Coherent, Unified, and Meaningful Discourse

Organizations both reveal and recreate themselves through the written word. In “Discursive Activity in the Boardroom: The Role of the Minutes in the Construction of Social Realities,” published on June 28, 2012 in Group & Organization Management, Dr. William Fear of Cardiff University describes and critiques the important role of texts in creating “coherent, unified, and meaningful discourse.” Dr. Fear kindly provided the following commentary and background about the study.

What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

The topic was a challenging one as it seemed that a lot was, and is, taken for granted about how boards function and the role of the minutes is dismissed.  For example, when I was doing the research I constantly had other academics saying things like, ‘but the minutes don’t represent what really happens in the board meetings’.  I became more and more intrigued by just how much influence the minutes, and other documents, do actually have in the board meetings and how this influence gets discounted.  That is, we could consider it a ‘hidden cause’.  It is this counter-intuitive outcome, or counter-taken-for-grantedness, that appeals.  Furthermore, the role of Patient Safety and the interventions have not received due critical attention in much of the literature.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

I was surprised how clearly the processes and the different groups emerged from the minutes.  I was also surprised by how the groups engaged with and used discourse and texts.

How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

I hope more attention will be given to the role of texts when people consider group and organizational management.  The role of the text can be considered using a number of different approaches – for example it can be approached as an artefact, as an object in its own right, and so on – and they provide a rich data source for research.  In terms of practice it is helpful for practitioners, I suggest, to consider the texts they are co-creating and the what the outcome may be as others reinterpret the text.  I think Organizational Discourse Analysis has scope to make a substantial contribution to both research and practice.  Finally, I would like to see more research on those taken-for-granted texts such as memos and minutes of meetings with a view to the impact of these texts on groups and the organization.

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

I am in the process of doubling the size of the study at the moment, although with a different focus.  I think what I have learned is to pick the thing, the object, carefully.  The object could be a type of text – financial reports, for example – or a behavioural pattern – the continued presentation of a topic that has achieved a fixed space on the agenda, for example.  Then follow this object.  So, if I were repeating the study I think I might change the object I followed in some way.  Rather than following 1000 Lives, for example, I might look first for an emerging theme and then go back and follow this from the beginning.  Given the nature of Organizational Discourse Analysis – it is never an easy task – I think I would also prepare myself better for the amount of work it takes to develop the corpus and become familiar with it; this is, after all, advised by the ODA community.  But that having been said I think it is important in this sort of work to allow for the surprises to emerge and too much structure can inhibit this process.

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