Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Reflexive and Experience-Based Trust and Participatory Research: Concept and Methods to Meet Complexity and Uncertainty in Organisations*

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Reflexive and Experience-Based Trust and Participatory Research: Concept and Methods to Meet Complexity and Uncertainty in Organisations*

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: Growing complexity and reduced plannability - methodical conclusions

In this paper we will first point out the methodological implications of growing complexity and uncertainty in enterprises, using the research on trust in organisations as an example. Then we will explain why trust can be seen as a response to current challenges of work organisation. In this context we present a new definition of trust: reflexive experience-based trust. We argue that there is a close relationship between our approach to trust and interactive/participatory qualitative research methods. Finally a concrete research and design project is presented which allows for insights into the potentials of participatory research and the concept of reflexive experience-based trust.

Because of changes in work labelled as growing complexity and reduced plannability, increasing attention is currently being paid to processes and issues that are of an implicit nature and are thus not or only partially amenable to explication and quantification. Therefore, it may be assumed that there is a growing relevance of qualitative research projects as opposed to quantitative ones. But in order to grasp the processual dimension in complex contexts characterised by uncertainty, there is a need not only for qualitative methods like interviews and observation, but also for participatory methods.1 Only by monitoring and active co-design of work processes is it possible to really grasp complex and implicit social processes, as is the case in the research of trust as a regulation mechanism in flexible enterprises.

Acting on the diagnostic assumption that trust as an organisational regulation mechanism is becoming increasingly attractive with the growth of complexity and uncertainty, the following thesis will be presented: just as trust in practice resists a purely explicit and instrumental, i.e. objectifying approach because of its predominantly implicit nature, trust as a research object should be investigated by empirical methods that are apt to generate experience. Here approaches based on design and intervention: like the action research approach, suggest themselves. It will be argued that there is a systematic connection between a rich theoretical concept of trust and the methodical approaches that are used to investigate it. This connection is, again, used as an example for general requirements of empirically oriented management studies that serve the research of uncertainty and complexity and elaborate ways of coping with it.

2. Trust as a response to current challenges in the organisation of work

Enterprises react to the challenges of the current changes of work, like globalisation, growing market pressures and increasing necessity for innovation and flexibilisation, by demanding an active integration of subjective potentials and orientation into work on the part of the employees (Baethge, 1991; Knights & Willmott, 1989). This goes along with a blurring of the borders between work and life, and with a tendency to pass the market pressures over to the minimal entities, as teams and even individuals. Conversely, the employees express increasing demands with respect to sense-making and creativity in their work (ibid.).

Consequently, there is a change in control and governance problems in enterprises. The "transformation problem" (Braverman, 1980) takes on a new form. Taylorist control methods with detailed specifications for procedural steps and work sequences are not efficient any longer (Eisenhardt, 1989). But forms of indirect control (Kratzer, Dunkel, & Menz, 2010; Glißmann & Peters, 2001) replacing minute process specifications by rigid control of performance indicators and obligatory documentation, are also reaching their limits. Indirect control not only proves to be very costly, but also does not meet the increasing requirements of innovation and flexibility since it fails to consider the employees' subjective potentials, thus implicitly or explicitly negating them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.