Book Reviews

Book by Cervero, Ronald M. and Wilson, Arthur L.
Review by David Deggs
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


All educators have some level of responsibility for program planning.  However, do we ever fully understand the factors that influence the planning, implementation and most importantly outcomes of those programs?  Therein lies the purpose of Working the Planning Table: Negotiating Democratically for Adult, Continuing and Workplace Education, a guide for practical action in developing educational programs.

The authors, Cervero and Wilson, acknowledge their own frustrations with educational theories that did not account for the realities of working with others to plan educational programs.  They assert that “theory has focused on processes used to develop educational outcomes, while it has ignored the social and political outcomes that also result from educational programs” (p. 22).  Their theory, which has spurred others in the field, takes into account four concepts - power, interests, negotiation, and responsibility.  

Cervero and Wilson’s theory has sought to define planning as a social activity whereby people construct educational programs by negotiating personal, organizational, and social interests in contexts marked by socially structured relations of power.  Of particular interest is Cervero and Wilson’s description of the process of negotiating democratically in which they place people at the center of the planning action.     

Throughout the book, three stories – based upon actual events related to educational programming in the areas of adult literacy, continuing education, and management education – are used to demonstrate practical examples.  While these practical examples provide some context and validation, the most important feature of the book is the concept of the “planning table.”  Cervero and Wilson use the “planning table” as a metaphor to focus on what matters in education planning, where judgments are made in social contexts about program features.  

An understanding of the dimensions of the planning table - power relations, interests, ethical commitments, and negotiation – is essential in applying the theory provided by Cervero and Wilson.  The authors take these dimensions and apply them to what they term “action in context,” to discuss methods for negotiating specific program elements. The specific elements of educational programs that are discussed are program needs-assessment; educational, management, and political objectives; instructional design and implementation; administrative organization and operation; and formal and information evaluation.  

Cervero and Wilson state that the book is designed as a guide for planners who develop educational programs that make a difference in the world. They acknowledge that “education matters because it is about making individual, organizational, and social change, which benefits people educationally, socially, and politically,” (p. 26).  This book is of value to all educators, including academic advisors, no matter their levels of position or authority.  It certainly helped this reviewer better frame the contexts in which educational programs operate and how those contexts can affect program development, delivery, and outcomes.  I would most certainly recommend it to any educator who wants to better understand and ultimately benefit from the process of working with others to develop educational programs.  Through better understanding of concepts of power, interests, negotiation, and responsibility, one can on fully begin to poise themselves to affect change.


Working the Planning Table: Negotiating Democratically for Adult, Continuing and Workplace Education. (2006). Book by Cervero, Ronald M. and Wilson, Arthur L. Review by David Deggs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  304 pp., $35.00, (hardback). ISBN: # 0-7879-6206-6
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