Working Across the Gap: The Practice of Social Science in Organizations

Views: 1009
Ratings: (0)

Lisl Klein's experience of applying the social sciences in organizations must be unique. Her work is grounded in research but much of her professional activity has been in application, combining the methods and findings of research with an understanding of dynamics in working with organizations. Moving between research and practice she has, for nearly forty years, pursued the aim of rendering the social sciences useful and practical in organizational life. This collection of papers brings together wide-ranging material that is highly relevant to today's world, whilst also providing a useful historical overview of the field. The links between research, policy and practice are brought vividly to life, the many examples creating a thread that connects theory with operational reality.Lisl Klein provides an insightful and significant theory of practice, developed through vignettes of her work and experience that make this a very readable and engaging book. After a historical introduction, the volume is divided into five sections: organization research and diagnosis; examples of activities in the field; bouncing against the context; concepts, reflections and methods; and relating scientific and professional development.The book will be of value to a wide range of readers, including managers engaged in organizational change and development, as well as human resource professionals, organizational researchers and consultants. It will be valuable to students of social science studying organizational behaviour at postgraduate and undergraduate levels, and management students at undergraduate and MBA levels.

List price: $31.99

Your Price: $25.59

You Save: 20%

 

16 Slices

Format Buy Remix

CHAPTER 1: Introduction—the context

ePub

No scientific work is truly context-free, and in the social sciences this is more so than in most others. This first chapter is therefore concerned with context, both in terms of what has been happening in relevant parts of the social science scene, mainly in Britain, and about how the personal context—my own history and values—interacted with it.

The social science background

There is a pattern in the way in which some sciences have developed: from intuitive application, through systematic investigation (science), to more knowledgeable application (technology). People were using levers long before they investigated the principles on which levers work. Having established the principles, they can now use levers more effectively. The development is similar in the matter of human relationships and behaviour: for a long time, people have been relating to others and co-operating in work; societies have evolved rules and customs and ways of having them kept; children have learned from the responses of their parents what pays and what does not; armies have been inspired to commit suicide. Moreover—and this is a further stage in sophistication—people have thought about these processes and institutions. Much has been written, on the basis of intuition and experience and sometimes with great wisdom, on law, government, education, the division of labour, and more recently management and organization.

 

CHAPTER 2: Prescription and rationality in management control

ePub

This is an example of research that can be used, not in the sense of applying findings directly to other situations, but of highlighting mechanisms (in this case, control systems) that will be at work in other situations. It also generated a method—the tracer study—that has turned out to be useful in practice.

In the 1950s, the industrial sociologist Joan Woodward had conducted research in a hundred firms in Essex to see whether those that followed the precepts of current management teaching were more successful than those that did not. Instead of finding that successful firms had features of organization in common, however, the research found a relationship between technology, organization, and success: if one ranged the firms on a scale of production technology—from unit production through small-batch, large-batch, and mass production, to process production at the complex end of the scale—there were forms of organization common to these production processes. Successful firms tended to adhere to these forms of organization, unsuccessful ones to deviate from them. The research also found that at the two ends of the scale, in unit production and process production, it was possible to make predictions from the technology about behaviour in the firm, whereas in the middle of the scale it was not (Woodward, 1965).

 

CHAPTER 3: Theories of organization—a framework for diagnosis

ePub

A first formulation of the framework presented here was included in Putting Social Science to Work (Klein & Eason, 1991). In the form of talks it has continued to evolve over time. One version of it is used during the Bayswater Institute’s regular Working Conferences, to help participants make sense of their experience. The version below is an amalgamation of the various threads: it is still in the form of a talk, in which the listener or reader is invited to join in the learning process. It has not been published in this form.

I find myself constantly using this framework as an aid to diagnosis. I don’t explicitly set out to do that—it just keeps happening. The paper includes two examples of using it.

Theory is about explanation. We all have a powerful need to make sense of our environment. The environment consists of an infinite number of bits of information, and unless we arrange these for ourselves in some meaningful way, we cannot function. We all need to have some basis for believing that the floor will not melt when we put a foot on it. Whether it is a theory about the properties of wood and stone, or a statistical theory that since the ground did not melt the last six thousand times it is unlikely to melt the next time, or a theory that the angels will look after us—without some theoretical basis for putting one foot in front of the other, we are paralysed.

 

CHAPTER 4: The Esso story

ePub

In 1965 I joined Esso Petroleum UK as “social sciences adviser". This paper is based on a lecture given in 1971, summarizing that project and pulling out some of the issues it raised; the full story was written up as a book (Klein, 1976).

I am calling it a “project” now, though it was not intended to be a project but, rather, the beginning of a new function in the organization. Although I did not articulate until later the importance of infrastructure and institu-tionalization for the use of social science (see chapter 13), it was already very much in my mind. This is witnessed by the point made to the Esso Board about the need to make this a “routine, ordinary, even boring” part of what goes on.

Origins and beginning of the Esso experiment

For five years, from 1965 to 1970, I was in a role in Esso called “social sciences adviser". It was the time of the Heyworth Committee, which was looking at the organization of research and teaching in the social sciences, and which had led to the setting up of the Social Science Research Council (Department of Education and Science, 1965). The Secretary of the Heyworth Committee, Albert Cherns, started a unit in Loughborough University concerned with the utilization of social science research, and it was at about the same time that Esso decided to launch an experiment in making use of the social sciences inside a company. The impetus came from the company’s employee relations (ER) adviser, a man who knew about the work of the Heyworth Committee and had given evidence to it. He also knew some of the social science community of that time. The people in the social sciences who were interested in utilizing them were a relatively small group, who knew each other and had rather similar kinds of approaches.

 

CHAPTER 5: Some episodes from the field

ePub

Some episodes from the field

This paper presents four episodes from action-research experience, illustrating the relationship between “knowledge-into-use” and “the dynamics of action". They represent a learning process: in the first two, research was still in some sense dominant in a way that did not sufficiently accommodate the dynamics of action; in the last two, the two frameworks have become much more integrated.

A researcher’s first step into consultancy

One essential for consultancy is “starting from where the other is". The episode described here happened at a time when I had not yet taken this on board in all its implications. It took place at the end of the control systems research described in chapter 2. We had used the tracer study method, three researchers each tracking a product or batch of products through a company, from beginning to end. My “tracer” had been a batch of soap, tracked through all the processes that impinged on it in a manufacturing plant of a large multinational company. In the course of the study, good relationships had developed with the people in the plant, and at the end of it I was asked to come back as a consultant. I had never done consultancy before. Two meetings were held with the senior management group, which went very well. Then, during the second meeting, one of them asked, “If we reorganize the packing line in the way you suggest, to improve the nature of the jobs, shall we be tapping untapped motivation—shall we get more production as well?” I said “I don’t know, let’s try"—and the whole thing collapsed. Visibly. You could see it die, and it could not be revived.

 

CHAPTER 6: Freightliners Ltd

ePub

Freightliners Ltd

This is an example of a report to a client. Reports to clients are different from accounts of projects and are not often published. One difference is that one may not know what happened afterwards, which is the case here.

The project was about industrial relations problems in a traditionally “tough” part of the transport industry, focused at the London terminal of a national freight company. There was joint management/union recognition that the difficulties were hampering and possibly endangering the company’s business: a senior manager (Mr “Brown") and a senior trade union official (Mr “Smith") had already carried out an interview study of people at shop-floor level. Now they wanted this to be followed up by an independent consultant.

In the industrial relations world of the 1970s, there were efforts to recognize both the need for the parties to collaborate for some purposes and the need for them at the same time to defend their interests, by institutionalizing these aims in separate systems. It was decided to focus the consultancy on the working of these systems. This paper was the final report on this fairly small piece of work, submitted and agreed within the organization in quite a complex way which reflects the situation itself. The emphasis is on the processes involved, not the various areas of content, which would in any case have been familiar to the readers. The company has agreed for the report to be published, including the company’s name.

 

CHAPTER 7: Problems of application in the social sciences—contingency and organization structure, or “organization development”

ePub

There is a difference in approach that has dogged the “applied social science” or “applied behavioural science” scene for decades. I first came across it—indeed, experienced it—in a major way during my time in Esso, when the parent company introduced a team of American organization development (OD) consultants (chapter 4). The resulting controversy led to the ending of the Esso experiment. At that time I attributed it largely to cultural differences between American and European approaches, including an emphasis on normative rather than research values. Whatever the merits of that explanation at the time, it would not be accurate now. First, there is now a great deal of OD activity in Europe: for example, the seven case studies contributed by German collaborators towards the collection of cases in Klein and Eason (1991) were all of an OD type. Second, OD now covers a wider range of activities than it did at that time, some of them overlapping with an approach that includes structural or situational factors. And third, there is a good deal of research on OD itself.

 

CHAPTER 8: Social science as a threat to society

ePub

The excitement and growth in activities of the early 1960s had a downside. The social science establishment was not taking applied work seriously, and there was little consensus and no regulation about professional or ethical standards. One began to see signs of client organizations being exploited by the academic and consulting communities, and I felt that this needed to be confronted. The discussion may seem a little strange now, but the problem for the customer remains.

This paper was given to the Sociology Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969 and later published in New Society under the title “Social Science: Customers Beware!” (Klein, 1969).

In the days when we were students and had time to read and argue, there used to be some elegant academic discussions about whether it was possible or desirable for social science to be independent of social values. One focus of these discussions was the concept of func-tionalism, and functional analysis: the analysis of a piece of observed behaviour, an institution, or a custom, in terms of its function in relation to the larger structure of which it formed a part, seemed to imply that anything at all—simply because it existed—must have a positive usefulness. Even the buttons on a coat-sleeve could be said to have the “function” of providing historical continuity in dress. So the functionalists came to be identified—perhaps identified themselves—with conservative forces in society. They were concerned with the statics of social structure, and not with structural change.

 

CHAPTER 9: Problems of context: a fiasco

ePub

The book about working as a social scientist in Esso came out in 1976. It was a very detailed case study, and it seemed obvious that the way to take the subject further would be to document other attempts (of which there were by then quite a number) and compare them to see what could be learned. The writing of the Esso case study had been funded by the Social Science Research Council, and when it was published, the chairman of the SSRC wrote a very nice, unsolicited review. So I was optimistic about taking the subject further. I was working in the Tavistock Institute at the time; Ken Eason was a colleague and friend who had taken part in some of the Esso work and who was now at Loughborough University. Together we decided to try for a research grant to collect and compare examples of social science being applied in organizations. This paper tells the story of that attempt. It is the edited report to the SSRC on a feasibility study and has not been published before.

The attempt to get this work funded failed. Any researcher suffers bids that fail, and I have had my share of grant applications being turned down. But there is something different about this one and what it demonstrates about the institutional difficulties of relating research and practice. I knew that the climate among the academics on the SSRC’s committees was changing, and that “usefulness” was going out of favour; but I did not realize just how far the change in direction had gone.

 

CHAPTER 10: Studying the relationship between researchers and users: The Nation’s Diet programme

ePub

By the late 1970s, the Social Science Research Council appeared to have forgotten its original remit, though that was probably not the reason why it was nearly abolished under the Thatcher government. In any case, a funding institution for the social sciences survived and re-emerged as the Economic and Social Research Council. In 1993 a White Paper on Science, Engineering and Technology affirmed a “customer–contractor principle” for research sponsored by the research councils (Cabinet Office, 1993). It is not the same thing as a concern for utilization, and was not the best frame of reference for the social sciences, being limited to the “knowledge-into-use” framework. But it was better than what had been there before and allowed for the possibility of evolution. After decades out in the cold, the utilization of social science began to experience a slow turning of the tide. In 1994, the ESRC’s Chief Executive, Professor Howard Newby, published an article strongly urging that the social sciences should be of use in society. I wrote to him, but with exquisite timing my letter reached him two weeks before he was due to leave the ESRC. However, he briefed some of his senior colleagues about a response. I was asked to give a seminar to ESRC staff about the history and issues of utilization, and afterwards there were to be discussions about how to follow through.

 

CHAPTER 11: On the utilization and diffusion of social science

ePub

This paper was produced about 1980, but I cannot trace for what occasion it was produced! It brings together much of the material from the discussion in A Social Scientist in Industry (Klein, 1976) at a more general level, without the Esso-specific illustrations. In part, it was a response to the issues discussed in chapter 8. Although the paper in some places refers to “industry", the discussion and the models have been broadened out to apply to other kinds of organization.

The dynamics of utilization

A few years ago there could be detected a growing excitement among social scientists, who were beginning to feel increasingly confident that there really were substantial contributions to be obtained from the social sciences in tackling, and even sometimes solving, social problems. At the same time industry, in particular, began to show an interest in using this contribution. Social scientists were invited, in various roles and with various kinds of assignment, to see what they could do, and there have undoubtedly been a number of successful episodes.

 

CHAPTER 12: Elements of practice 1: vision and competence

ePub

This was a joint paper with Ken Eason. After the fiasco described in chapter 9, a study of social science utilization was funded by the Anglo-German Foundation.1

It was this project that made it clear to us that there are two distinct frameworks involved in the practice of social science in organizations— knowledge-into-use and the dynamics of action—and that the practitioner needs to have both. We collected case studies consisting of the following:

•  Fourteen cases in organizations—passenger and freight transport; banking; electrical products; precision engineering; confectionery; food processing; freight import and export; oil (marketing); motor components; motor industry (guest workers in Germany); motor industry (supervision); distribution; news technology; rubber.

•  Five practitioners—a research assistant in a trade-union research department; an in-house OD adviser; an organization theorist; a psychoanalytically oriented organization consultant; the manager of psychological services in a public service organization.

 

CHAPTER 13: Elements of practice 2: infrastructure and institutionalization

ePub

This is the second part of the joint paper with Ken Eason. As a result of the complexity of the skills involved in practice, practitioners—including ourselves—have been preoccupied with the need to explore the nature of these skills and develop them. They have tended to neglect the other two essential elements of successful practice, namely infrastructure and insti-tutionalization.

Infrastructure

We believe that the issue of infrastructure has so far been missing in discussions of the subject of practice. It is important, not because our pet concerns are otherwise not as successful as they might be, or because the world has to be kind to social scientists, but because of the waste that is involved when genuine attempts, jointly initiated, turn out not to fulfil the hope and promise that launched them. This may be the place to point out that there is a distinction between the system of entry and the system of continuing work or intervention. It is at the stage when the shift from entry to intervention is taking place that matters of infrastructure begin to be important.

 

CHAPTER 14: Three examples of transitional interventions

ePub

This paper is adapted from a chapter in The Transitional Approach to Change (Amado & Ambrose, 2001). The story of “Henry” has been shortened from the original to bring it in line with the other two, and the consultant in the second example has been identified.

When I initially told some colleagues about the first of the examples, the story of “Poor Old Henry", I had to be nudged to write it up in this theoretical framework. With regard to the other two also, although they had been written up, it was in a project framework and not as illustrations of transitional thinking. But my colleagues were right—there is a conceptual message to be pulled out.

This chapter describes three experiences of transitional systems or roles. The first was devised by members of a client system, without any overt contribution from the external consultant who was working in the organization at the time. In the second, the consultant spontaneously began to take on the role of a product and, in doing so, loosened the log-jam of a design discussion that had become stuck. The third, by contrast, was a highly structured and formal experimental design. They are presented here in reverse chronological order: the first is the most recent and happened during my work from the Bayswater Institute as a consultant in the National Health Service. The second happened during my earlier nineteen years in the Tavistock Institute. And the third took place before that, while I was social sciences adviser in Esso Petroleum Company.

 

CHAPTER 15: On the use of psychoanalytic concepts in organizational social science: two sides of a coin

ePub

This was a talk given to the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations. The members of this are psychoanalysts—or, at any rate, people in a psychodynamic framework—who work with organizations. I am not a member and in this paper presented a rather personal account of how a non-psychoanalyst comes to learn to use some psy-chodynamic concepts in working with organizations. Conversely, it suggests what psychoanalysts who want to work with organizations need to take on board from the broader social sciences. It was later published in the journal Concepts and Transformation (Klein, 2001). Some of the illustrations have been shortened because they also appear elsewhere in this collection.

The story of “Poor Old Henry” is therefore not repeated in detail, as it appears in the previous chapter. However, it has a particular interest for this area of relating organizational and psychodynamic approaches: from a contingency perspective, the design requirements of an integrated information system forced the members of the hospital to think institutionally, which their previous technologies—paper, the telephone, departmental computer systems—had not demanded of them. Once they were thinking institutionally, they recognized that there were problems and were able to devise a way to proceed that met important psychodynamic criteria.

 

CHAPTER 16: Inside and outside—a struggle for integration

ePub

In 1989, Harold Bridger reached the age of 80. I edited a collection of papers to celebrate his birthday (Klein, 1989b) and contributed one paper to it. It describes the continuing effort to integrate external and internal factors in arriving at where one stands. The paper below is an edited version.

In an autobiographical introduction to his book The Informed Heart, Bruno Bettelheim (1970) describes the dilemma he experienced as a young man after the First World War, trying to decide where to focus his energies: was it more important to work towards the reform of society, or to change individuals? It was his personal version of the old nature–nurture controversy:

In order to create the good society, was it of first importance to change society radically enough for all persons to achieve full self realization? In this case psychoanalysis could be discarded, with the possible exception of a few deranged persons. Or was this the wrong approach to the problem and could only persons who had achieved full personal liberation and integration by being psychoanalysed create such a “good” society? In the latter case the correct thing was to forget for the time being any social or economic revolution and to concentrate instead on pushing psychoanalysis; the hope was that, once the vast majority of men had profited from its inner liberation, they would almost automatically create the good society for themselves and all others. [p. 16]

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781780495736
Isbn
9781780495736
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata