Democratic Dialogue and Development: An Intellectual Obituary of Björn Gustavsen

  • Richard Ennals University of Agder


Björn Gustavsen, with an original professional background as a lawyer and judge in his native Norway, had a formative role in organisational development processes in Norway, Sweden, Scandinavia and the European Union over four decades. Following in the tradition of Norwegian working life research by Trist and Thorsrud, he provided the conceptual framework and practical case studies which have driven major national and international programmes. He learned from different experience of organisational change in, for example, the USA and Japan, but he identified a distinctive way forward for the European Union, where he acted as a senior adviser. In contrast to conventional Taylorist top-down management and reliance on expert consultants, his approach was bottom up and concept driven, with a focus on empowering workers. With a commitment to long-term sustainable processes, he emphasised the importance of capacity building and succession planning, highlighting development organisations. His approach to partnership and coalition building enabled collaboration across sectors, in the cause of creating collaborative advantage. He had a distinctive fluent academic writing style, but spent most of his time engaged in the design and practice of development, and editing the work of younger colleagues. He saw the role of academic journals and edited books in the development process, so encouraged new publications, but without seeking to dominate. He took ideas of Action Research and case studies, and applied them to national enterprise development programmes, working with the labour market parties. This resulted in a distinctive research and development culture.

Author Biography

Richard Ennals, University of Agder

Emeritus Professor, Kingston University, UK

Professor, University of Agder, Norway

Professor, Linnaeus University, Sweden