Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Examining Developmental Dialogue: The Emergence of Transformative Agency

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

Examining Developmental Dialogue: The Emergence of Transformative Agency

Article excerpt

Introduction

The increased pace of change in the world of work creates a need for formative interventionist approaches that may help to simultaneously develop work and enhance practitioners' well-being. The notion of transformative agency, that is, participants' capacity to make purposeful changes in their work activity (Engeström and Virkkunen 2007) has potential for both of these. The aim of formative interventions is to enhance the agency of participants (Engeström & Sannino 2010), especially during complex change situations in their work activities. One of the promising formative intervention methods is Developmental Dialogue (DD). Originally developed by Laura Mott (1992), it consists of two discussions between a voluntary employee and an interventionist or as peer discussions between colleagues, after which a third discussion is carried out in a group of employees with their line manager. In its later versions DD leans on the Vygotskian method of double stimulation (Vygotsky 1971), which refers to the use of different kinds of tools, such as theoretical models to help the participants gain new insight into their situation at work.

This paper is a description and analysis of an intervention discussion where the Developmental Dialogue method was applied between a practitioner-participant and a researcher-interventionist. The idea was that participants would benefit from an intervention that would help them see different options for their professional path and would contribute to the changes the work community was facing. The application of DD was part of a study that investigated the challenges involved in a complex network change of rail traffic control work in Southern Finland (Heikkilä, 2012, Seppänen et al. 2013). We will provide an example of a DD participant, who seemed to be challenged by balancing her interest in supporting others and developing work on the one hand, and the need to withdraw from these efforts for reasons of well-being on the other. Our data for the analysis was the second, transcribed discussion between the participant, "Helen", and the interventionist.

How does this method work in practice? We approach this question by analysing its use from the perspective of transformative agency. Our first research question is: How is transformative agency manifested in DD? Here, we apply the six types of agency expressions developed by Sannino (2008), Engeström (2011) and Haapasaari (2012). The findings will help us grasp the qualities of agency taking place in the intervention discussion. Secondly, we ask: What kinds of tools and discussion topics seem to enhance transformative agency in these dialogues? While acknowledging the complex mediation involved in developmental interventions, our analysis focuses on "tools" as material or non-material vehicles through which transformative agency emerges, and "objects of talk", topics of discussion that potentially make it emerge. With these analyses we aim to provide ideas for further research into the DD method as well as advancing and improving its applications.

In the next two sections we will firstly take a look at the concept of agency, after which we present the DD method. One of the important tools used is the cycle model of professional development, which is also a theoretical hypothesis about the stages through which agency evolves. Thirdly, we will present the participant and her professional path as well as interventionist's premises and design before the analysed DD discussion. The section on methods will describe the process of analysis as well as concretize the types of agency and categories of tools. In section 6, we will report separately the findings on the qualities of transformative agency (first research question) where a new category, reframing agency, is presented, and also cover the tools and objects of talk involved (second research question). We will end by interpreting the findings with the model of professional development and suggest further research on transformative agency in developmental interventions. …

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