Thursday, 21 August 2014

Place (and time) of engagement

People interact in places, and behave and engage differently in different places.  Imagine the different engagement between a lecturer and students in a lecture theatre, and engaged behaviour in a chemistry lab.  Place influences engagement.

Consider place to include material objects and time. Nonaka and Konno described Ba (equivalent to "place" in English) as a shared space for emerging relationships (Nonaka and Konno, 1998). Environment is the place in which people engage, and it includes time and the material objects with which people interact, like science lab benches.
  1. Physical proximity enhances learning (Skerlavaj 2006) and the physical structure of a room can allow easy engagement. For example, round tables are more indicative of a democratic approach to listening and decision making than an auditorium with fixed seating facing forward (Block, 2000: 277). Sturdy et al suggested that consultants and clients could cross or blur boundaries by meeting in other than at routine places and times, in liminal spaces, spaces where institutionalised or cultural rules, norms and routines are suspended (Sturdy et al., 2006: 932), like hospital waiting rooms or car parks, or the water-cooler.
  2. Materials invite people to do something. Orlikowski (2006: 465) suggests that “the materiality of infrastructures, spaces and technological artefacts structure […] knowledgeability” thus extending place to include other material objects. Materiality is the context in which people interact and engage.  Material objects include shared physical tangibles and intangibles such as time. Objects that are shared and sharable across different key parties are boundary objects (Carlile, 2002, Bechky, 2003, Star and Griesemer, 1989) and can help solve problems. Skovgaard-Smith observed consultants facilitating discussion using flipchart material, which provided a tangible aspect of consultancy service to the group. Thus a place affords combination capability.  
  3. Time is another aspect of environment, crucial in combination with space (Maaninen-Olsson and Müllern, 2009). Orlikowski, using a scaffolding metaphor, for knowing suggests that “Scaffolds are emergent – they are erected over time, changing in form and function, as needed to continue supporting the changing scale and scope of the element(s) being built over time” (Orlikowski, 2006: 462) Such scaffolds of knowing afford a temporary stability (Orlikowski, 2006). 
In summary, aspects of environment that are likely to be relevant to understanding engagement are shared place, time and material objects.

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CARLILE, P. R. (2002) 'A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development'. Organization Science, 13, 442-455.
MAANINEN-OLSSON, E. & MÜLLERN, T. (2009) 'A contextual understanding of projects--The importance of space and time'. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 25, 327-339.
NONAKA, I. & KONNO, N. (1998) 'The Concept of "Ba": building a foundation for knowledge creation '. California Management Review, 40, 40-54.
ORLIKOWSKI, W. J. (2006) 'Material knowing: the scaffolding of human knowledgeability'. European Journal of Information Systems, 15, 460-466.
SKERLAVAJ, M. & DIMÖVSKI, V. (2006) 'Social Network Approach To Organizational Learning'. Journal of Applied Business Research, 22, 89-98.
SMITH, I. S. (2010) Materializing the Organization - The role of consultants in processes of objectification. Academy of Management Annual Conference Montreal, Canada.
STAR, S. L. & GRIESEMER, J. R. (1989) 'Institutional Ecology, 'Translations' and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39'. Social Studies of Science (Sage), 19, 387-420.
STURDY, A., SCHWARZ, M. & SPICER, A. (2006) 'Guess who's coming to dinner? Structures and uses of liminality in strategic management consultancy'. Human Relations, 59, 929-960.

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