How to Make Collaborative Research Generative? Play the Cards!

(cc by alegri /
(cc by alegri /

[Editor’s Note: We are very excited to welcome Arne Carlsen as a guest editor of Management Ink. Dr. Carlsen collaborated with Gudrun Rudningen and Tord F. Mortensen on their article “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative.”]

Are you looking for ways to make collaborative research more generative for both researchers and practitioners? Want to escape the rigor-relevance gap and more fully engage practitioners in theory building?

A recent paper suggests a surprisingly easy and effective way of accomplishing that: Try condensing your tentative findings into thin categories where you combine brief stories, definitions and evocative quotes from theory and practice with images. Then produce physical cards with such categories, drop the overarching model – and play the cards. These are the kinds of collaborative processes that are recently documented and reflected upon in the paper “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative”, now online in Journal of Management Inquiry.

The authors explain how playing the cards led to a radical redefinition of the processes of collaborative research. One counter intuitive insight was that thinning of research findings resulted in thickness of joint interpretation. Another is that getting physical and visual was key to participation in theory building. A third was that recruiting practitioners into discovery and wonder are sometimes at least as relevant as pointing to immediate practical utility.

From the abstract:

How can collaborative artifacts mediate processes of researcher–practitioner interactions to make JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointresearch more co-generative? Research on knowledge co-production has paid little attention to how joint theory building is socio-materially mediated and tends to downplay discovery and wonder as sources of generativity. This article provides an empirical investigation of the use of thin categories on hard-copy A5 cards, combining brief texts and images to communicate tentative theoretical categories and involve practitioners in theorizing. Playing these cards opened up a new discursive space in the dialogue, making it an event of tactile engagement, ludic interaction, and power symmetry. We discuss how the transformed dialogue can be understood as processes of (a) dealing–touching–receiving collaborative artifacts that invite participants into rating, comparing, and combining, and (b) thickening of thin categories by recognition/appropriation and expansion/search. The article implicates a new vocabulary for mediating collaborative research, combining visual and material elements with notions of social poetics.

Read “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative” in Journal of Management Inquiry by clicking here. Make sure to sign up for e-alerts and stay up to date on all the latest articles from Journal of Management Inquiry by clicking here.

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