The Future of Work — a Participatory Action Research Project

By George Pór (in collaboration with the FoW Participatory Action Research team) for Enlivening Edge Magazine

The need we respond to

Future-responsive organizational leaders, all over the world have started stepping up to the challenge of creating workplaces, where talent blooms, people’s callings are honoured, and self-management is coupled with a strong sense of purpose-driven accountability.

In traditional organizations, under the command-and-control management paradigm, managerial overload and performance management culture can make for heartless workplaces, where the majority of employees go to make a living without wholehearted engagement. The magnitude of their disengagement has evoked a widespread longing for better ways of organizing.

Responding to this, trailblazing organizations started experimenting with designing new structures, culture, and processes in which people feel more inspired to invest their creativity and response-ability. To paraphrase William Gibson, “the future of organizing work is already present, just not evenly distributed.”

Whether it’s about re-imagining traditional structures and processes, providing meaningful work, or being better connected to local communities, these organizations are playing their part in creating a world of work we all want to be part of and can be proud of.

Inspired by Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations or other sources, new ways of organizing are emerging, thanks to the pioneering organizations that are advancing on largely uncharted territories.

From recent conversation with leaders, we learned about their need to speed up their learning from and with each other. They kept telling us that they want to work with partners who do not necessarily know more than they do, they want to learn from the experience of other companies engaged in similar efforts.

That’s the need that we are responding to with this collaborative action-research project.

A project of facilitated, cross-organizational learning

Participatory action-research (PAR) is a collaborative process that generates cycles that include: tension between “what is what” and “what it could be”. Where enquiry leads to action and shared reflection of action leads to wiser and more effective action.

The creative tensions that the organizational actors of this Participatory Action Research project will be asked to focus on have a potentially high, positive impact on both the culture and performance of the participating organizations.

Up until recently, with limited visibility and common language for the mushrooming reinvention experiments (reported in Enlivening Edge Magazine), there has not been much opportunity for pioneering companies to connect with each other to learn, enquire and accelerate their development. This PAR project provides such opportunity.

PAR Picture1The project is a collaborative learning expedition into how each organization can discover more soulful ways to work, inspired by practices worth replicating, and always aligned with their unique starting point, circumstances and purpose.

Each participating organization will be supported in engaging in a prototyping cycle where new practices can be developed, tested, and amplified.

With the guidance of experienced organizational design and change facilitators, we will use a careful combination of selected methods for increasing and mobilizing the participants’ collective intelligence and the value of their contribution to their organizations.


Expected project outcomes

  • Boost your individual and collective capacity for organizational innovation, through exposure to and collaboration with other organizations moving to their next-stage of development.
  • Prototype new ways to run important processes and functions, e.g. decision making, project teams, change management, workflow coordination, sales & marketing, sustainability, learning & development, performance management, etc.
  • Understand what new practices work well in your context, and what don’t, more quickly. Adjust agile reinvention cycles, in time, as needed.
  • Improve organizational responsiveness and performance, at the same time as increasing job satisfaction and the engagement of your members, and their alignment with the shared purpose.
  • Enhance organizational capabilities for designing and conducting your own in-house action-research and other forms collaborative learning.
  • Build a web of valuable, productive relationships with your peers in other organizations
  • Contribute to creating a body of transformative knowledge available to your organization, the other participants, and selectively to the wider world of the “next-stage organizations” movement (whilst protecting your confidential information).

Is this project for you?

If you answer with “yes” to some of the questions below, then most likely you work in an organization that can benefit from this Participatory Action Research project.

  • Do you look for better ways to align individual and organizational purpose?
  • Does your organization (seek to better) embody the principle that freedom and accountability are two sides of the same coin?
  • Would you like to experience that with more autonomy and self-management, comes more responsiveness and flexibility to navigate increasing complexity, with the right people making right decisions at the right time?
  • Are you curious about the power of collective self-reflection on mission-critical organizational matters?
  • Do you (plan to) have any initiative that lets your employees experience more freedom and joy at work?
  • Do you have any, even minimalist success story, with “low-hanging fruit,” which you can share?

To be eligible to participate, you need to be or have a senior sponsor in your organization, who may be willing to support the prototyping of a change initiative, as your take-home value from this cross-organizational PAR project?

The action research framework

Action research has an “orientation towards taking action, its reflexivity, the significance of its impacts and that it evolves from partnership and participation. By partnership and participation we are referring to the quality of the relationships we form with primary stakeholders and the extent to which all stakeholders are appropriately involved in the design and assessment of inquiry and change.

“By actionable we refer to the extent to which work provides new ideas that guide action in response to need as well as our concern with developing action research crafts of practice in their own terms. By reflexive we mean the extent to which the self is acknowledged as an instrument of change among change agents and our partner stakeholders. By significant we mean having meaning and relevance beyond an immediate context in support of the flourishing of persons, communities, and the wider ecology.” (Hilary Bradbury, Editor of the Handbook of Action Research)

The specific framework of the Participatory Action Research that we’ll use in this project is the one of generative action research. “Generative” refers to the properties of self-sustaining, self-improving, self-evolving, and self-propagating.  It means that the project’s results can:

  • Sustain themselves beyond the initial PAR cycle
  • Enhance their own value, over time
  • Co-evolve with the organizational conditions they helped improve
  • Inspire other parts and key stakeholders of the organization to replicate valuable practices


The overall design of the project follows the U Process developed by Otto Scharmer at MIT. It’s based on Theory U that “proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.” (Presencing Institute).

For process design inside the “U”, we will use Learning Expedition methodology of large-scale collaborative enquiry that draws on a family of related metaphors, such as:

  • Basecamps: periodic, face-to-face gathering of the entire Expedition community, where teams report on salient findings, swap stories, plot trajectories for the next leg of the journey, and get coached by action research guides.
  • Scouting parties: small, special-focus action learning partnerships that scout unknown territories on behalf of their organizations and the Expedition community as whole, and report back to it.
  • Expedition log: the learning journal of the Expedition serving the community’s collective memory and intelligence.

Appreciative Inquiry is a method for evolving social systems (groups, organizations, communities), which uses collective enquiry into the best of what is in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus does not require the use of incentives, coercion, or persuasion for change to occur.


Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 08.05.16

Who, Where, When, and Cost

This project is co-sponsored by Enlivening Edge and the Centre for Future Thinking at Hawkwood College in the UK. It will be facilitated by George Pór, Bjørn Uldall and Dick Baker.

The year-long learning expedition will start when the first five organisations will join it. Its three Basecamps will take place in the UK. It is suitable for businesses and other organizations situated in Europe. The fee for participating in the three basecamps and the Expedition’s virtual community, and receiving advisory services, is £5,000 per organisation. Travel and accommodation is not included.

If your organisation is in another part of the world, outside Europe, but you want to explore how it could participate, contact George Pór at george(at)enliveningedge(dot)org .