Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Relational and Existential Challenges of Practicing Dialogic Action Research - Working with Social Concrete Blocks in Organizations

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Relational and Existential Challenges of Practicing Dialogic Action Research - Working with Social Concrete Blocks in Organizations

Article excerpt

The article illustrates that there seems to be a fairly large distance between action research ideals of dialogue, democracy, participation, and involvement and the actual challenges we have met when practicing dialogic action research in hierarchical organizations where dialogue is always already embedded in organizational power relations. An overall purpose is to show that we are not only involved professionally as action researchers, but also challenged existentially as human beings when practicing dialogic action research. This has at least two consequences. One is about giving up knowing in advance. The other is about focusing on the quality of the relations with the participants, because this relationship seems to have critical impact on the quality of the results of dialogic action research projects.

The article presents some concepts developed in dialogic action research projects in Danish, private and public organizations such as AR dilemmas, self-referentiality, emergent mutual involvement and not knowing, social concrete blocks, and the arbitrary punctuator.

Key words: dialogue, action research, emergence, interpersonal relations, organizational conflicts

Purpose

The article presents a dialogic perspective on action research developed in projects in Danish organizations from the middle of the 1990's. It is an approach to organizational development work that has dialogue as both its object and its method. We facilitate groups in organizations to enter into dialogue on topics in which they are deeply engaged, so they can arrive at new, shared practical solutions. These dialogues may concern a new product, a new mentor program, team norms, balancing expectations between team and management etc. Through this process, we are simultaneously co-exploring and co-developing new practical theories on, e.g., midwifery and dialogic competencies (Kristiansen/Bloch-Poulsen 2005) and involvement as a dilemma in team-based organizations (Kristiansen/Bloch-Poulsen 2006). We call this approach dialogic action research.

The article focuses on some concepts which emerged when the relations between the participants and us became a challenge, i.e. on AR dilemmas, self-referentiality, emergent mutual involvement and not knowing, social concrete blocks, and the arbitrary punctuator. The article illustrates how these concepts helped to cope with the actual challenges as well as to understand what was happening between the participants and/or between them and us. The article focuses on understanding and coping with a particular communication pattern between management and several teams working in a valueand team-based department. This turned out to become a question of working with social concrete blocks in the eye of an organizational storm (see below).

An overall purpose is to illustrate that we are not only involved professionally as action researchers, but also challenged existentially as human beings when practicing dialogic action research.

Points of view

The article is based on several points of view:

Firstly, we have experienced a fairly large distance between action research ideals of dialogue, democracy, participation, and involvement and the actual challenges we have met when practicing dialogic action research in hierarchical organizations where dialogue is always already embedded in organizational power relations. We have come to understand dialogic action research as a complex, messy, and challenging process characterized by ethical and political dilemmas (Kristiansen/Bloch-Poulsen 2006, 2007). By sharing examples from our praxis, we hope to open a window into this process with pitfalls, imperfection, learning, and joy. In the future, we would like action research literature to give a close and down-to-earth description of actual praxis to inspire new as well as experienced action researchers.

Secondly, we have come to understand dialogic action research as ways of being present in emerging and mutually participatory processes embedded in organizational contexts (Kristiansen/Bloch-Poulsen 2005). …

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