OOLEEE stands for Object Oriented Learning through Elicitation, Evocation, and Emotioning. It is a framework of concepts DCD has drawn together from anthropological and cognitive theories of object-human relations, cognition, and learning, which supports and illuminates the methods we use to assist internal and external stakeholders so that they can engage with the process of participatory service improvement. The two central operational principles of OOLEEE are:

  1. Humans make sense of objects using other objects. The corollaries of which are that we give meaning to objects by connecting them to other objects, we make sense of words using other words, and we make sense of current or present experience with prior and other experiences.
  2. Objects perturb our senses making us conscious of them, often eliciting or inducing an observable behavioural response.

The first principle is most evident in describing. When we say, for example, that one thing is like another thing, and especially when we use explicit metaphors and analogies. It is also evident in our use of dictionaries, when we seek the meaning of one word in terms of others. Importantly, this principle is contrary to the wide spread notion that we make sense of objects by extracting information from them. Instead, OOLEEE shows we add information by making connections with other objects or experiences in which they participate. In this way, objects have the effect of evoking past experiences, not only eliciting knowledge of them, but also evoking memories of emotions associated with them. Objects, thus, induce and elicit emotions. Interacting with objects causes us to reflect on both present and past manners of doing as emotional experiences, which is an essential first step toward behaviour modification and learning. Making connections creates a web of relationships that becomes the foundation of future action and behavioural change. Behavioural changes, such as improved performances, are the primary evidence of learning.

The second principle is evident in the routine use of objects to regulate behaviour, such as the central white lines of a freeway, or the use of signs and other icons on the roadside either as reminders of, or means of inducing, appropriate driving behaviours. Objects can prevail on us to behave in one way or another. However, the proper functioning of these objects, their design purpose, is completely dependent on ‘a user’ making the connections the designer intended. The connections a person is able to make hint at the actions to take: the behaviours that should be followed. Therefore, what an individual determines to be the correct action or most appropriate behaviour will depend on the meaning she is able to attach to the ‘regulatory’ object. In other words, the connections it induces them to make. The number and nature of those connections, however, is highly dependent on the cultural or social context from which the meaning-giver (the interpreter) originates. This is the case whether they come from a different company or a different country. Objects, then, are said to be polysemic. This means that the same objects, including words, can have many possible meanings, which also means, of course, they can be highly ambiguous. This particular characteristic is exploited by DCD in its methods to help different stakeholders generate novel interpretations, unlocking creative thinking to generate meaningful opportunities to improve.

Diverse ranges of theories highlight the role of objects in determining or influencing human behaviour. In fact there is a considerable legacy of research and practice in the field of organization and managerial studies ranging from Susan Leigh Star’s concept of the boundary object, through Callon and Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (A-NT) in which both people and objects (e.g., new machines and other products) are treated as actors or agents of change in a network of relationships, to alternative theories of learning and problem solving, including object mediated learning (Lev Vygotsky), activity systems theory (Leontyev, Engestrom), situated cognition (Scribner, Lave) and distributed learning (Hutchinson), and even ideas such as the extended mind (Clarke and Chalmers), in which objects external to the body are considered integral to human thinking processes. The regulatory role of objects is also central to some explanations of human culture. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz, in his theory of culture, says objects form a semiotic web, which serves to signal the behaviours ‘they’ require to be performed. So for example, some kinds of objects are reminders of ritualistic behaviour, which they instigate and guide. As a result of their effect, such objects are called ritual objects. It is but a small step to appreciate that all kinds of objects may also be treated as elements of organizational and cultural structures, and each organization or group of people generates its own unique semiotic web. Similarly, for Susan Leigh Star, multiple objects (both digital and non-digital) form an infrastructure, which is a framework of references within which individual and group performances take place.

Not least of the theories involving objects is Gareth Morgan’s use of metaphors to characterise organisations. In his book Images of Organisation, Morgan compared organisations to machines, to brains, to psychic prisons, amongst others. Each metaphor provided different insights into the operations and behaviours within an organisation. Morgan’s principle is incorporated into DCD’s Catalyst Cards. These are used to play a collection of Catalyst Card games tied closely to mainstream methods of performance improvement usually found in the field of quality assurance, and other approaches that managers will be familiar with.

The practical upshot of this theory is that objects can be used to generate conversations about meaning. Once a group of key stakeholders agrees meaning, consensus is created and a new basis for future co-operation emerges. This is the starting point for DCD’s participatory improvement methods.

With regard to learning, objects (as agents or actors) have the effect of inviting, provoking, and facilitating learning (improvements in performance), whilst also being integral to, and supportive of, the routine processes through which an organization or other kind of social grouping (such as a community of practice) realizes its goals or objectives.

DCD adheres to a behavioural definition of learning. Learning, we say, is only evident in behavioural change, but specifically that which contributes positively to the shared ambitions, desires, goals or objectives of individuals collaborating as members of formal or informal groups. That is, behavioural change that’s useful to an organization, team, community of practice. However, this does not mean that learning with OOLEEE is not disruptive, as new behaviours often are. For DCD, whether or not a particular kind of behavioural change is deemed a ‘social good’ will depend on the social (or cultural) context, this is because what is positive and negative about behavioural change is decided by the members of a social group.

Even from this brief introduction to OOLEEE, it should be clear that the two principles illustrated above are inextricably linked, and at all times during our living and working they operate together, simultaneously. So it is entirely reasonable to conclude that objects are, always have been, and always will be integral to what it is to be human.

To fully appreciate OOLEEE requires one to understand objects in a wholly different way to the conventions we typically live by. Rooted in an alternative theory of living and language developed by the biologists and neuroscientists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in which objects, including spoken words and utterances, rather than conveying information, act as means of co-ordinating collective behaviour and/or joint actions.


Then why not…