigm that lends itself to subjectivity. In addition, results of the review indicate the absence of disagreement as to the interpretive paradigm of SSM, as a significant body of literature has demonstrated that SSM falls within the phenomenological tradition, is linked with qualitative research methods, and has deeply rooted interpretive intrinsic features.

Results of the literature review related to the strengths and weaknesses of SSM suggest that SSM’s interpretive paradigm serves as both its key strength as well as its weakness. This dilemma is attributable to the manner by which the term ‘interpretive’ is understood by practitioners. In addition, another key strength of SSM is its consideration of the social, political and historical aspects of the problem. Other weaknesses identified in the literature point to its tendency to be time consuming and prescriptive in nature, as well as the need to be further complimented by systems dynamics.

Results of the literature review related to the applications of SSM in learning systems highlighted its utility in the following areas: (1) in the audit of the teaching and learning strategies at an undergraduate level; (2) in the evaluation of a current education programme and design of an improved version; (3) in the identification of issues and development of a case study and a teaching module; and (4) in the evaluation of systems performance of a managed learning environment. The reviewed contributions revealed the applicability of SSM in identifying the problematical situation affecting the learning system in question, as well as in the development of performance measures that will be used to evaluate system performance, and in creating conceptual models that are aimed at bringing about changes and improvements to the learning system. Although the reviewed studies lean toward the academic discipline, as opposed to vocational training which is the focus of the present study, both disciplines are nevertheless anchored on one feature – knowledge acquisition. As such, the reviewed studies have the potential to afford sound methodological insight to the present study. However, results of the review highlight the lack in studies that focus on vocational training. Hence, the present study can be considered a novel research undertaking in this respect.

Results of the literature review related to the concepts of systems thinking and the learning organization indicate the lack of a univocal definition of the term ‘systems thinking’. Extant literature ascribes  many attributes to it — it is considered a framework (Senge, 1990; Richmond, 1993); a set of skills (Senge, 1990; Richmond, 1993); an approach (Oosterwal, 2010; Ferrat, 2014); a paradigm shift (Senge, 1990; O’Connor & McDermott, 1997; Mingers & White, 2010); or an analytical tool that looks at interrelationships amongst subsystems (Senge, 1990; Richmond, 1993; Mingers & White, 2010; Ferrat,  2014).

In the same vein, results of the review reveal the lack of a univocal definition of the term ‘system dynamics’. Furthermore, there is an academic debate regarding the type of perspective or paradigm that underpins the SD construct. While some authors argue that SD is anchored on a quantitative paradigm (Forrester, 1969; Coyle, 1977; Roberts, 1978; Meadows, 1982; Coyle, 2000; Linder, 2008; Kiani, Mirzamohammadi & Hosseini, 2010; Riccucci, 2010; Wang, Wang and Chen, 2012), others assert that it is based on a qualitative paradigm (Senge, 1993; Pollack, 2007; Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove, 2010). Nevertheless, despite the debate, SD has been applied in a wide range of discipline such as : policy formulation (Trailer & Garsson, 2005; Sanderson & Gruen, 2006), project management (Godlewski, Lee& Cooper (2012); organisational management (Han et. al., 2009; Besiou, Stapleton & Van Wassenhove, 2012); strategy (Gary et. al., 2008); business management (Oosterwal, 2010); organisational learning (Senge, 1990; Linard & Aretz, 2000; Thornton, Peltier and Perreault, 2004); and in many other disciplines (Sterman, 2000; Kiani, Mirzamohammadi & Hosseini, 2010; Mingers & White, 2010).

Results of the review related to SD also indicate the importance of SD in the ‘learning organisation’ and claimed that SD in this context is considered an effective tool for organisational change and continuous improvement (Senge & Sterman, 1990; Linard & Aretz, 2000; Thornton, Peltier & Perreault, 2004). This stream of research thus highlights the suitability of SD and systems thinking as course offerings in vocational training.

Results of the review related to the delivery of training courses indicate the important role that ICT plays in educational settings that include vocational training. Extant literature highlight the usefulness of ICT, infrastructure of converged technologies, and Next Generation Networks (NGN) (Podhradsky et al., 2010); mobile learning platform (Harris, 2011); and the newly-emerging mobile cloud learning (Weber, 2011; Kitanov  & Davcev, 2012; and Wang, 2012) in facilitating learning. Thus, within the context of the present study, vocational courses can be delivered through the following methods: e-learning; m-learning; or mobile cloud learning.

2.7 Conclusions

This chapter discussed the results of the review of literature related to vocational training and its associated evaluation theory. It also discussed the following dominant themes: (1) course content which include the characteristics of effective course content; (2) systems thinking concept and its application and utility in training;(3) cultural differences which include the different frameworks that are focused on cultural differences as well as  studies that focus on cultural differences relevant to learning and training; (4) the SSM concept, the purpose or goal of SSM, the SSM paradigm, the strengths and weaknesses of SSM, and the application of SSM in learning systems; (5) systems thinking and systems dynamics; and (6) methods of delivery of training courses which include the role of ICT in learning and vocational training. The succeeding chapter will discuss the results of the methodological evaluation of vocational training in Qatar using SSM.

Chapter 3  Research Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This chapter discusses the following methodological considerations of the present study, namely: the research philosophy, the research design, and the research procedures. It also discusses the ethical considerations relevant to the present study.

According to Fossey et al. (2002), “sound research requires a systematic and rigorous approach to the design and implementation of the study, the collection and analysis of data, and the interpretation and reporting of findings.” Furthermore, Cohen et al. (2000) assert that the notion of ‘fitness for purpose’ should guide the design of any research undertaking. This means that “the purposes of the research” should determine the methodology and the research design (Cohen et al., 2000). Hence, the overall methodological approach should be adopted in the light of achieving the aims and objectives of the study. It is in this context that this researcher considers SSM as a well-suited methodological approach to use in achieving the aforementioned aim and objectives of the present study, as underpinned by the results of the literature review in the preceding chapter which have highlighted the importance of SSM in analysing problematical situations and subsequently improving them (Kayrooz & Trevitt, 2005; Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005; Kotiadis & Robinson, 2008; Baskerville, Pries-Heje & Venable, 2009).

The structure of this chapter is as follows: First, a discussion of the research philosophy adopted by the present study which is underpinned on phenomenology and interpretivism, is presented.  This is followed by a discussion of the research design, wherein the usefulness of a pluralistic approach in increasing the rigour, breadth and depth of the research will be justified. Then, the research procedures adopted by the present study will be enumerated and subsequently explained one by one. This will be followed by the presentation of the research aims and objectives of the present study and a discussion of the originality of the present study. Next, a discussion of the ethical considerations relevant to the present study and how they were addressed by this researcher will be presented. Finally, the summary of the chapter and the conclusions drawn from the discussion of the aforementioned salient points will be discussed.

3.2 Research Philosophy

The selection of an overall research philosophy is typically made between two dominant alternatives, namely: the positivist philosophy and the phenomenological philosophy (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe & Lowe, 1997). While the positivist philosophy is circumscribed under the objectivist approach, the phenomenological philosophy on the other hand, falls under the subjectivist approach (Hussey & Hussey, 1997). Easterby-Smith et al. (1991) discussed the different features of each research philosophy (see Table 3.1).

Table 3.1 Various Features of the Positivist and Phenomenological Paradigms

  Positivist Paradigm Phenomenological 

Paradigm

Basic Beliefs The world is external and objective. The world is socially 

constructed and subjective.

Observer is independent Observer is part of what 

observed.

Science is value-free Science is driven by 

human interests.

Researcher should Focus on facts Focus on meanings
Look for causality and 

fundamental laws

Try to understand what is 

happening

Reduce phenomenon to 

simplest elements

Look at the totality of each 

situation

Formulate hypotheses and 

then test them

Develop ideas through 

induction from data

Preferred methods 

include

Operationalising concepts 

so that they can be

measured

Using multiple methods to 

establish different views of

phenomena

Taking large samples Small samples investigated 

in depth or over time

Sources: Created by the Researcher and Adapted From Easterby-Smith, Thorpe & Lowe (1997)

Given the aforementioned research aim and objectives of the present study, this researcher deems the phenomenological paradigm as the appropriate research philosophy to follow since based on the results of the literature review, SSM is heavily anchored on an interpretive paradigm by supporting the self- reflective enquiry of the participants (Brocklesby, 1995). By evaluating the dynamically- changing events of the problematical situation and identifying the specific problems that must be addressed, the participants therein undertake such self- reflective enquiry (Rodriguez-Ulloa and Paucar-Caceres, 2005).

Moreover, the phenomenological paradigm (1) “tends to produce qualitative data” which fits “well with the case study approach”; (2) is associated with rich, subjective data; and (3) is applicable in a natural setting (Hussey & Hussey, 1997). Due to the level of involvement of the participants in the present study, the data gathering process is thus rendered subjective. In addition, the setting of the study, which is considered a natural location is the MOI in Qatar.

According to Brocklesby (1995), SSM is closely linked with phenomenology and interpretivism which serve as epistemological tools that are useful in gaining an understanding of the problem in question. As pointed out by Stowell (2009), SSM is philosophically orientated towards phenomenology. Several researchers have also highlighted that SSM is also philosophically based on hermeneutics (Baskerville, Pries-Heje and Venable, 2009; Alaca, 2011; Poage, Donohoe & Lee, 2011; Ramadhan, Sensuse & Arymurthy, 2012; Staadt, 2012) which deals with Verstehen or the development of interpretive understanding (Boell & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2010). In the same vein, various researchers have also claimed that SSM follows an interpretive tradition (Checkland, 1981, 1986; Chekland & Scholes, 1990; Wilson, 1984, 2001; Jackson, 1992). In fact, a significant body of literature has attributed the strength of the SSM to its interpretive paradigm (Doyle & Wood, 1991; Flood & Jackson, 1991; Flood & Ulrich, 1991; Crowe, Beeby & Gammack., 1996; Stowell, 2009). As pointed out by Checkland (1990) cited in Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres (2005):

Life world is an ever changing flux of events and ideas and ‘managing’ means reacting to that flux. We perceive, evaluate, take actions (s) which itself becomes part of this flux which lead to next perceptions and evaluations and more actions and so on.  It follows that SSM assumes that different actors of the situation will evaluate and perceive this flux differently, creating issues that the manager must cope. Checkland (1990, cited in Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005).

Furthermore, Pollack (2007) asserts that SSM is oriented towards “an interpretive epistemology, inductive reasoning, and exploratory, qualitative techniques, which emphasise contextual relevance rather than objectivity.” In the same vein, Johnson (2008) argues that SSM regards people as active participants in the creation of the elements of the conceptual model of the system- in-question and is heavily anchored on epistemology.  In the final analysis, it becomes clear that SSM adopts epistemological principles which highlight the involvement of interpretivist, phenomenological and hermeneutical claims resulting in the description of the real world in epistemological terms and the separation of the ‘real world’ and ‘systems thinking world’ (Rodriguez-Ulloa & Paucar-Caceres, 2005). Therefore, insofar as the collection of data for the present study is concerned, the research philosophy that is deemed well suited for the present study is one that is aligned with the phenomenological, hermeneutical and interpretivist paradigms since SSM is used as the overarching methodological approach in this case.

3.3 Research Design – Use of a Pluralistic Approach

3.3.1 SSM with Case Study and Action Research

Research design, as explained by Hernon and Schwatz (2009), is a complex research consideration that requires researchers to possess a solid understanding of the options available and the choices that need to be made about the various aspects of research design such the research instrument used, the sources of sample, the data collection method and the tools used in analysing collected data. This subsection therefore discusses the aforementioned aspects of the design of the present study.

The present study combined SSM as the guiding methodology with case study and action research. The effectiveness of using SSM in combination with other methodological approaches has been demonstrated in prior studies (Delbridge, 2008; Poage, Donohoe & Lee, 2011; Staadt, 2012; and White, 2012). The present study follows from the methodology and methods adopted by Staadt (2012) who used SSM as the overarching research methodology in conjunction with case study and action research in determining the impacts of negative socio-political factors on the development of a public housing organisation in France. Although the main thrust of the current study which is on public sector training, is different from that of Staadt’s (2012) study, the latter was able to demonstrate the usefulness of systems thinking in suggesting a “purposeful activity model” that is anchored on “constant improvement and collaborative learning for the ongoing intervention” .

Moreover, in order to achieve the aim of the present study, which is to investigate vocational training at the ministries in Qatar, it is required that the training system itself be studied in its natural setting, which is the MOI in Qatar. This further necessitates the use of the case study approach.  A case study pertains to “an investigation using multiple sources of evidence to study a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context” (Bonoma, 1985; Yin, 1984; cited in Kaplan & Duchon, 1988). Thus, a case study approach is considered well-suited for the present  study because “the starting point and arguably the defining characteristic of the case study approach is its focus on just one instance of the thing that is to be investigated”  (Denscombe, 2007). In this study, the main focus of the investigation is the identification of problems besetting the vocational training system offered to Qatar’s public sector employees, so that it may be subsequently improved.

In addition to SSM and case study, action research was also used in the present study. Greenwood and Levin (2007) point out that action research is not  to be regarded solely as a research approach, but also as a way of working cooperatively “to enhance liberating social change processes.” Action research (AR) is closely linked with SSM since “SSM itself was developed through an interpretative AR project looking into situations existing in the real world” (Sankaran, Tay & Orr (2009, p. 186). Indeed, important elements of AR serve as “a collaborative process between researchers and people in the situation; a process of critical inquiry”; which “focus on social practice and a deliberate process of reflective learning” (Argyris et al., 1982; cited in Checkland & Holwell, 1998). However, since conventional AR is typically lacking the desired “in-advance intellectual framework of ideas” which negatively affects the rigour of AR, then its integration with SSM is projected to ameliorate such issue of rigour.

3.3.2 Qualitative and Quantitative Research Strategies

The use of a pluralistic approach has been considered an effective technique to fully address the various research phases involved in any given study (Staadt, 2012). Indeed, there has been a demonstrable interest in other disciplines toward “combining qualitative and quantitative methods to provide a richer, contextual basis for interpreting and validating results” (Cook & Reichardt, 1979; Light & Pillemer,1982; Maxwell, 1986; Meyers, 1981; Van Maanen et. al, 1982; 1983a; cited in Kaplan & Duchon, 1988). These methods need not be regarded as mutually exclusive since “it is possible to integrate quantitative and qualitative methods” (Maxwell, et. al, 1986; cited in Kaplan & Duchon, 1988).

Researchers refer to such triangulation of research methods as a ‘mixed-methods’ approach. Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, and Turner (2007) define mixed-methods research as an integration of “elements of qualitative and quantitative research approaches (e.g., use of qualitative and quantitative viewpoints, data collection, analysis, inference techniques) for the purposes of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration.” Klingner and Boardman (2011) elucidate that “mixed-methods research can help to establish cross-context patterns of regularity and determine unique within-site variables.” Silverman (2006) suggests the use of a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods since it “increases the effectiveness of addressing the research questions.” Additionally, Greene (2007) argues that the use of mixed-methods further strengthens the rigour of the research process. Riccucci, (2010) explains that the mixed- methods approach is well suited for applied fields since it provides flexibility in resolving practical, real-world problems. Mixed- methods, thus, has been deemed well suited for the present study since it is focused on the exploration of the real-world problems affecting public sector training in Qatar which is essentially a practical enquiry in itself.

According to De Vaus (2002),“qualitative methods are often regarded as providing rich data about real- life people and situations and being more able to make sense of behaviour and to understand behaviour within its wider context.” Furthermore, Denscombe (2007) maintain that qualitative data are closely linked with “strategies of research such as ethnography, phenomenology and grounded theory, and with research methods such as interviews, documents and observation.” The use of qualitative research in the present study is hence justified by the use of the SSM as the guiding methodology in combination with case study and action research. The present study used qualitative techniques to fulfil the various stages of the SSM and which consisted of the use of researcher notes for the participant – observation and semi-structured interviews.

In addition, the present study also used a quantitative research approach in collecting and analysing data from a five -point Likert -type scale type of survey questionnaire. In addition to semi-structured interviews, survey questionnaire was used for the present study because as Bell (2010) asserts, it affords a fast yet economic way of determining information from a relatively large sample. In terms of the analysis of statistical data, Likert scales “fall within the ordinal level of measurement” which require the use “of the median or the mode as the measure of central tendency” and of non-parametric tests such as chi squared, Spearman’s Rho, or the Mann–Whitney U-test since parametric tests require data of interval or ratio level” (Jamieson, 2004) – thereby necessitating the use of a quantitative approach. Figure 3.1 below summarizes the research methodology of the present study.

Figure 3.1 Research Methodology of the Present Study

Source: Created by the Researcher

3.4 Research Methods

This section discusses the research methods employed in the present study. This covers the following topics, namely: (1) data collection methods; (2) study sample; (4) data analysis; and (5) the research procedures circumscribed under the SSM which is the guiding methodology of the present study.

    3.4.1 Data Collection Methods

The methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar was comprised by two stages, namely: (1) preparatory research; and (2) start of SSM enquiry, which consisted of identifying the problem and the formulation of root definitions.

  1. Preparatory Research

The preparatory research stage consisted of an initial enquiry of the problems related to the training system. The main data collection methods used for this stage consisted of participant-observation, note-taking, evaluation of internal documents and an informal interview with MOI employees who have undergone vocational training. The preparatory research stage started in April 2011 when this researcher started with the formal research for this thesis. Since this researcher has been working for many years in the MOI of Qatar — initially as a civil servant in a training role, and currently as the Director of Training — profound insight into the issues related to the training of civil service personnel taking up low-grade administrative training courses and of police officers taking up specialist technical courses were obtained right from the start.  This researcher adopted the participant –observation approach to identify these issues in conjunction with the use of internal data gathered during the start of the research process. Thus, this researcher essentially explored the weaknesses of the MOI’s training system through participant-observation accompanied by note-taking.

  1. Start of the SSM Enquiry

This stage involved the identification of the problems affecting Qatar’s public sector training and the formulation of root definitions.  The main data collection methods employed in this stage consisted of the administration of the following research instruments, namely: (1) a Likert rating scale type of questionnaire; and (2) semi-structured interviews.

  1. Likert Rating Scale Type of  Questionnaire

A total of two survey questionnaires were administered to both civilian and police trainees of the MOI. The survey questionnaire was originally developed in English then translated into Arabic and then back-translated into English (Brislin, 1970). The first questionnaire which was administered in July 2012 consisted of two parts. The first part included four closed –ended, multiple choice questions that were related to the demographic information of study participants (i.e. gender, age, ethnicity and highest educational attainment). The second part of the survey questionnaire explored the participants’ course expectations and was administered prior to the start of the vocational training course that the participants were enrolled in. It consisted of 20 items that revolved around the following theme, namely: (a) expectations on learning (items 1-5); expectation on the transfer of skills acquired during training (item no. 6); (b) expectations on the ability and skills of the speaker or trainer (item nos. 7-11); (c) expectations about the training materials and modules (item nos. 12-15); and (d) expectations about the training environment (item nos. 16-20). For the second part of the questionnaire, study participants were requested to indicate their responses to the items in the questionnaire based on the following five-point rating scale: (1) Very Unimportant; (2) Unimportant; (3) Neutral; (4) Important; and (5) Very Important.

The second questionnaire was administered after the participants had finished their respective training courses. It consisted of 20 items that revolved around the meeting of the above-mentioned expectations. For the third part of the questionnaire, study participants were requested to indicate their responses to the items in the questionnaire based on the following  five-point rating scale: (1) Strongly Disagree; (2) Disagree; (3) Neutral; (4) Agree; and (5) Strongly Agree. To ensure the reliability of the items in the questionnaire, a Cronbach’s Alpha analysis was conducted. To ensure the accuracy of the items in the questionnaire, pilot- testing was also conducted prior to the administration of the survey.

  1. Semi-structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews were conducted at the same time, to validate and further explore the results of the survey questionnaire. The interviewees were requested to respond to a total of 10 questions. Four open-ended questions explored the manner by which training expectations were not adequately met, as well as the key problems of public sector training in Qatar; while six open-ended questions revolved around the CATWOE mnemonic for the SSM root definitions.

Another round of semi-structured interviews was conducted in March 2015 after the offering of Systems Thinking and Systems Dynamics as the new vocational training courses. The interviews revolved around a total of six questions that were asked to eight high- ranking officers in the Qatar Police Training Institute who attended the training. The interview questions were as follows: (1) Did the course challenge you? Please state how; (2) Has the course changed the way that you think? If so state how you thought before and how you think afterwards; (3) Did the course relate to Qatar and its Culture? (4) What did you learn from the course? (5) Are such courses useful? Please state why; and (6) Did the course meet your expectations?

Overall, a case study approach was adopted for both stages of the methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar. In particular, a single, holistic case study design with embedded units using cross-case analysis was adopted for the above-mentioned research stages. Eisenhardt and Graebner (2007) point out that a single, holistic case study design is a powerful research design since it enables the setting of enquiry at sub-units that are circumscribed within a larger case. Within the context of the present study, the sub-units were the questionnaire respondents and interviewees comprised by civilian and police trainees, while the larger case is the training system itself.

    3.4.2 Study Sample

Purposive sampling technique was chosen by this researcher in the selection of study participants because this sampling technique is a type of non-probability sampling  deemed well suited for investigating “a certain cultural domain with knowledgeable experts within” (Tongco, 2007). Since “the choice of the purposive sample is fundamental to the quality of data gathered”, then it follows that “reliability and competence of the informant must be ensured”. To ensure that the selected participants would be reliable and competent within the context of the present study, the following selection criteria were established by this researcher: (1) participants should be about to take a vocational training course within two months of the receipt of the questionnaire; and (2) participants should belong to either the civilian or the police sectors of the MOI. The second criterion was necessary since the MOI’s training department is responsible for the conduct of public sector training and the civilian or the police sectors of the MOI are thus considered to have first-hand knowledge of the activities relevant to the training system of the MOI.

The sampling frame consisted of a complete, up-to-date list of all civilian and police employees belonging to the Qatari public sector who carried out training in 2011. A cohort of 150 trainees was identified. In particular, the study sample consisted of 117 civilian employees (78% of the sample population) and 33 police officers (22% of the sample population). The civilian participants took courses with moderate to high social content, while the non-civilian (police) participants took courses having a social rather than a purely technical content (for example, relations with the public). This researcher administered the survey questionnaire to the 150 study participants. These same participants received the post-test questionnaire within a week of finishing their training.

For the first set of semi-structured interviews, the study sample consisted of 6 civilian employees and 4 police officers. Interview participants were selected from the sample who participated in the survey and who indicated that their training expectations were not met. The number of interviewees was limited to 10 so that the researcher can devote sufficient time for each interview session and in consideration of his busy schedule. For the second set of semi-structured interviews, the study sample consisted of eight high- ranking officers in the Qatar Police Training Institute who attended the training on Systems Thinking and Systems Dynamics.

    3.4.3 Data Analysis

The methods adopted in the analysis of data gathered for the present study consists of the following: (1) statistical analysis of the survey questionnaire; and (2) content analysis for the semi-structured interviews.

  1. Statistical Analysis of the Survey Questionnaire

Prior to the analysis, collected data were organised and coded. Data analysis included pre-analysis checks to screen for data entry errors. Then initial frequency distribution and descriptive statistics and non-parametric tests were performed on the collected data. For the Likert-scale items, the median was obtained.

  1. Content Analysis for the Semi-Structured Interviews

Data collected from the semi-structured interviews were analysed using Atlas, which is software for content analysis. This researcher systematically applied a pre-existing set of codes to the data prior to the use of Atlas. Content analysis is “a powerful research tool to determine, from the content of a message, sound inferences concerning the attitude of the speaker or writer” (Wilkinson & Birmingham, 2003). It is considered “an approach to the analysis of documents and texts (which may be printed or visual), that seeks to quantify content in terms of predetermined categories and in a systematic and replicable manner” (Pope, Mays & Popay, 2007). Content analysis involves “identifying, quantifying, and analyzing specific words, phrases, concepts, or other observable semantic data in a text or body of texts with the aim of uncovering some underlying thematic or rhetorical pattern running through these texts” (Huckin, 2004).

3.5 Research Procedures Adopted for the Present Study

Using SSM as the overarching methodological approach, the research procedures employed in the present study can be grouped into the following key stages, namely: (1) stage 1 which involves the identification of the problematical situation relevant to vocational training in Qatar’s public sector; (2) stage 2 which involves the expression of the problem in rich pictures;(3) stage 3 which involves the formulation of the root definitions relevant to the aforementioned vocational training system; (4) stage 4 which involves the construction of conceptual models; (5) stage 5 which involves the evaluation of the models; (6) stage 6 which involves the identification of desirable changes; and (7) stage 7 which  involves taking action in order to bring about improvement by implementing the model and fixing the identified problem . These key stages were adopted sequentially such that the analysis of the results obtained for each stage also are presented in the same manner — that is, in sequence also. In this case, the results of the data analysis for the first stage were used for the preparation of the succeeding research stage. Such research approach supports the view of Miles and Huberman (1994) which highlights the iterative nature of the qualitative research process. According to Miles and Huberman (1994), analysis in qualitative research follows an iterative process wherein analysis is undertaken before, during and after data have been collected.

With respect to the methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar, which is the focus of this chapter, the first stage of the research procedures consisted of the preparatory stage which was conducted in April 2011, and the formal start of the SSM enquiry that started on July 2012 and lasted until May 2013. The analysis of the first stage was based on the following: (1) the preparatory stage, wherein data were gathered from participant-observation and internal documents; (2) the formal start of the SSM enquiry, wherein data were collected from a pre-test  survey questionnaire focussing on participants’ expectations on the training course they were enrolled in, a post-test survey questionnaire focussing on the participants’ experiences after they have finished the course, and a semi-structured interview which further dissected the findings generated through the questionnaires. Hence, findings generated from the administration of the questionnaires served as the basis for the questions of the semi-structured interviews. The following types of questions were elaborated, namely: (1) questions relevant to the participants’ perception of the problematical situations affecting vocational training system in Qatar’s public sector: (2) questions about the rich picture and primary activity systems involved in vocational training; and (3) specific questions relevant to the findings from the analysis of data collected from participant-observation and internal documents. Stage 3 involved the formulation of root definitions based on the CATWOE mnemonic using data from semi-structured interviews conducted in June 2013. This was followed by Stage 4, which involved the construction of the conceptual model based on the results of stages 1-3. Next, the conceptual models were evaluated using a set of performance measures. This was followed by the identification of desirable changes. Finally, the desirable changes were implemented by taking action.  Table 3.2 below presents the Gantt chart of research activities involved in the methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar.

Table 3.2 Gantt Chart of Research Activities Involved in the Methodological Evaluation of Public Sector Training in Qatar

Research Procedures Involved in the Methodological Evaluation of Public Sector Training in Qatar Feb. 

2011

June  2012 July 

2012

May 2013 June 2013 January 2014 March 2015 

 

April 

2015

May 2015
Stage 1: 

Identification of the problematical situation

Participant-observation and Secondary Research

  

 

 

  

 

 

Stage 2: 

Formal start of the SSM enquiry

Survey Questionnaires

Semi- Structured Interviews

Content Analysis

Creation of Rich Picture

  

Stage 3: 

Formulation of Root Definitions  using the CATWOE Mnemonic

 

Semi- Structured Interviews

Content Analysis

 
Stage 4: 

Construction of the Conceptual Model

 
Stage 5: 

Evaluation of the conceptual models

 
Stage 6: 

Identification of desirable changes

 
Stage 7: 

Implementation of desirable changes

 

Source: Created by the Researcher

3.6 Research Aims and Objectives

This subsection will discuss the research aims and objectives of the present study. It will also present a justification of the originality of the present study.

3.6.1 Research Aim

To fulfil the adaptive demands of a dynamically-changing environment, organisations take advantage of learning, training and other relevant developmental activities and use them as key strategies for both employee and organisational growth (Bates, 2001).  Organisations are required to possess “the processes, the systems, and the culture to facilitate effective knowledge sharing” (Gary, 1996; cited in Harvard Business School, 2007).

Indeed, extant literature on the ‘learning organisation’ highlights the increasing interest of organisations to pursue learning, as evidenced by their rising investments in training (Bates, 2001). In addition, the direct relationship between “an organisation’s ability to learn” and the extent by which employees are willing to “learn, change and succeed at work” has been documented in knowledge management literature. Hence, there is an urgent requirement for HRD managers and practitioners to understand both individual and organisational factors that influence training participation (Bates, 2001).

Together with the problem of an ageing workforce, the public sector has been beset with different challenges that include talent shortages, restructuring problems, and cost-effective service delivery (McCracken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). As a result, more business like approaches have been adopted within the context of organisational management due to the premium placed on cost efficiency (Argyriades, 2010).               Moreover, the global economic crisis marked by substantial budget cuts in the US, UK and Canada further fortified such trend towards public management that is anchored on efficiency and effectiveness (Nygaard & Bramming, 2008; cited in McCracken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). However, research findings have highlighted the inadequacy of trained public sector professionals who can operate in such complex scenario (McCracken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). Hence, as pointed out by Coxhead et al. (2010), “it is not surprising that government departments and other public service organisations are constantly looking for ways to develop the skills of their managers and future leaders.”

Similarly, in Qatar, despite the recognition of the need for a highly-skilled and capable workforce for its public sector, the highest proportion of public sector employees remains largely comprised by unskilled and semiskilled workers (Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning, 2011). According to the report, “this skill mismatch, along with other features of public sector employment (particularly the social benefits), has reduced incentives for Qataris to improve their skills and education.”  The report further elucidates that:

The lack of adequate skills in the labour force is a challenge that must be addressed through skills upgrading for Qataris designed and implemented primarily through public and private institutions. Because not all Qataris will pursue an academic education, they need opportunities to develop technical skills through vocational training. The share of enrolment in technical education and vocational training at the secondary level is below that of international benchmarks.

Indeed, it was highlighted in its National Development Strategy for 2011-2016 that investments in technical education and vocational training (TEVT) remains inadequate, thereby requiring the creation of basic infrastructure for  future course offerings that includes “a coordination mechanism to maintain the quality of institutions and programmes, ensure that course offerings meet labour market needs and student demand, and establish clear links between TEVT courses and labour market requirements” (Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning, 2011).

Thus, a key component of Qatar’s National Development Strategy for 2011-2016 related to public sector training is circumscribed under the government’s plan to “upgrade skills in the public sector to improve institutions and administration for the country” by enhancing long-term training opportunities for public sector employees through the provision of more vocational training programmes (Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning, 2011). However, as pointed out in the literature review, public sector training in Qatar involves the use of bespoke training courses that are heavily anchored on Western concepts. Furthermore, the IAD is the only training institution mandated by the Qatari government to provide public sector training. Thus, the premium placed on the vocational training of Qatar’s public sector coupled by the challenges faced by its training system serve as the impetus for the examination of the current state of the country’s vocational training system.

To summarise, this research aims is complete a thorough analysis of the present training in Qatar and produce verifiable recommendations for the Ministry of Interior. 

3.6.2 Research Objectives

To achieve the aforementioned research aim, the present study has the following set research objectives:

(1) to conduct a relevant literature review;

(2) to conduct a methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar using Soft Systems Methodology (SSM);

(3) to implement the results of the Soft Systems Analysis;

(4) to evaluate results and

(5) to produce recommendations for Qatar related to its public sector’s vocational training system.

It was decided to choose SSM as the overarching approach for the methodological evaluation of public sector training because of its proven record, its usefulness in addressing real-world problems of management, its utility for learning and systems design (Checkland & Scholes, 1990; Reid et al., 1999; Hindle, 2011; Hardman and Paucar-Caceres; 2011) and its evaluatory nature which helps improve problematical situations by assessing the current situation and subsequently bring about changes.  Within the context of the present study, SSM is considered a methodological tool that can help evaluate the current state of the Qatar’s vocational training system for its public sector and subsequently bring about the desired changes.  In addition, there is a need to devise a set of performance measures for assessing the quality of a course offered by one of the ministries in Qatar in order to objectively ascertain the quality of vocational training that the said ministry provides. These performance measures will then be used in evaluating the quality of a vocational training course offered by the chosen ministry through the design and subsequent administration of a survey questionnaire. Based on the findings generated from the survey questionnaire, new courses will be delivered across the ministries in Qatar and will then be evaluated. Finally, an investigation into new delivery methods will be carried out. The completion of these objectives will allow recommendations to be developed which will set the priorities and define the strategy and direction of Qatar’s vocational training system for its public sector.

3.6.3 Originality

The present study is a novel research undertaking considering that most studies related to vocational training were conducted in Western settings (McCracken, Brown & O’Kane, 2011). In addition, findings from the review of related literature highlight the dearth or paucity in studies that are relevant to the utility of SSM in training systems as only a few studies focused on the applications of SSM in academic learning environments, as opposed to vocational learning environments. Such studies aimed at testing the effectiveness and utility of SSM in the following areas: (1) the teaching and learning process at undergraduate education (Patel, 1995); (2) education programme design (Tsoi, 2001); (3) module development (Hindle, 2011); and (4) managed learning environment (Hardman & Paucar-Caceres, 2011). Whilst the abovementioned studies clearly recognized the utility of SSM in problem-structuring and in building conceptual models to improve the system in question, they were still within the scope of academic teaching and learning. Hence, there is a lack in studies that are germane to SSM applications that focus on training systems in general, and on vocational training, in particular. Furthermore, findings from the present study is envisaged to inform the formulation of comprehensive recommendations for Qatar, as well as the production of “an operational and management model for the education and development of teachers for the technical education and vocational training system” (Qatar General Secretariat for Development Planning, 2011).

The new courses that will be developed will take into consideration cultural differences and the results of the SSM. As these courses are new, they will involve detailed research and study by the researcher and will be original both in content and in context. The investigation into new pedagogical delivery methods will also be original for Qatar which is still using delivery methods from the last century. The recommendations will therefore be a creative and constructive way ahead for the improvement of the vocational training programme in Qatar’s public sector.

3.7 Ethical Considerations

This researcher made sure that ethical considerations related to this study which are centred on the issues of confidentiality and data protection, and on the involvement of human participants, were fully addressed. This researcher ensured the protection of participants from any form of physical or psychological danger during their participation in the study. In addition, this researcher ensured that the collection, storage, disclosure, and use of research data complied with the Data Protection Act of 1998, “which imposes certain obligations relevant to fair and lawful data collection and processing” (Matwyshyn, 2009). Fair and lawful data collection and processing require making certain that information or data obtained from study participants are fairly and lawfully used, and specifically for stated purposes only (Gov.UK, undated). This researcher therefore informed the participants about the nature and purpose of this study through an informed written consent and a covering letter which were provided to them. Moreover, study participants were informed about their right to refuse to participate or to withdraw from the study at any time they wish. The study participants were also debriefed after the administration of the survey questionnaires and after the semi-structured interviews. Furthermore, this researcher assured the participants that a copy of the results of the study will be provided to them if they would so require.

To further address the issues of confidentiality and data protection, after the administration of the survey questionnaires and the conduct of the semi-structured interviews, no further contact with the study participants was made in order to avoid intrusion and other ethical problems related to privacy from arising. The confidentiality and anonymity of all participants were upheld throughout the research study.

3.8 Summary of the Chapter

The choice of SSM as the conceptual framework of the present study is underpinned on the results of the literature review, which highlight the usefulness of SSM in evaluating learning environments and in designing education programmes. In the same vein, the choice of SSM as the conceptual framework is anchored on the overarching aim of the present study which is to evaluate the vocational training system in Qatar’s public sector. In fact, SSM’s evaluatory nature has been documented in prior literature. In particular, the conceptual framework of the present study is based on the seven-stage version of the SSM which is closely aligned with the Mode1 type of enquiry which is well-suited for undertaking research studies and is more accessible to novice researchers.

The research philosophy followed in the present is one that is hinged on phenomenology and interpretivism which serve as epistemological tools in understanding the problems of the vocational training system in the public sector of Qatar. Indeed, extant literature has documented that SSM adopts epistemological principles involving interpretivist, phenomenological and hermeneutical claims. The present study used a pluralistic approach in its research design, wherein SSM is combined with a case study approach and action research. In this case, SSM is considered as the overarching methodological approach or the guiding methodological framework. The use of the case study approach is justified by its orientation with the aims of the present study, which is to investigate vocational training at the ministries in Qatar, thereby requiring that the training system itself be studied in its natural setting –the hallmark of the case study approach. In addition, action research was also used in the present study. Important elements of action research are considered to be actively involved in the process of critical inquiry whereby action research served as the collaborative process between the study participants and this researcher.

The present study used a combination of qualitative and quantitative research approaches – which is also called the ‘mixed-methods’ approach. The advantages of using a ‘mixed-methods’ approach have been highlighted in prior literature. For instance, a ‘mixed-methods’ approach increases the breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie & Turner, 2007); as well as the effectiveness of addressing the research questions (Silverman, 2006). Moreover, a ‘mixed-methods’ approach fortifies the rigour of the research process (Greene, 2007), and is well-suited in applied fields (Riccucci, 2010). The use of the qualitative approach in the present study is underpinned on the use of the SSM as the guiding methodology. The qualitative approach is embodied in the semi-structured interviews conducted by this researcher with 10 study participants. On the other hand, the quantitative research approach is embodied in the use of statistical tools in analysing the results of the Likert -type scale type of survey questionnaires (i.e. the pre-test and post-test).

Due to the paucity in studies that are germane to vocational training systems especially within the context of the Arab region, as well as on the effectiveness and utility of SSM in evaluating vocational training systems, the present study is thus considered a novel research undertaking.

3.9 Conclusions

This chapter discussed the following methodological considerations of the present study, namely: the conceptual framework, the research philosophy, the research design, and the research procedures adopted by the present study. In addition, this chapter presented a brief discussion of the research aim and research objectives of the present study, as well as a justification of its originality. This chapter also discussed the ethical considerations relevant to the present study as well as the results of the methodological evaluation of the training in Qatar using SSM. The succeeding chapter will present the research aims of the present study.

 

Chapter 4  Soft System Analysis of the Problem

4.1 Introduction

This chapter describes the results of the soft system analysis of the problem related to public sector training in Qatar. In Chapter 3, a detailed description of the research methodology employed has been presented. In particular, it focused on the use of the Soft Systems methodology first formulated by Checkland and Scoles (1990). This chapter will present the results of the said methodological evaluation of public sector training in Qatar using SSM.

The first stage of SSM (stage 1) was to gain a deeper understanding of the problem which involves problem unstructuring or identification and a full description is given. The chapter will subsequently present the remaining stages of the SSM enquiry, namely: (a) stage 2  or problem situation  expressed, which involves the expression of the problem in a rich picture;  (b) stage 3  or problem-oriented root definitions, which involves the formulation of root definitions describing the purpose of the different systems or the processes of the system-in-question. There are developed from the analysis of data gathered and with the use of the CATWOE mnemonic. The data gathered is from interviews, internal documents, and participant-observation as they relate to the literature review Performance measures are also presented; (c) stage 4 or creation of conceptual models, which must be designed with the primary purpose of identifying the minimum required activities for the system-in-question..; (d) stage 5  or comparison between the conceptual model and the real world, which involves comparing the conceptual model with the real world; and (e) stage 6  or identification of desirable changes, which involves making modifications to the conceptual model in order to incorporate the interests of the actors.  These stages are shown pictorially in figure 4.1 below.

4.2 Stage One of SSM – The  Methodological Evaluation

This section discusses the key findings resulting from the analysis of data obtained from the questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews. The choice of statistical analysis follows from the objectives of the study. SPSS version 20 was used

https://cdn.empowernetwork.com/user_images/post/2013/08/01/d/8c/8432/540_293_resize_20130801_d8c84329b817ab924ad4d56878b794f1_png.png

Figure 4.1.  Stages in the SSM

Source  Images for SSM (google)

to input and analyse the data. The data analysis included pre-analysis checks to screen for data entry errors. Next, initial frequency distribution and descriptive statistics were computed to ascertain the perception of participants regarding their course expectations (pre-test) and whether or not these expectations were realised after finishing their respective vocational training courses (post-test).  Following score measurement proposed by Jamieson (2004) for Likert scale items, the median as the measure of central tendency was obtained for each item.

4.2.1 Results of the Analysis of Data Obtained from the Questionnaire

4.2.1.1 Demographics of the Respondents/ Participants

The pre-test consisted of the questionnaire discussed in section 3.4. The first part was designed to determine the gender, age and educational attainment of the participants. Out of the 150 survey questionnaires that were distributed to participants on July 2012, a total of 142 questionnaires were accomplished and returned by the participants — thereby generating a response rate of 94.67 percent. Out of the 142 questionnaires analysed, 110 were from men (n=110; 77.5%), while 32 were from women (n= 32; 22.5%) The majority of the participants have ages ranging from 31-40 years old (n= 69; 48.9%), and most obtained a bachelor’s degree (n=126; 88.7%)

4.2.1.2 Pre-Test Results

The survey was designed to elicit the views on existing vocational training in the public service sector of Qatar. It asked 20 questions about the following: (a) expectations on learning (items 1-5); expectations on the transfer of skills acquired during training (item no. 6); (b) expectations on the ability and skills of the speaker or trainer (item nos. 7-11); (c) expectations about the training materials and modules (item nos. 12-15); and (d) expectations about the training environment (item nos. 16-20).

Participants considered these expectations to be ‘very important’: (a) ‘To learn the basics on the topic’ (n=142; 100%); (b) ‘To learn advanced concepts on the topic’(n=105; 73.9%,); (c)  ‘To be able to complete the course’ (n=142; 100%,); (d) ‘To be able to apply the skills I’ve learned in training’ (n=142; 100%,); (e) ‘To develop the skills in using the topics learned in everyday activities’ (n=135; 95.1%); (f) ‘The speaker is able to share his/her knowledge well’ (n=125; 88%,); (g) ‘The speaker is able to prepare his/her materials to make it easier to understand the concepts’ (n= 13; 93%); (h) ‘The speaker is knowledgeable in the topic’ (n=142; 100%,); (i) ‘The speaker provides sufficient examples to help participants understand the concept’ (n=142; 100%,); (j) ‘The training is developed appropriately to match the needs of the participants’ (n= 138; 97.2%); (k) ‘The training materials provided are interesting’ (n= 137; 96.5%); (j) ‘The training materials provided can be used independently’(n= 106; 74.6%); (l) ‘The training materials used can be used to share knowledge to colleagues’ (n=106; 74.6%); (m) ‘The training environment is conducive to learning’ (n=142; 100%); (n) ‘The training environment is open to sharing of experiences of participants’ (n=137; 96.5%,); (o) ‘There is sufficient equipment to encourage sharing among participants’ (n= 106, 74.6%); (p) ‘The training environment is helpful in encouraging participants to take notes, etc.’ (n=133, 93.7%).

Study participants considered these expectations to be less ‘important’: (a) ‘To be able to teach my colleagues the skills I’ve learned from the training’ (n=83; 58.5%,); and (b) ‘The speaker accommodates the questions of participants’ (n=76; 53.5%). Table 4.1 below presents the summary of the results of statistics of the pre-test Likert- scale questions, showing the median obtained for each item.

Table 4.1 Summary of the Results of Statistics of the Pre-Test Likert- Scale Questions

 
Pre-Test / Expectations Median
  1. To learn the basics on the topic
5.00
  1. To learn advanced concepts on the topic
5.00
  1. To be able to complete the course.
5.00
  1. To be able to apply the skills I’ve learned in training.
5.00
  1. To develop the skills in using the topics learned in everyday activities.
5.00
  1. To be able to teach my colleagues the skills I’ve learned from the training.
4.00
  1. The speaker is able to share his/her knowledge well.
5.00
  1. The speaker is able to prepare his/her materials to make it easier to understand the concepts.
5.00
  1. The speaker accommodates the questions of participants.
4.00
  1. The speaker is knowledgeable in the topic.
5.00
  1. The speaker provides sufficient examples to help participants understand the concept.
5.00
  1. The training is developed appropriately to match the needs of the participants.
5.00
  1. The training materials provided are interesting.
5.00
  1. The training materials provided can be used independently.
5.00
  1. The training materials used can be used to share knowledge to colleagues.
5.00
  1. The training environment is conducive to learning.
5.00
  1. The training environment is open to sharing of experiences of participants.
5.00
  1. There is sufficient equipment to encourage sharing among participants.
5.00
  1. The training environment is comfortable for participants.
5.00
  1. The training environment is helpful in encouraging participants to take notes, etc.
5.00

4.2.1.3 Post-Test Results

The second questionnaire which served as a post test asked 20 questions about the actual experiences of the participants when they took their respective vocational training courses.  The survey items revolved around the same considerations covered in the pre-test that examined the participants’ expectations. However, in the post-test, the survey was designed to test whether or not the training courses were able to meet the participants’ expectations using the following rating scales: (1) Strongly Disagree; (2) Disagree; (3) Neutral; (4) Agree; and (5) Strongly Agree.

Majority of the responses generated a median of 1.00 for 6 items in the questionnaire, 2.00 for 6 items in the questionnaire, and 5.00 for 6 items as well, which means that the participants ‘strongly disagreed’, ‘disagreed’ and ‘strongly agreed’ respectively to the aforementioned items. In particular, the participants ‘strongly disagreed’ to the following statements: (a) ‘The speaker was able to prepare his/her materials to make it easier to understand the concepts’ (n= 79; 55.6%); (b) ‘The training was developed appropriately to match the needs of the participants’ (n=106; 74.6%); (c) ‘The training materials provided were interesting’ (n= 104; 73.2%); (d) “The training materials provided can be used independently” (n= 100; 70.40%); (e)  ‘The training materials used can be used to share knowledge to colleagues’ (n= 100; 70.40%); and (f) ‘There was sufficient equipment to encourage sharing among participants’ (n= 100; 70.40%).

Similarly, participants ‘disagreed’ to these statements: (a)‘I was able to learn the basics on the topic’ (n= 71; 50%) ; (b) ‘I was able to learn advanced concepts on the topic’ (n= 64; 45.1%,); (c) ‘I will be able to apply the skills I’ve learned in training’ (n= 92; 64.8%); (d) ‘I developed the skills in using the topics learned in everyday activities’(n=65; 45.8%);  (e) ‘I will be able to teach my colleagues the skills I’ve learned from the training’ (n= 113; 79.6%); (f) ‘The speaker provided sufficient examples to help participants understand the concept’ (n= 88; 62%).

On the other hand, participants ‘strongly agreed’ to the following statements: (a) ‘the speaker accommodated the questions of participants’ (n=103; 72.5%);  (b) ‘the speaker was knowledgeable in the topic’ (n=125; 88%); (c) ‘the training environment was conducive to learning’ (n=135; 95.1%); (d) ‘the training environment was open to the sharing of experiences of participants’(n=131; 92.3%) ; (e)’the training environment was comfortable for participants’ (n= 131; 92.3%) and (f) ‘the training environment was helpful in encouraging participants to take notes, etc.’ (n= 124; 87.3%).  Table 4.2 below presents the summary of the results of statistics of the post-test Likert- scale questions, showing the median obtained for each item.

Table 4.2 Summary of the Results of Statistics of the Post -Test Likert- Scale Questions

 
Post-Test Items Median
  1. I was able to learn the basics on the topic.
2.00
  1. I was able to learn advanced concepts on the topic.
2.00
  1. I was able to complete the course.
5.00
  1. I will be able to apply the skills I’ve learned in training.
2.00
  1. I developed the skills in using the topics learned in everyday activities.
2.00
  1. I will be able to teach my colleagues the skills I’ve learned from the training.
2.00
  1. The speaker was able to share his/her knowledge well.
4.00
  1. The speaker was able to prepare his/her materials to make it easier to understand the concepts.
1.00
  1. The speaker accommodated the questions of participants.
5.00
  1. The speaker was knowledgeable in the topic.
5.00
  1. The speaker provided sufficient examples to help participants understand the concept.
2.00
  1. The training was developed appropriately to match the needs of the participants.
1.00
  1. The training materials provided were interesting.
1.00
  1. The training materials provided can be used independently.
1.00
  1. The training materials used can be used to share knowledge to colleagues.
1.00
  1. The training environment was conducive to learning.
5.00
  1. The training environment was open to sharing of experiences of participants.
5.00
  1. There was sufficient equipment to encourage sharing among participants.
1.00
  1. The training environment was comfortable for participants.
5.00
  1. The training environment was helpful in encouraging participants to take notes, etc.
5.00

4.2.1.4 Key Findings from the Questionnaire

Over all, results of the data analysis obtained from the pre-test survey suggest that the participants have high expectations regarding the respective vocational training courses that they were enrolled in.  The participants considered these expectations either as ‘very important’ or ‘important’. In particular, majority of the respondents considered 18 of their expectations on the vocational training course that they are enrolled in as ‘very important’, with each item generating a median of 5.00. These expectations are centred on: learning the basics and advanced concepts of the course; completing the course; applying the skills learnt from the course; fully developing the skills and using them in their everyday tasks; the ability of the speaker in sharing their knowledge, in preparing their materials and in providing sufficient examples to help participants understand the concepts; the suitability of the course  in addressing the training needs of the participants; and the conduciveness of the environment for learning. Two items on expectations obtained a median of 4.00, which means that most of the respondents considered these two expectations ‘important’. These items were centred on skills transfer and on the ability of the speaker to accommodate the questions of the trainees.

Results of the post-test survey indicate that the abovementioned participant expectations were not met at the end of the respective vocational training courses. With specific reference to the manner by which training was delivered, study participants perceived that               the training course was not developed appropriately to match the needs of the participants. Moreover, study participants perceived that: (1) training materials provided cannot be used independently; (2) training materials cannot be used to share knowledge learnt with their colleagues; (3) training equipment was not sufficient to encourage sharing of knowledge amongst other trainees; and (4) the speaker failed to provide sufficient examples to help participants understand the concepts.

As a result of the perceived failure of the vocational training to meet the participants’ expectations, majority of the participants felt that: (1) they were not able to learn the basics on the topic; (2) they were not able to learn advanced concepts on the topic; (3) they were not able to able to apply the skills they learnt in training; (4)  they failed to  develop the skills in using the topics learnt in everyday activities; and  (5) they were not able to teach their colleagues the skills they learned from the training.

Nevertheless, despite the perceived failure of the vocational training system to meet the expectations of the participants, the majority of the participants felt that the speaker was knowledgeable in the topics and that the speaker effectively accommodated their questions. Moreover, the participants viewed the training environment to be conducive to learning and the sharing of their learning experiences. Thus, the problem of the vocational training system as perceived by the participants is rooted on the mismatch between the training needs of the participants and the vocational training courses, and on the delivery of these training courses.  These findings were further buttressed by the findings from the semi-structured interviews, which indicate that course content and course delivery are the key problems related to the provision of vocational training to Qatar’s public sector. Moreover, circumscribed under the problematical issue of course content is the cultural disconnect between the Western-based



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