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Learning beyond "copy-paste": Organizational learning and uncovering new knowledge

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

This mini lesson introduces the need for organizational learning in order to scale up cycling, and puts forward an agile way of working as part of a solution, referencing the Alexanderplein project in Amsterdam as a successful case. Parts of this lesson are adapted from an open-access academic paper, accessible here.

Demand is growing for cycling to address accessibility, public health, and sustainability challenges, and the COVID‐19 epidemic has thrust the practice further into the spotlight. More people are cycling, and cities have had to respond and create safe places for people to ride. However, for many planning organizations, this rapid scaling‐up of cycling is like stepping into new waters. Internal capacity needs to be developed for it.

These organizations arguably need local learning and experimentation to develop this internal capacity, and quickly. A "copy-paste" approach, drawing from what works in other cities, or in "best practices", is relatively simple and will likely play a role. If organizations rely on this without understanding the underlying reasons for what makes a pleasant cycling environment though, they will limit their effectiveness. Some small design details out of context may be the result in the short-term, but in the mid- to longer-term, the thinking is what will be constraining. This is where iterative, collaborative ("agile") working may be a solution.

Alexanderplein, Amsterdam

The 2016 project at the Alexanderplein intersection in Amsterdam- where traffic lights were removed, delays were reduced, and interaction became more pleasant- is an example of organizational learning for "new" knowledge, even in one of the world's most well-known cycling cities. The municipality gained a new perspective on how people cycling move and interact, and is since implementing their learnings in other parts of the city.

This is a reminder that if we only “copy-paste”, not only do we miss out on organizational learning, but we limit ourselves to what is already known. Experimenting, reflecting, and iterating can be an avenue to open new doors and knowledge.

Interested in the details about how the Alexanderplein project happened, and what role things such as collaboration, pilots, and analysis played in it? Read the full paper:

Hahn, T., & te Brömmelstroet, M. (2021). Collaboration, experimentation, continuous improvement: Exploring an iterative way of working in the Municipality of Amsterdam’s Bicycle Program. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 9.

Image: Hahn and Te Brömmelstroet (2021, p. 6)


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