Get 20M+ Full-Text Papers For Less Than $1.50/day. Start a 14-Day Trial for You or Your Team.

Learn More →

Utilizing Participatory Action Research to Change Perception About Organizational Culture From Knowledge Consumption to Knowledge Creation:

Utilizing Participatory Action Research to Change Perception About Organizational Culture From... This study explains how participatory action research has been used to create a new intersubjective awareness of the phenomenon of organizational culture. The question of creating voluntary democratic participation has been crucial for all stakeholders in this case. Through this two-and-a-half-year study including more than 30 workshops, in a marine industry, we have managed to create new beliefs about being part of and responsible for creating the organizational culture. With these new understandings of the culture, which has been dramatically changed, the participants have created new personal knowledge about themselves and working in an organization like this. The management group have discovered that they are responsible for their own knowledge creation. Keywords participatory action research, empowerment, dialogue processes, organizational culture, knowledge creation, management learning, change management, organizational learning learning is distinguished from merely theoretical learning, Introduction which occurs by listening or reading, whether collective or The empirical material for this article comes from a case individual (Eikeland, 2012, p. 271). Many of the existing study in a Danish manufacturing company, in the marine writings and projects of organizational change involve orga- industry, that is more than 100 years old. Very often as nizational culture in one sense or another. Culture is often researchers we are not in a position to choose from many seen as either the key issue to be changed or something that companies. This specific company hired in a researcher to is crucial to take seriously in order to make change possible work with the actual culture. My approach is strongly (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2016, p. 4). In this case, we see inspired by participatory action research (PAR), which has culture as something that the management team create and its roots in research in communities that emphasize partici- give to each other, and not as something they have (Sparre, pation and action in social contexts (Reason & Bradbury, 2016, p. 369). 2008, p. 31). When a researcher is invited into an organiza- tion and seeks to create learning with action research, he or Methodology and Theoretical she must be aware of the perspectives and lifeworld uncer- tainties of the stakeholders involved. The fact that it is not Framework possible to control the results of an action research project Within the field of action research, there are many directions means that all stakeholders involved are exposed to great and approaches. One of these approaches is participatory uncertainty (Sparre, 2016). The concerns of organizational action research (PAR). Action research does not normally learning are primarily how something is learned as well as who is learning what. Organizational learning is collective experiential or experimental learning—learning based on Aalborg University, Denmark doing things together, testing and trying things out, and dis- Corresponding Author: cerning and analyzing emerging patterns at different “logical Mogens Sparre, Assistant Professor, Department of Culture and Learning, levels” in acquired practical experience, habits, routines, Aalborg University, Kroghstræde 3, 9220 Aalborg, Denmark. Email: sparre@hum.aau.dk skills, and ways of doing things. Thus, organizational Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open start from a desire to change others “out there,” although it ways about old and new theoretical problems, thus generating may eventually have that result; rather, it starts from an ori- provocative new ideas (McIntyre, 2008, p. 49). entation toward changes with others (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 1). For many participants, action research is not only Our Research Question—Or a completely new and different approach to organizational Opportunity Issue change and learning but also a new image of what research can be. PAR is a philosophy of life as much as a method a Change in organizational culture requires change in leader- feeling as much as a conviction (Fals-Borda, 1997, p. 111). ship forms in every walk of life (Martin, 1992, p. 61). At the PAR is a form of action research in which professional start, leadership is particularly important in those social areas social researchers operate as full collaborators with members that are fundamental from the point of view of power over of organizations; they have a shared power perspective in the culture (Lewin in Burnes, 2004). When we work with studying and transforming organizations. PAR is also an action research and take our role as a co-researcher seriously, emergent process, with the participants changing their it may seem a little contradictory to set up a precise research hypotheses, aims, and interpretations as the process develops question before starting the case study. In this actual case, we (Greenwood et al., 1992, p. 3; Kristiansen & Bloch-Poulsen, transformed our research question into an opportunity issue. 2018, p. 131). PAR is an ongoing organizational learning pro- Because the local Danish case company is in a transforma- cess and a research approach that emphasizes co-learning, tion from a production unit to a knowledge and service unit, participation, and organizational transformation (Greenwood the management team have a desire to change the perception et al., 1992; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Although we use of the ruling culture. We therefore take the following PAR, action research generally seems to be a participatory approach in our research: endeavor (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). As Greenwood and Levin (2007, p. 5) claim, there are How can participatory action research be utilized to create new three key elements of PAR: democratic involvement, action, intersubjective perceptions about cultural changes in a management team? and real research. Action research can also be used to under- stand an organization by trying to change elements within it When we want to work with culture, based on three culture (Bargal, 2006; Burnes, 2004). The PAR approach to action analyses (Figure 1) and we built on the framework from research is based on a participatory methodology, implying a Martin (1992, p. 174) we see the PAR approach as an obvi- dialectical tradition of democratic involvement and real ous choice. influence (Bargal, 2006, p. 379). PAR emphasizes collective inquiry, action, and experimentation grounded in actual experience of praxis. The PAR process of inquiry and action Methodology and Data evolves as it proceeds, and it addresses questions and issues that are significant for those who participate as co-research- The Cultural Board and the Young wild group had in total ers. PAR is not a monolithic set of ideas and methods but involved approximately 40 managers. In the tradition for rather a pluralistic orientation toward knowledge creation AR, we do not aim to create reliable data, but trying to help and real social change (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). Most the employees in a specific group. This article draws on a PAR projects are founded on specific tenets. phenomenological hermeneutic understanding framework PAR provides multiple opportunities for practitioners to co- and the dialogue tradition within action research (Alrø & create knowledge and integrate theory and practice in ways Hansen, 2017; Berger & Luckmann, 1971; Bourdieu, 2008; that are unique and practical to a particular group (McIntyre, Coghlan & Brannick, 2010; Gadamer, 2007; Greenwood & 2008, p. 67). Action research focuses on improving learning, Levin, 2007; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Recognizing that not on improving behaviors (Mcniff & Whitehead, 2010, p. knowledge of science and practice are different issues is not 19). Good professional action researchers create a balance of to say that they stand in opposition to each other, rather that support through a variety of actions, including direct feedback, they complement one another (Van de Ven Andrew, 2007, p. written reflections, pointing out comparable cases, and citing 3). This study focuses on interaction-driven research in an cases from the professional literature where similar problems, organization’s workplace (Kristiansen & Bloch-Poulsen, opportunities, or processes have occurred (Greenwood & 2011; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Doing scientific work in a Levin, 2007, p. 125). In the spirit of PAR, initiatives are only kind of emotionally vulnerable organization is not merely launched if they have been initialized or approved by the par- copying methodological blueprints written up in textbooks; ticipating co-researchers. Action research reports are often it also entails applying research methods in the complex set- called “storytelling,” which is an insulting attempt to disqual- tings of the social world, settings characterized by fear and ify the general knowledge gained in a specific AR study insecurity (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 57). PAR is rele- (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 67). Because PAR leads vant because it is multidisciplinary and multiform, involves researchers down previously unfamiliar pathways, involve- collaboration or cooperation among a group of managers, ment in the process is likely to stimulate us to think in new and involves key stakeholders, even though it includes the Sparre 3 Figure 1. Projects overall structure with cultural analyses, dialogue rooms, power bases, and so on. disadvantaged along with the empowered in making deci- The Actual Case Study sions through all phases of the research project (Reason & Figure 1 shows a graphical representation of this case study Bradbury, 2008, p. 385). The fact that PAR is context-spe- (Flyvbjerg, 2011). We have carried out three cultural sur- cific means that practitioners draw on a variety of quantita- veys, which have been processed together with the research- tive, qualitative, and creative-based methods to engage ers. Each survey has resulted in concrete actions in the form participants in the construction of new knowledge (McIntyre, of involved workshops. We have articulated that there exist 2008, p. 49). two power bases. One power base when we are in operation When working on changes in social processes and orga- and another when we act as co-researchers (Figure 1). The nizations, it is acknowledged that one must rely on a organization considered in this study had undergone some research approach based on the subjects, namely, the serious and radical changes. In the transition from Production humans in the organization, as irrational elements of the to Service, the Production had declined significantly, and organization. In a phenomenological lifeworld perspective, several employees had been laid off. Many of the managers all humans are working out from their own lifeworld, and have a tradition and background of focusing on methods of from an organizational perspective that can be seen as irra- functional structural change and problem-solving activities tional. Every person in the organization is unique and pos- to achieve a specific output. In such contexts, it is often sesses its own subjective lifeworld. These human subjects found that specific consultants, specialists, are hired because help define a common experience reality in the form of the they possess the skills deemed necessary to solve a specific intersubjective understanding of the organization that they task. This approach to specialists is also a highly accepted define and possess in common. The subject has thus partly and widely applied approach to strategic learning and change created the organizational structures based on their own processes in many technical organizations (Sparre, 2016, p. world of life, which unfortunately can later function as a 274). When employees repeatedly experience being seen as kind of limitation on their own ideas. Scharmer (2010) customers of new knowledge or as knowledge consumers, as writes, “Thoughts create organizations and so can organiza- portrayed by external specialists, some may find that their tions keep people locked” (p. 62). Berger and Luckmann own competencies in their own lifeworld are neglected or not (1971) argue that all knowledge is socially designed and assessed as valuable. Alvesson and Spicer (2016) have a that this does not mean that all knowledge is equally valid. What or where is the starting point for changing a social term called Organizational Stupidity, and the described culture in an organization? behavior can slowly lead to a passive and reactive approach 4 SAGE Open to organizational change and slowly make the employees The vision was to create an experience of dialogue between partly blind as their knowledge of the organization becomes equal subjects employed in the same organization and in the a type of tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 2009). In such cases, we same context; therefore, we disqualified the classic qualita- can talk about elements of organizational stupidity (Alvesson tive interview form (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2015, p. 127) & Spicer, 2016). Organizational learning is learning to do or because we did not want to put ourselves in a power relation- perform something better—learning by doing and practic- ship as researchers interviewing subjects in an organization. A ing—together, by adjusting to each other as individuals, to dialogue space (Figure 1) for all members of the organization the solution of the total task, and mutually to the partial tasks was created to invite them to join a dialogue if they wanted to of each other (Eikeland, 2012, p. 272). have a free and open talk about anything at all. To get out to When invited into a PAR project, one can imagine consid- this dialogue office, one should wear safety shoes, as the erations such as the following: Could this project hurt me, or office, with its location away from the headquarters, appeared could it create value for me? What does it mean that the per- to be a sanctuary, far away from the leaders and far away from son in the organization’s top power position recommends the the normal ruling power structure (Foucault, 1980). We project? What has previously happened to the organization’s wanted to create a so-called “Power Free” space (Figure 1, participants in similar projects? Do I trust the person who Dialogue room) for the employees, although such a space is supports the project? If I do not choose to participate, I do only a linguistic illusion (Wittgenstein, 1953/2009). not risk anything. Is there a way in which participation in Nevertheless, we attempted to create a power distance from such projects can promote one’s career, or have I seen exam- the top management. The office could instead have been in ples where someone in the organization has been penalized the main building, but such a location could have had some for participating in such projects? Human uncertainty in the other unfortunate implications that linked the researcher more organization is real and is a fact (Sparre, 2016). closely to the management, and we wanted to reduce this con- When we work together, we continually generate new nection with that specific location. cognitions, creating new intersubjectivity. The research field This dialogue process has most likely created a larger of this action project was the overall management team, intersubjective recognition of, or for, the theory of culture, which was between 30 and 40 employees. The management thus distorting the previously acquired experience of culture team articulated this project and described it as a process by (Figure 2). Based on the managerial applications, employ- which the organization could transform from a production ment talks were conducted with those who had reflected on culture (with the consequently derived sense of self) into a the advertisement. The conversation served as a balance of knowledge and service organization. A mantra has been expectations, and all were “employed.” We chose to form articulated: from production culture to knowledge culture. In groups called “The Cultural Board” and “The Young Wild.” any participatory process, there is always a tension between The “The Cultural Board” (20 employed) consisted of participation as an instrumental means of accomplishing managers with greater management and budget responsibil- something and participation as an end in itself (Greenwood ity, whereas “The Young Wild” (20 employed) was younger & Levin, 2007, p. 190). managers with fewer elements of power and leadership. The two groups participated in a joint kick-off day at which the project was started, but after that day, the researcher arranged How Did We Organize the Process? workshops with the two groups separately. During the Two introductory meetings were held for the management research period of 2.5 years, there were more than 30 work- team, where the researcher described the framework and pur- shops (4 hr each) and three major culture analyses for the two pose of the new learning and change project. The researcher groups. The Young Wild and The Culture Board (see Table 1) presented the motivation for the project and introduced a present the emerging perspectives (from 2.5 years of PAR; vacancy notice where interested employees could apply to 30 workshops) from PAR participants along the following become part of the project. From the beginning, it was stated dimensions: (a) changes in hypotheses, (b) aims, and (c) that participation was voluntary, and the participants could interpretations. These three dimensions were cited in the lit- not expect any payment for the effort. However, it was erature by the author(s). emphasized that the participants could expect to gain great insight into their own and the organization’s development. It Participation Empowerment—From was also crucial that the participants themselves would be Subjectivity to Intersubjectivity the driving forces in the project and that the researcher should not control or steer the content of the project. It was a great Real equal participation is the central ingredient of this challenge for the co-researchers that the previously wide- research study. The label “participatory” signals “a political spread practice of using external specialists for managing power commitment, collaborative processes and participa- change projects should now be replaced by the co-research- tory worldview” (Kindon et al., 2007, p. 11). The impact of ers themselves, who were now taking responsibility for their stressing participation is that all those involved in PAR proj- own actions. ects are known as powerful participants, not subjects or Sparre 5 Figure 2. It is when we listen we create new intersubjectivity. Table 1. Content Analysis (Elo & Kyngas, 2008). No. Source Types of data Types of use 28 Management meetings Reports and interviews Observations 12 Cultural Board meetings Reports and interviews Dialogs 12 Cultural Board workshops Workshop materials Observations 8 The young wild group meetings Reports and interviews Dialogs 12 Young wild group workshops Workshop materials Observations 1 Cultural rapport from 2013 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 1 Cultural rapport from 2014 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 1 Cultural rapport from 2015 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 8 Self-videos from participants Story telling Dialogs and analyze 2 Workshop conference Observations Dialogs and analyze >24 Meetings in the dialog room Some on tape—Not all Dialogs and analyze informants, who actively engage in research that is motivated (Project sponsors). What seems to unite the participatory by and focused on meeting their own needs. approaches, however, is that the researcher is not the primary The difficulty is that the term “participation” covers a mul- actor. The participants, to varying degrees, shape and mold titude of different levels of engagement. Participation may the research process to their own ends. This work will create describe active involvement in all aspects of a PAR project or intersubjectivity, and the group will slowly develop a shared be limited to particular stages and times. Who participates, intersubjective worldview. This project requires real involve- how they participate, when they participate, and why they ment, action and research (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 5), participate are questions that expose real differences among and a primary purpose of the research, as a participatory pro- researchers, and these differences are reflected in the wide cess, is to produce practical knowledge that is useful to peo- range of diverse projects that identify themselves as PAR ple in the everyday conduct of their lives (Reason & Bradbury, (Chambers, 1995). In addition, there is a danger of viewing 2008, p. 4). participation as a single activity—ignoring the interactions Many great research articles have been produced with between the diversity of individual interests—and assuming data from “The Swampy Lowland” while those who have that the group has a clear and consistent identity and that the contributed experience no value or benefit from the efforts. goals of the project are coherent and uncontested. It is impor- The dilemma Schön (1983) describes is the reality between tant to consider how the relationship between participation the co-researchers and the researcher. The co-researchers and power within the group is explored and to consider the focus on improving their everyday lives, and researchers effect of the participatory process on external stakeholders focus on creating new scientific acknowledgments. To meet 6 SAGE Open the two parties’ goals is the great challenge and benefit of empower the management participants in the project in relation action research: to the rest of the organization. There will always be a close relationship between local knowledge and power (Foucault, The core social relation is directed towards the We-relationship 1980). Foucault (1980) offers a nuanced and complex meaning and all other notions of social forms that are applied by actors in of the concept of power. The ingrained ideas about power exer- their everyday social life are derived from this. (Clark & Fast, tion as something preferably negative, used for control and 2008, p. 121) alignment to promote a particular behavior, are extended to something we all have to a greater or lesser extent, depending Intersubjectivity is the term, the central component of the life on the context we are part of. One must have some power in a world, and multiple realities constituting the individual’s life relation, and there is always a touch of position power in all world are connected to consciousness present in the adult relations. Each individual subject possesses a unique combina- (Schutz & Luckmann, 1974, p. 21). The lifeworld constitutes tion of knowledge, skills, and motives that influence the actions the world of life that is common to many individuals of the individual in the social context of an organization. We (Gadamer, 2007, p. 236). Schutz (2005) focuses specifically find that people act differently in what appears to be the same on understanding—through intersubjectivity—how we in situation, and this can be explained by individuals’ different the world of life understand each other. The life of the indi- unique cognitive comprehension schemes: vidual has fragments of a common sense, shared meanings constructed by people with the fellow human beings with It’s not a fight I want to fight, and if I did, it would affect my whom they enter into relationships; it is knowing in action. situation (Negatively). (Quote from a leader) When we go about the spontaneous, intuitive performance of the actions of everyday life, we show ourselves to be knowl- The individual participants in the project must learn to be edgeable in a special way. Often, we cannot say what we proactive and take responsibility for their own development. know. When we try to describe it, we find ourselves at a loss, The aim of the project was to start a journey from knowledge or we produce descriptions that are obviously inappropriate consumers to knowledge producers in an action research (Schön, 1983, p. 27): project, with the goal of creating a learning community. A democratic participatory learning process requires that par- We have been accustomed to a consultant or a manager who told ticipants are empowered and believe in their own insights so us what to do. For a long time, we were a little unsure of you they can be reactivated in new dialogues and established in because you did not just manage the process. Today I can see new power constellations. We aim to co-create a dialogue what you’ve done for us. (Quote: Co-researcher, 2015) model that partially compensates for the ruling power struc- tures, and through dialogue processes, participants are Empowerment involved in the processes of creating and facilitating their own change agendas (see Figure 1). We want our co- When the mandate, in the form of empowerment, is given to researchers to be more aware of their own being in the orga- the participants, so that they are enabled to execute their new nization. “The world of life is the life we live in the natural positions as co-researchers, we can talk about “indirect setting and which never in itself can become an object for us capacity building” (Brix, 2018). Power is distributed in the but, on the contrary, is the foregoing basis for all experi- organization, and the subjects can now act more freely ences” (Gadamer, 2007, p. 235). Powerful change agents (Figure 1, the power base 2): make a difference in how meaning is developed and how groups relate to the social world (Alvesson, 2013, p. 156). Definitely. Management is no longer “dictatorship” but Because there is power in any relationship, small as it is in “democracy,” where it is a group that makes decisions. In Denmark (Hofstede et al., 2010) between humans, we are addition, the mood is improved. There is no longer the same always locked in advance into the decision of whether we “rigid” system. It is a shorter way to do things. (Quote: will use power for the other or not (Løgstrup, 2012, p. 66). In Co-researcher, 2015) Figure 2, we have created an image to explain the phenome- non of intersubjectivity, and by that image we try to under- At one of the earliest meetings with the organizations’ top state why the dialogue is important to build up mutual management, it became clear that there was something that understanding about the position power. could not be touched or discussed. The power frame was made clear: Learning to Listen and Listening to You might as well accept that our organizational silos are not in Learn play or at discussion and if you cannot accept this, you might as well stop your project right away. (PK November 2012) When we speak, we quite literally hear ourselves thinking, and this initiates a relationship with ourselves (Crossley, From the start, there was a very clear and visible power struc- 1996, p. 58). In the many workshops we held, our groups had ture in the organization. Some of the earliest actions were to many dialogues, which created new external and internal Sparre 7 shared learning points. We worked proactively with listen- not used to being completely responsible for the action to be to-learn sessions. Listening is probably the least explicit of carried out. They have become reactive participants in their the four language skills, making it the most difficult skill to own working life. In 2013, there were many statements that learn. The key medium of most social interactions for implied that there was a lot of fear in the organization, and Wittgenstein, Schutz, and Mead is language (Crossley, 1996, after 3 years, this feeling seems to have improved dramati- p. 38): cally (Table 1). Before, I was often annoyed by the people who talked about “the Findings and Concluding Remarks good old Alpha Spirit” and “like this we did in the good old Organizational life—as the culture that is made up of tasks days,” but now I have gained a better understanding of why they and activities that are often somewhat disorganized and are so deep in them. (Quote from Co-researcher) invisible—is the way most people still practice and think of an organization. Although necessarily present—and more Why are some colleagues annoyed when someone talks or less consciously—in almost all types of organizations, about the “Alpha Culture”? Why do they say that? Can it be these tasks are usually not conceptualized theoretically and that they feel they do not belong to the old times? By listen- systematized practically as a permanent and visible part of ing and learning, co-researchers can develop an understand- the organization (Eikeland, 2012, p. 274). Our findings ing and together create a new intersubjectivity about our show that there is great potential in working with participa- internal language and the values behind it. When we together tory action research for organizational knowledge creation create new insights about behavior and power relations, we and bridge building between practice and theory concern- can start to change things. When an employee says, “I don’t ing organizational culture. This PAR approach actively know anything theoretical about Culture, but I know when is involves participants (co-researchers) in experimenting, not working, because then all communications goes bananas” acting, exploring, and verbalizing their own organizational (Quote from Co-researcher). lifeworld. This study has created a massive organizational change in the intersubjective understanding of the language Success, Failure, or Something Else of the ruling culture. Our qualitative surveys show that the With PAR participating co-researchers argued that their personal learning has been significant. Furthermore, joint action, Action research cannot fail, but that is not the same as being mutual inspiration, and knowledge sharing through reflex- able to control some specific output. We will always build up ive dialogues inspire co-researchers to seek new knowledge some intersubjectivity (Figure 2). Greenwood and Levin from the relevant literature and research within the field. (2007) state that projects always take off in unexpected Through the active engagement of employees and manag- directions and that the researcher will have to adjust to this ers, the project seems to have built bridges between prac- on the fly (p. 129). The primary purpose of action is not to tice and theory and to have paid special attention to the produce academic theories based on action, nor is it to pro- verbalization and externalization of tacit knowledge about duce theories about action, nor is it to produce theoretical or the organization’s own culture (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; empirical knowledge that can be applied in action. Rather, Polanyi, 2009). the purpose is to liberate the human body, mind, and spirit in Wittgenstein (1953/2009) talks about creating and recog- the search for a better life (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 5). nizing our world through our language. Table 2 shows a lin- PAR takes place within a community of inquiry, which is guistic change in the qualitative texts from our three cultural capable of effective communication and self-reflection. This analyses. Words such as fear, insecurity, and anxiety appeared self-reflection is not a license for “anything goes”: in the analyses 14 times in 2013 and they were almost entirely gone 2 years later. It was clear that the language in the orga- I can hardly defend that I come to these meetings, as we are busy nization had changed significantly. in the department and that means my colleagues must do my job. (Quote: Employee from the young wild) The changes in personal organizational paradigms—from knowledge customer to knowledge creator—were not with- Well fought! You really had good intentions to make it very free out frustrations among the co-researchers. Going from reac- the first year. Unfortunately, I do not think there was so much tive to proactive is a complicated process that takes time, and out of it, as with tighter frames for what we should do. But I all participants have to be very patient in that process: understand why you chose to create free frames. It’s probably not something we were ready for. (Quote: Employee from the I have been frustrated by how hard it is to change people’s culture board) mindset—including my own. In addition, how difficult it is actually to “DO SOMETHING” to change the culture. It’s easy As described in the above quote, some co-researchers found to sit and talk about what you could do, but actually get started the facilitation of this project a bit too free; they felt they with some actions—yes, that’s another matter. (Quote from a were lacking direction from the main researcher. They were co-researcher) 8 SAGE Open Table 2. Radical Change in the Language About Fear and Uncertainty Among the Involved. Qualitative statements with words like fear, Qualitative statements with general Qualitative positive or neutral scare, cautious, uncertainty, and insecurity (A) criticism (B) statements (C) 2013 14 76 104 2014 10 37 196 2015 1 25 189 I have learned the term “culture is something one gives to Declaration of Conflicting Interests others.” It is very important to recognize the importance of The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect having a good culture and that culture is something that has to be to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. “lived” between people and not hung on a dusty poster in a corner of a room. (Quote from a co-researcher) Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- Quite early in the project, we saw (from the cultural survey) ship, and/or publication of this article. that the present management team was not sufficiently visi- ble and was ineffective. The management group was reorga- ORCID iD nized from 14 to five managers, and the new management team was given more involvement and responsibility from Mogens Sparre https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6299-7366 the top manager. What does that mean for the internal power relationship between the new leaders and the old top man- References ager when the latter gives his power to the former? The new Alrø, H., & Hansen, F. T. (2017). Dialogisk aktionsforskning management group showed, despite the power issue, a [Dialogical action research]. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. unique and new value-based approach to management. Alvesson, M. (2013). Understanding organizational culture (2nd During a break, a leader came to me and stated, ed.). Sage. Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). The stupidity paradox: The I think that the reason we soon agreed that our culture is strong power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. Profile may be related to the fact that we constantly go and tell each Books. other that we have a strong culture. It is a completely unreflective Alvesson, M., & Sveningsson, S. (2016). Changing organizational answer that we always use. culture: Cultural change work in progress. Routledge. https:// doi.org/10.4324/9781315688404 Organizational culture is not something we have in our sur- Bargal, D. (2006). Personal and intellectual influences leading to roundings; it is something individuals convey to each other Lewin’s paradigm of action research: Towards the 60th anni- versary of Lewin’s “action research and minority problems” through our interactions and language every single day. (1946). Action Research, 4(4), 367–388. Culture is only what we do to each other. Organizational cul- Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1971). The social construction of ture goes home every day from work, and it is what we do reality. Penguin Books. when we come back the next day that determines our culture. Bourdieu, P. (2008). Af praktiske grunde: omkring teorien om men- Culture is not just the others. The Organizational culture is neskelig handlen [For practical reasons: About the theory of you. You are the culture; you give it value, and you can human action] (5th ed.). Hans Reitzels Forlag. change that value yourself. Culture is something you give to Brix, J. (2018). Innovation capacity building: An approach to maintain- your relationships. ing balance between exploration and exploitation in organizational There is a difference between you and us. You’re a learning. The Learning Organization. Advance online publication. researcher first, then a person who participates in a project. https://doi.org/10.1108/TLO-08-2018-0143 We are the managers, the ones who are here, who participate Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977– in everything. We’re learning through this project how to do 1002. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x research. Nevertheless, we are participants first, and then Chambers, R. (1995). Paradigm shifts and the practice of par- researchers (McIntyre, 2008, p. 8). ticipatory research and development. In N. Nelson & S. It is a misunderstanding that generalizable knowledge is Wright (Eds.), Power and participatory development: more valuable than concrete knowledge. Any specific and Theory and practice (pp. 30–42). Intermediate Technology unique case study is so deeply founded in many researchers Publications. and practitioners that one even doubts one’s own contribution. Clark, W. W., & Fast, M. (2008). Qualitative economics: Towards The whole of the scientific tradition derives from the positivist a science of economics. Coxmoor Publishing Company. position of seeking generalizable laws that can create new Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2010). Doing action research in your knowledge. own organization. Sage. Sparre 9 Crossley, N. (1996). Intersubjectivity: The fabric of social becom- Løgstrup, K. E. C. (2012). Den Etiske Fordring. Løgstrup ing. Sage. Biblioteket (4 udgave). KLIM. Eikeland, O. (2012). Action research and organisational learning: Martin, J. (1992). Cultures in organizations: Three perspectives. A Norwegian approach to doing action research in complex Oxford University Press. organisations. Educational Action Research, 20(2), 267–290. McIntyre, A. (2008). Participatory action research. Sage. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2012.676303 McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2010). You and your action research Elo, S. & Kyngas, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis pro- project. Routledge. cess. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 101–115. https:// Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating com- doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x pany: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of inno- Fals-Borda, O. (1997). Participatory action research in Columbia. vation. Oxford University Press. Some personal reflections. In R. McTaggart (Ed.), Participatory Polanyi, M. (2009). The tacit dimension. University of Chicago action research: International contexts and consequences (pp. Press. 107–112). State University of New York Press. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2008). The SAGE handbook of action Flyvbjerg, B. (2011). The qualitative research handbook (4th ed., research. Sage. pp. 301–316). Sage. Scharmer, C. O. (2010). Teori U [Theory U], Forlaget Ankerhus Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and (3 udgave). other writings, 1972–1977. (1st ed.). Pantheon Books. Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals Gadamer, H. G. (2007). Sandhed og metode: grundtraek af en filoso- think in action. Basic Books. fisk hermeneutik [Truth and Method]. Systime Academica. Schutz, A. (2005). Hverdagslivets sociologi [The structures of the Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action life world]. Hans Reitzels Forlag. research. Sage. Schutz, A., & Luckmann, T. (1974). The structures of the life- Greenwood, D. J., Whyte, W. F., & Harkavy, I. (1992). world. Heinemann. Participatory action research as a process and as a goal. Sparre, M. (2016). Culture is something we give to each other. Human Relations, 46(2), 175–192. https://doi.org/10.1177/00 Aalborg Universitetsforlag. 1872679304600203 Van de Ven Andrew, H. (2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizational and social research. Oxford University Press. organizations: Software of the mind (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009). Philosophical investigations (4th Kindon, S. L., Pain, R., & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. research approaches and methods: Connecting people, partici- pation and place. In S. L. Kindon, R. Pain, & M. Kesby (Eds.), Author Biography Routledge studies in human geography (p. 22). Routledge. Kristiansen, M., & Bloch-Poulsen, J. (2011). Participation and Mogens Sparre (b. 1957) is an assistant professor at the Department power: Between constraint and empowerment in organiza- of Culture and Learning at Aalborg University. With a background tional action research. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. as Engineer, MBA, Cand. Merc. and a PhD in Culture & Kristiansen, M., & Bloch-Poulsen, J. (2018). Serie Om Lærings-, Management he has a combination of both practical and theoretical Forandrings- Og Organisationsudviklingsprocesse: Inddragelse management experience. His research is based on participant- i Forandringsprocesser: Aktionsforskning i organisationer involved action research, and his primary research area is [Open Accessudgave Udg.]. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. Management, Organizational Culture, Organizational Learning and Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2015). Interview. Hans Reitzels Forlag. Storytelling. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

Utilizing Participatory Action Research to Change Perception About Organizational Culture From Knowledge Consumption to Knowledge Creation:

SAGE Open , Volume 10 (1): 1 – Jan 9, 2020

Loading next page...
 
/lp/sage/utilizing-participatory-action-research-to-change-perception-about-vWCoQYthtg
Publisher
SAGE
Copyright
Copyright © 2022 by SAGE Publications Inc, unless otherwise noted. Manuscript content on this site is licensed under Creative Commons Licenses.
ISSN
2158-2440
eISSN
2158-2440
DOI
10.1177/2158244019900174
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This study explains how participatory action research has been used to create a new intersubjective awareness of the phenomenon of organizational culture. The question of creating voluntary democratic participation has been crucial for all stakeholders in this case. Through this two-and-a-half-year study including more than 30 workshops, in a marine industry, we have managed to create new beliefs about being part of and responsible for creating the organizational culture. With these new understandings of the culture, which has been dramatically changed, the participants have created new personal knowledge about themselves and working in an organization like this. The management group have discovered that they are responsible for their own knowledge creation. Keywords participatory action research, empowerment, dialogue processes, organizational culture, knowledge creation, management learning, change management, organizational learning learning is distinguished from merely theoretical learning, Introduction which occurs by listening or reading, whether collective or The empirical material for this article comes from a case individual (Eikeland, 2012, p. 271). Many of the existing study in a Danish manufacturing company, in the marine writings and projects of organizational change involve orga- industry, that is more than 100 years old. Very often as nizational culture in one sense or another. Culture is often researchers we are not in a position to choose from many seen as either the key issue to be changed or something that companies. This specific company hired in a researcher to is crucial to take seriously in order to make change possible work with the actual culture. My approach is strongly (Alvesson & Sveningsson, 2016, p. 4). In this case, we see inspired by participatory action research (PAR), which has culture as something that the management team create and its roots in research in communities that emphasize partici- give to each other, and not as something they have (Sparre, pation and action in social contexts (Reason & Bradbury, 2016, p. 369). 2008, p. 31). When a researcher is invited into an organiza- tion and seeks to create learning with action research, he or Methodology and Theoretical she must be aware of the perspectives and lifeworld uncer- tainties of the stakeholders involved. The fact that it is not Framework possible to control the results of an action research project Within the field of action research, there are many directions means that all stakeholders involved are exposed to great and approaches. One of these approaches is participatory uncertainty (Sparre, 2016). The concerns of organizational action research (PAR). Action research does not normally learning are primarily how something is learned as well as who is learning what. Organizational learning is collective experiential or experimental learning—learning based on Aalborg University, Denmark doing things together, testing and trying things out, and dis- Corresponding Author: cerning and analyzing emerging patterns at different “logical Mogens Sparre, Assistant Professor, Department of Culture and Learning, levels” in acquired practical experience, habits, routines, Aalborg University, Kroghstræde 3, 9220 Aalborg, Denmark. Email: sparre@hum.aau.dk skills, and ways of doing things. Thus, organizational Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open start from a desire to change others “out there,” although it ways about old and new theoretical problems, thus generating may eventually have that result; rather, it starts from an ori- provocative new ideas (McIntyre, 2008, p. 49). entation toward changes with others (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 1). For many participants, action research is not only Our Research Question—Or a completely new and different approach to organizational Opportunity Issue change and learning but also a new image of what research can be. PAR is a philosophy of life as much as a method a Change in organizational culture requires change in leader- feeling as much as a conviction (Fals-Borda, 1997, p. 111). ship forms in every walk of life (Martin, 1992, p. 61). At the PAR is a form of action research in which professional start, leadership is particularly important in those social areas social researchers operate as full collaborators with members that are fundamental from the point of view of power over of organizations; they have a shared power perspective in the culture (Lewin in Burnes, 2004). When we work with studying and transforming organizations. PAR is also an action research and take our role as a co-researcher seriously, emergent process, with the participants changing their it may seem a little contradictory to set up a precise research hypotheses, aims, and interpretations as the process develops question before starting the case study. In this actual case, we (Greenwood et al., 1992, p. 3; Kristiansen & Bloch-Poulsen, transformed our research question into an opportunity issue. 2018, p. 131). PAR is an ongoing organizational learning pro- Because the local Danish case company is in a transforma- cess and a research approach that emphasizes co-learning, tion from a production unit to a knowledge and service unit, participation, and organizational transformation (Greenwood the management team have a desire to change the perception et al., 1992; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Although we use of the ruling culture. We therefore take the following PAR, action research generally seems to be a participatory approach in our research: endeavor (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). As Greenwood and Levin (2007, p. 5) claim, there are How can participatory action research be utilized to create new three key elements of PAR: democratic involvement, action, intersubjective perceptions about cultural changes in a management team? and real research. Action research can also be used to under- stand an organization by trying to change elements within it When we want to work with culture, based on three culture (Bargal, 2006; Burnes, 2004). The PAR approach to action analyses (Figure 1) and we built on the framework from research is based on a participatory methodology, implying a Martin (1992, p. 174) we see the PAR approach as an obvi- dialectical tradition of democratic involvement and real ous choice. influence (Bargal, 2006, p. 379). PAR emphasizes collective inquiry, action, and experimentation grounded in actual experience of praxis. The PAR process of inquiry and action Methodology and Data evolves as it proceeds, and it addresses questions and issues that are significant for those who participate as co-research- The Cultural Board and the Young wild group had in total ers. PAR is not a monolithic set of ideas and methods but involved approximately 40 managers. In the tradition for rather a pluralistic orientation toward knowledge creation AR, we do not aim to create reliable data, but trying to help and real social change (Greenwood & Levin, 2007). Most the employees in a specific group. This article draws on a PAR projects are founded on specific tenets. phenomenological hermeneutic understanding framework PAR provides multiple opportunities for practitioners to co- and the dialogue tradition within action research (Alrø & create knowledge and integrate theory and practice in ways Hansen, 2017; Berger & Luckmann, 1971; Bourdieu, 2008; that are unique and practical to a particular group (McIntyre, Coghlan & Brannick, 2010; Gadamer, 2007; Greenwood & 2008, p. 67). Action research focuses on improving learning, Levin, 2007; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Recognizing that not on improving behaviors (Mcniff & Whitehead, 2010, p. knowledge of science and practice are different issues is not 19). Good professional action researchers create a balance of to say that they stand in opposition to each other, rather that support through a variety of actions, including direct feedback, they complement one another (Van de Ven Andrew, 2007, p. written reflections, pointing out comparable cases, and citing 3). This study focuses on interaction-driven research in an cases from the professional literature where similar problems, organization’s workplace (Kristiansen & Bloch-Poulsen, opportunities, or processes have occurred (Greenwood & 2011; Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Doing scientific work in a Levin, 2007, p. 125). In the spirit of PAR, initiatives are only kind of emotionally vulnerable organization is not merely launched if they have been initialized or approved by the par- copying methodological blueprints written up in textbooks; ticipating co-researchers. Action research reports are often it also entails applying research methods in the complex set- called “storytelling,” which is an insulting attempt to disqual- tings of the social world, settings characterized by fear and ify the general knowledge gained in a specific AR study insecurity (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 57). PAR is rele- (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 67). Because PAR leads vant because it is multidisciplinary and multiform, involves researchers down previously unfamiliar pathways, involve- collaboration or cooperation among a group of managers, ment in the process is likely to stimulate us to think in new and involves key stakeholders, even though it includes the Sparre 3 Figure 1. Projects overall structure with cultural analyses, dialogue rooms, power bases, and so on. disadvantaged along with the empowered in making deci- The Actual Case Study sions through all phases of the research project (Reason & Figure 1 shows a graphical representation of this case study Bradbury, 2008, p. 385). The fact that PAR is context-spe- (Flyvbjerg, 2011). We have carried out three cultural sur- cific means that practitioners draw on a variety of quantita- veys, which have been processed together with the research- tive, qualitative, and creative-based methods to engage ers. Each survey has resulted in concrete actions in the form participants in the construction of new knowledge (McIntyre, of involved workshops. We have articulated that there exist 2008, p. 49). two power bases. One power base when we are in operation When working on changes in social processes and orga- and another when we act as co-researchers (Figure 1). The nizations, it is acknowledged that one must rely on a organization considered in this study had undergone some research approach based on the subjects, namely, the serious and radical changes. In the transition from Production humans in the organization, as irrational elements of the to Service, the Production had declined significantly, and organization. In a phenomenological lifeworld perspective, several employees had been laid off. Many of the managers all humans are working out from their own lifeworld, and have a tradition and background of focusing on methods of from an organizational perspective that can be seen as irra- functional structural change and problem-solving activities tional. Every person in the organization is unique and pos- to achieve a specific output. In such contexts, it is often sesses its own subjective lifeworld. These human subjects found that specific consultants, specialists, are hired because help define a common experience reality in the form of the they possess the skills deemed necessary to solve a specific intersubjective understanding of the organization that they task. This approach to specialists is also a highly accepted define and possess in common. The subject has thus partly and widely applied approach to strategic learning and change created the organizational structures based on their own processes in many technical organizations (Sparre, 2016, p. world of life, which unfortunately can later function as a 274). When employees repeatedly experience being seen as kind of limitation on their own ideas. Scharmer (2010) customers of new knowledge or as knowledge consumers, as writes, “Thoughts create organizations and so can organiza- portrayed by external specialists, some may find that their tions keep people locked” (p. 62). Berger and Luckmann own competencies in their own lifeworld are neglected or not (1971) argue that all knowledge is socially designed and assessed as valuable. Alvesson and Spicer (2016) have a that this does not mean that all knowledge is equally valid. What or where is the starting point for changing a social term called Organizational Stupidity, and the described culture in an organization? behavior can slowly lead to a passive and reactive approach 4 SAGE Open to organizational change and slowly make the employees The vision was to create an experience of dialogue between partly blind as their knowledge of the organization becomes equal subjects employed in the same organization and in the a type of tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 2009). In such cases, we same context; therefore, we disqualified the classic qualita- can talk about elements of organizational stupidity (Alvesson tive interview form (Kvale & Brinkmann, 2015, p. 127) & Spicer, 2016). Organizational learning is learning to do or because we did not want to put ourselves in a power relation- perform something better—learning by doing and practic- ship as researchers interviewing subjects in an organization. A ing—together, by adjusting to each other as individuals, to dialogue space (Figure 1) for all members of the organization the solution of the total task, and mutually to the partial tasks was created to invite them to join a dialogue if they wanted to of each other (Eikeland, 2012, p. 272). have a free and open talk about anything at all. To get out to When invited into a PAR project, one can imagine consid- this dialogue office, one should wear safety shoes, as the erations such as the following: Could this project hurt me, or office, with its location away from the headquarters, appeared could it create value for me? What does it mean that the per- to be a sanctuary, far away from the leaders and far away from son in the organization’s top power position recommends the the normal ruling power structure (Foucault, 1980). We project? What has previously happened to the organization’s wanted to create a so-called “Power Free” space (Figure 1, participants in similar projects? Do I trust the person who Dialogue room) for the employees, although such a space is supports the project? If I do not choose to participate, I do only a linguistic illusion (Wittgenstein, 1953/2009). not risk anything. Is there a way in which participation in Nevertheless, we attempted to create a power distance from such projects can promote one’s career, or have I seen exam- the top management. The office could instead have been in ples where someone in the organization has been penalized the main building, but such a location could have had some for participating in such projects? Human uncertainty in the other unfortunate implications that linked the researcher more organization is real and is a fact (Sparre, 2016). closely to the management, and we wanted to reduce this con- When we work together, we continually generate new nection with that specific location. cognitions, creating new intersubjectivity. The research field This dialogue process has most likely created a larger of this action project was the overall management team, intersubjective recognition of, or for, the theory of culture, which was between 30 and 40 employees. The management thus distorting the previously acquired experience of culture team articulated this project and described it as a process by (Figure 2). Based on the managerial applications, employ- which the organization could transform from a production ment talks were conducted with those who had reflected on culture (with the consequently derived sense of self) into a the advertisement. The conversation served as a balance of knowledge and service organization. A mantra has been expectations, and all were “employed.” We chose to form articulated: from production culture to knowledge culture. In groups called “The Cultural Board” and “The Young Wild.” any participatory process, there is always a tension between The “The Cultural Board” (20 employed) consisted of participation as an instrumental means of accomplishing managers with greater management and budget responsibil- something and participation as an end in itself (Greenwood ity, whereas “The Young Wild” (20 employed) was younger & Levin, 2007, p. 190). managers with fewer elements of power and leadership. The two groups participated in a joint kick-off day at which the project was started, but after that day, the researcher arranged How Did We Organize the Process? workshops with the two groups separately. During the Two introductory meetings were held for the management research period of 2.5 years, there were more than 30 work- team, where the researcher described the framework and pur- shops (4 hr each) and three major culture analyses for the two pose of the new learning and change project. The researcher groups. The Young Wild and The Culture Board (see Table 1) presented the motivation for the project and introduced a present the emerging perspectives (from 2.5 years of PAR; vacancy notice where interested employees could apply to 30 workshops) from PAR participants along the following become part of the project. From the beginning, it was stated dimensions: (a) changes in hypotheses, (b) aims, and (c) that participation was voluntary, and the participants could interpretations. These three dimensions were cited in the lit- not expect any payment for the effort. However, it was erature by the author(s). emphasized that the participants could expect to gain great insight into their own and the organization’s development. It Participation Empowerment—From was also crucial that the participants themselves would be Subjectivity to Intersubjectivity the driving forces in the project and that the researcher should not control or steer the content of the project. It was a great Real equal participation is the central ingredient of this challenge for the co-researchers that the previously wide- research study. The label “participatory” signals “a political spread practice of using external specialists for managing power commitment, collaborative processes and participa- change projects should now be replaced by the co-research- tory worldview” (Kindon et al., 2007, p. 11). The impact of ers themselves, who were now taking responsibility for their stressing participation is that all those involved in PAR proj- own actions. ects are known as powerful participants, not subjects or Sparre 5 Figure 2. It is when we listen we create new intersubjectivity. Table 1. Content Analysis (Elo & Kyngas, 2008). No. Source Types of data Types of use 28 Management meetings Reports and interviews Observations 12 Cultural Board meetings Reports and interviews Dialogs 12 Cultural Board workshops Workshop materials Observations 8 The young wild group meetings Reports and interviews Dialogs 12 Young wild group workshops Workshop materials Observations 1 Cultural rapport from 2013 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 1 Cultural rapport from 2014 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 1 Cultural rapport from 2015 Mix methods 12 themes Used in workshops 8 Self-videos from participants Story telling Dialogs and analyze 2 Workshop conference Observations Dialogs and analyze >24 Meetings in the dialog room Some on tape—Not all Dialogs and analyze informants, who actively engage in research that is motivated (Project sponsors). What seems to unite the participatory by and focused on meeting their own needs. approaches, however, is that the researcher is not the primary The difficulty is that the term “participation” covers a mul- actor. The participants, to varying degrees, shape and mold titude of different levels of engagement. Participation may the research process to their own ends. This work will create describe active involvement in all aspects of a PAR project or intersubjectivity, and the group will slowly develop a shared be limited to particular stages and times. Who participates, intersubjective worldview. This project requires real involve- how they participate, when they participate, and why they ment, action and research (Greenwood & Levin, 2007, p. 5), participate are questions that expose real differences among and a primary purpose of the research, as a participatory pro- researchers, and these differences are reflected in the wide cess, is to produce practical knowledge that is useful to peo- range of diverse projects that identify themselves as PAR ple in the everyday conduct of their lives (Reason & Bradbury, (Chambers, 1995). In addition, there is a danger of viewing 2008, p. 4). participation as a single activity—ignoring the interactions Many great research articles have been produced with between the diversity of individual interests—and assuming data from “The Swampy Lowland” while those who have that the group has a clear and consistent identity and that the contributed experience no value or benefit from the efforts. goals of the project are coherent and uncontested. It is impor- The dilemma Schön (1983) describes is the reality between tant to consider how the relationship between participation the co-researchers and the researcher. The co-researchers and power within the group is explored and to consider the focus on improving their everyday lives, and researchers effect of the participatory process on external stakeholders focus on creating new scientific acknowledgments. To meet 6 SAGE Open the two parties’ goals is the great challenge and benefit of empower the management participants in the project in relation action research: to the rest of the organization. There will always be a close relationship between local knowledge and power (Foucault, The core social relation is directed towards the We-relationship 1980). Foucault (1980) offers a nuanced and complex meaning and all other notions of social forms that are applied by actors in of the concept of power. The ingrained ideas about power exer- their everyday social life are derived from this. (Clark & Fast, tion as something preferably negative, used for control and 2008, p. 121) alignment to promote a particular behavior, are extended to something we all have to a greater or lesser extent, depending Intersubjectivity is the term, the central component of the life on the context we are part of. One must have some power in a world, and multiple realities constituting the individual’s life relation, and there is always a touch of position power in all world are connected to consciousness present in the adult relations. Each individual subject possesses a unique combina- (Schutz & Luckmann, 1974, p. 21). The lifeworld constitutes tion of knowledge, skills, and motives that influence the actions the world of life that is common to many individuals of the individual in the social context of an organization. We (Gadamer, 2007, p. 236). Schutz (2005) focuses specifically find that people act differently in what appears to be the same on understanding—through intersubjectivity—how we in situation, and this can be explained by individuals’ different the world of life understand each other. The life of the indi- unique cognitive comprehension schemes: vidual has fragments of a common sense, shared meanings constructed by people with the fellow human beings with It’s not a fight I want to fight, and if I did, it would affect my whom they enter into relationships; it is knowing in action. situation (Negatively). (Quote from a leader) When we go about the spontaneous, intuitive performance of the actions of everyday life, we show ourselves to be knowl- The individual participants in the project must learn to be edgeable in a special way. Often, we cannot say what we proactive and take responsibility for their own development. know. When we try to describe it, we find ourselves at a loss, The aim of the project was to start a journey from knowledge or we produce descriptions that are obviously inappropriate consumers to knowledge producers in an action research (Schön, 1983, p. 27): project, with the goal of creating a learning community. A democratic participatory learning process requires that par- We have been accustomed to a consultant or a manager who told ticipants are empowered and believe in their own insights so us what to do. For a long time, we were a little unsure of you they can be reactivated in new dialogues and established in because you did not just manage the process. Today I can see new power constellations. We aim to co-create a dialogue what you’ve done for us. (Quote: Co-researcher, 2015) model that partially compensates for the ruling power struc- tures, and through dialogue processes, participants are Empowerment involved in the processes of creating and facilitating their own change agendas (see Figure 1). We want our co- When the mandate, in the form of empowerment, is given to researchers to be more aware of their own being in the orga- the participants, so that they are enabled to execute their new nization. “The world of life is the life we live in the natural positions as co-researchers, we can talk about “indirect setting and which never in itself can become an object for us capacity building” (Brix, 2018). Power is distributed in the but, on the contrary, is the foregoing basis for all experi- organization, and the subjects can now act more freely ences” (Gadamer, 2007, p. 235). Powerful change agents (Figure 1, the power base 2): make a difference in how meaning is developed and how groups relate to the social world (Alvesson, 2013, p. 156). Definitely. Management is no longer “dictatorship” but Because there is power in any relationship, small as it is in “democracy,” where it is a group that makes decisions. In Denmark (Hofstede et al., 2010) between humans, we are addition, the mood is improved. There is no longer the same always locked in advance into the decision of whether we “rigid” system. It is a shorter way to do things. (Quote: will use power for the other or not (Løgstrup, 2012, p. 66). In Co-researcher, 2015) Figure 2, we have created an image to explain the phenome- non of intersubjectivity, and by that image we try to under- At one of the earliest meetings with the organizations’ top state why the dialogue is important to build up mutual management, it became clear that there was something that understanding about the position power. could not be touched or discussed. The power frame was made clear: Learning to Listen and Listening to You might as well accept that our organizational silos are not in Learn play or at discussion and if you cannot accept this, you might as well stop your project right away. (PK November 2012) When we speak, we quite literally hear ourselves thinking, and this initiates a relationship with ourselves (Crossley, From the start, there was a very clear and visible power struc- 1996, p. 58). In the many workshops we held, our groups had ture in the organization. Some of the earliest actions were to many dialogues, which created new external and internal Sparre 7 shared learning points. We worked proactively with listen- not used to being completely responsible for the action to be to-learn sessions. Listening is probably the least explicit of carried out. They have become reactive participants in their the four language skills, making it the most difficult skill to own working life. In 2013, there were many statements that learn. The key medium of most social interactions for implied that there was a lot of fear in the organization, and Wittgenstein, Schutz, and Mead is language (Crossley, 1996, after 3 years, this feeling seems to have improved dramati- p. 38): cally (Table 1). Before, I was often annoyed by the people who talked about “the Findings and Concluding Remarks good old Alpha Spirit” and “like this we did in the good old Organizational life—as the culture that is made up of tasks days,” but now I have gained a better understanding of why they and activities that are often somewhat disorganized and are so deep in them. (Quote from Co-researcher) invisible—is the way most people still practice and think of an organization. Although necessarily present—and more Why are some colleagues annoyed when someone talks or less consciously—in almost all types of organizations, about the “Alpha Culture”? Why do they say that? Can it be these tasks are usually not conceptualized theoretically and that they feel they do not belong to the old times? By listen- systematized practically as a permanent and visible part of ing and learning, co-researchers can develop an understand- the organization (Eikeland, 2012, p. 274). Our findings ing and together create a new intersubjectivity about our show that there is great potential in working with participa- internal language and the values behind it. When we together tory action research for organizational knowledge creation create new insights about behavior and power relations, we and bridge building between practice and theory concern- can start to change things. When an employee says, “I don’t ing organizational culture. This PAR approach actively know anything theoretical about Culture, but I know when is involves participants (co-researchers) in experimenting, not working, because then all communications goes bananas” acting, exploring, and verbalizing their own organizational (Quote from Co-researcher). lifeworld. This study has created a massive organizational change in the intersubjective understanding of the language Success, Failure, or Something Else of the ruling culture. Our qualitative surveys show that the With PAR participating co-researchers argued that their personal learning has been significant. Furthermore, joint action, Action research cannot fail, but that is not the same as being mutual inspiration, and knowledge sharing through reflex- able to control some specific output. We will always build up ive dialogues inspire co-researchers to seek new knowledge some intersubjectivity (Figure 2). Greenwood and Levin from the relevant literature and research within the field. (2007) state that projects always take off in unexpected Through the active engagement of employees and manag- directions and that the researcher will have to adjust to this ers, the project seems to have built bridges between prac- on the fly (p. 129). The primary purpose of action is not to tice and theory and to have paid special attention to the produce academic theories based on action, nor is it to pro- verbalization and externalization of tacit knowledge about duce theories about action, nor is it to produce theoretical or the organization’s own culture (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; empirical knowledge that can be applied in action. Rather, Polanyi, 2009). the purpose is to liberate the human body, mind, and spirit in Wittgenstein (1953/2009) talks about creating and recog- the search for a better life (Reason & Bradbury, 2008, p. 5). nizing our world through our language. Table 2 shows a lin- PAR takes place within a community of inquiry, which is guistic change in the qualitative texts from our three cultural capable of effective communication and self-reflection. This analyses. Words such as fear, insecurity, and anxiety appeared self-reflection is not a license for “anything goes”: in the analyses 14 times in 2013 and they were almost entirely gone 2 years later. It was clear that the language in the orga- I can hardly defend that I come to these meetings, as we are busy nization had changed significantly. in the department and that means my colleagues must do my job. (Quote: Employee from the young wild) The changes in personal organizational paradigms—from knowledge customer to knowledge creator—were not with- Well fought! You really had good intentions to make it very free out frustrations among the co-researchers. Going from reac- the first year. Unfortunately, I do not think there was so much tive to proactive is a complicated process that takes time, and out of it, as with tighter frames for what we should do. But I all participants have to be very patient in that process: understand why you chose to create free frames. It’s probably not something we were ready for. (Quote: Employee from the I have been frustrated by how hard it is to change people’s culture board) mindset—including my own. In addition, how difficult it is actually to “DO SOMETHING” to change the culture. It’s easy As described in the above quote, some co-researchers found to sit and talk about what you could do, but actually get started the facilitation of this project a bit too free; they felt they with some actions—yes, that’s another matter. (Quote from a were lacking direction from the main researcher. They were co-researcher) 8 SAGE Open Table 2. Radical Change in the Language About Fear and Uncertainty Among the Involved. Qualitative statements with words like fear, Qualitative statements with general Qualitative positive or neutral scare, cautious, uncertainty, and insecurity (A) criticism (B) statements (C) 2013 14 76 104 2014 10 37 196 2015 1 25 189 I have learned the term “culture is something one gives to Declaration of Conflicting Interests others.” It is very important to recognize the importance of The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect having a good culture and that culture is something that has to be to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. “lived” between people and not hung on a dusty poster in a corner of a room. (Quote from a co-researcher) Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author- Quite early in the project, we saw (from the cultural survey) ship, and/or publication of this article. that the present management team was not sufficiently visi- ble and was ineffective. The management group was reorga- ORCID iD nized from 14 to five managers, and the new management team was given more involvement and responsibility from Mogens Sparre https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6299-7366 the top manager. What does that mean for the internal power relationship between the new leaders and the old top man- References ager when the latter gives his power to the former? The new Alrø, H., & Hansen, F. T. (2017). Dialogisk aktionsforskning management group showed, despite the power issue, a [Dialogical action research]. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. unique and new value-based approach to management. Alvesson, M. (2013). Understanding organizational culture (2nd During a break, a leader came to me and stated, ed.). Sage. Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). The stupidity paradox: The I think that the reason we soon agreed that our culture is strong power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. Profile may be related to the fact that we constantly go and tell each Books. other that we have a strong culture. It is a completely unreflective Alvesson, M., & Sveningsson, S. (2016). Changing organizational answer that we always use. culture: Cultural change work in progress. Routledge. https:// doi.org/10.4324/9781315688404 Organizational culture is not something we have in our sur- Bargal, D. (2006). Personal and intellectual influences leading to roundings; it is something individuals convey to each other Lewin’s paradigm of action research: Towards the 60th anni- versary of Lewin’s “action research and minority problems” through our interactions and language every single day. (1946). Action Research, 4(4), 367–388. Culture is only what we do to each other. Organizational cul- Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1971). The social construction of ture goes home every day from work, and it is what we do reality. Penguin Books. when we come back the next day that determines our culture. Bourdieu, P. (2008). Af praktiske grunde: omkring teorien om men- Culture is not just the others. The Organizational culture is neskelig handlen [For practical reasons: About the theory of you. You are the culture; you give it value, and you can human action] (5th ed.). Hans Reitzels Forlag. change that value yourself. Culture is something you give to Brix, J. (2018). Innovation capacity building: An approach to maintain- your relationships. ing balance between exploration and exploitation in organizational There is a difference between you and us. You’re a learning. The Learning Organization. Advance online publication. researcher first, then a person who participates in a project. https://doi.org/10.1108/TLO-08-2018-0143 We are the managers, the ones who are here, who participate Burnes, B. (2004). Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977– in everything. We’re learning through this project how to do 1002. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x research. Nevertheless, we are participants first, and then Chambers, R. (1995). Paradigm shifts and the practice of par- researchers (McIntyre, 2008, p. 8). ticipatory research and development. In N. Nelson & S. It is a misunderstanding that generalizable knowledge is Wright (Eds.), Power and participatory development: more valuable than concrete knowledge. Any specific and Theory and practice (pp. 30–42). Intermediate Technology unique case study is so deeply founded in many researchers Publications. and practitioners that one even doubts one’s own contribution. Clark, W. W., & Fast, M. (2008). Qualitative economics: Towards The whole of the scientific tradition derives from the positivist a science of economics. Coxmoor Publishing Company. position of seeking generalizable laws that can create new Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2010). Doing action research in your knowledge. own organization. Sage. Sparre 9 Crossley, N. (1996). Intersubjectivity: The fabric of social becom- Løgstrup, K. E. C. (2012). Den Etiske Fordring. Løgstrup ing. Sage. Biblioteket (4 udgave). KLIM. Eikeland, O. (2012). Action research and organisational learning: Martin, J. (1992). Cultures in organizations: Three perspectives. A Norwegian approach to doing action research in complex Oxford University Press. organisations. Educational Action Research, 20(2), 267–290. McIntyre, A. (2008). Participatory action research. Sage. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2012.676303 McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2010). You and your action research Elo, S. & Kyngas, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis pro- project. Routledge. cess. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 101–115. https:// Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating com- doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x pany: How Japanese companies create the dynamics of inno- Fals-Borda, O. (1997). Participatory action research in Columbia. vation. Oxford University Press. Some personal reflections. In R. McTaggart (Ed.), Participatory Polanyi, M. (2009). The tacit dimension. University of Chicago action research: International contexts and consequences (pp. Press. 107–112). State University of New York Press. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2008). The SAGE handbook of action Flyvbjerg, B. (2011). The qualitative research handbook (4th ed., research. Sage. pp. 301–316). Sage. Scharmer, C. O. (2010). Teori U [Theory U], Forlaget Ankerhus Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and (3 udgave). other writings, 1972–1977. (1st ed.). Pantheon Books. Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals Gadamer, H. G. (2007). Sandhed og metode: grundtraek af en filoso- think in action. Basic Books. fisk hermeneutik [Truth and Method]. Systime Academica. Schutz, A. (2005). Hverdagslivets sociologi [The structures of the Greenwood, D. J., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to action life world]. Hans Reitzels Forlag. research. Sage. Schutz, A., & Luckmann, T. (1974). The structures of the life- Greenwood, D. J., Whyte, W. F., & Harkavy, I. (1992). world. Heinemann. Participatory action research as a process and as a goal. Sparre, M. (2016). Culture is something we give to each other. Human Relations, 46(2), 175–192. https://doi.org/10.1177/00 Aalborg Universitetsforlag. 1872679304600203 Van de Ven Andrew, H. (2007). Engaged scholarship: A guide for Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizational and social research. Oxford University Press. organizations: Software of the mind (3rd ed.). McGraw-Hill. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009). Philosophical investigations (4th Kindon, S. L., Pain, R., & Kesby, M. (2007). Participatory action ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. research approaches and methods: Connecting people, partici- pation and place. In S. L. Kindon, R. Pain, & M. Kesby (Eds.), Author Biography Routledge studies in human geography (p. 22). Routledge. Kristiansen, M., & Bloch-Poulsen, J. (2011). Participation and Mogens Sparre (b. 1957) is an assistant professor at the Department power: Between constraint and empowerment in organiza- of Culture and Learning at Aalborg University. With a background tional action research. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. as Engineer, MBA, Cand. Merc. and a PhD in Culture & Kristiansen, M., & Bloch-Poulsen, J. (2018). Serie Om Lærings-, Management he has a combination of both practical and theoretical Forandrings- Og Organisationsudviklingsprocesse: Inddragelse management experience. His research is based on participant- i Forandringsprocesser: Aktionsforskning i organisationer involved action research, and his primary research area is [Open Accessudgave Udg.]. Aalborg Universitetsforlag. Management, Organizational Culture, Organizational Learning and Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2015). Interview. Hans Reitzels Forlag. Storytelling.

Journal

SAGE OpenSAGE

Published: Jan 9, 2020

Keywords: participatory action research; empowerment; dialogue processes; organizational culture; knowledge creation; management learning; change management; organizational learning

References