Methodological Innovation – Visual Participatory Methods

by Dr Maria Quinlan, Pink Flower Research

The theme of the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM) is ‘Putting the Worker Front and Centre’. In outlining the reason for this theme and the aim of the conference, the AOM Vice President Peter Bamberger cites the ‘dramatic shift’ in workplace power dynamics within the post-pandemic world.  Bamberger says that this shift highlights the current limitations of management studies literature to provide meaningful insights to these workplace challenges. A literature which focuses on top executives and the issues of importance to them – innovation, leadership, transformation, increasing productivity amongst teams and so forth, and which rarely appears to give voice to employees, or to critical perspectives on inequities and cultural power dynamics.   

So how might we do this? How might we put the worker front and centre in the research process? How might we decolonise and democratise knowledge creation in this space?  How does an organisation level the playing field to create truly meritocratic cultures of equity, diversity and inclusion? What’s the future of work in a world of zero-hour contracts, eroding employee rights and increasingly unsustainable supply chains? How do we create knowledge in a way which is inclusive, trauma-informed and participatory? When it comes to the world of work, to the field of management studies, these are just some of the questions I am interested in. What these questions have in common, from my perspective at least, is that they are complex, multi-layered and nuanced. In my experience, to truly get a handle on these kinds of questions requires radical methodological innovation.

Whether or not phenomena such as the ‘great resignation’, ‘great attrition’, and ‘quiet-quitting’ are real or merely lazy headline-grabbing conclusions to more complex social changes, there is no doubt a need to innovate in terms of how we go about creating new knowledge in this area. With an increased focus on the ways we work, and what the potential future ways of working should be, there are increasingly calls for workers’ voices to be heard amongst all the so-called ‘expert’ discourses in this area. 

As a sociologist and as researcher my philosophy of knowledge creation is rooted in interpretivist, feminist, and participatory traditions. While I aim to be a pragmatic researcher, who believes we need to understand both the number and the nature of an issue, when it comes to understanding complex questions such as how we experience, and behave in, the world of work, I believe that knowledge is inductive, value-laden and contextually unique. As such we need methods which can rise to the complexity of that challenge, which can help us unlock, unpack and explore these questions. We need methods which are innovative, inclusive, creative, and flexible – methods which decolonise and democratise knowledge creation by moving the locus of control from ‘researcher-as-expert’ to research participant as true expert, and co-creator of knowledge. To achieve this in my research I specialise in the use of visual and design-thinking methods – these methods are rooted in community activist and feminist research approaches. They literally explore the world through a different lens, providing a depth of nuance, insight and inclusivity which I do not believe more traditional qualitative or quantitative methods can achieve.

I am delighted to be able to share these methodological approaches in this upcoming EIASM seminar. These methods have helped me create new insight in a way which truly engages organisations and workers in the process, and which delivers answers to some of the complex questions I am interested in exploring. Issues such as inclusion and systemic inequities, organisational positionality, employee engagement, mental health and wellbeing. Just like the methods we will be exploring, the seminar will interactive, inclusive and participatory and most importantly fun – for as Albert Einstein said, play is the highest form of research.