Exploring Workplace Innovation in diverse and low-skilled settings: reflections on using Critical Utopian Action Research
What are the strengths and weaknesses of applying Action Research to Workplace Innovation in low-skilled sectors? This article reflects on an Action Research project conducted in April 2021 with participant employees from an ethnically diverse and purportedly “low-skilled” workforce of a German medium-sized company. Using the novel Nordic research method called Critical Utopian Action Research (CUAR), which emphasises utopianism, emancipation and democratic engagement (Egmose et al., 2020), the participant group was found to discuss perspectives and obstacles for workplace development. In the analysis and reflections, we present the methodological outcomes of the project and explore the nuances of implementing this specific method through the tensions between individual and group identity within “Workplace Innovation”. After a short theoretical review to contextualise Workplace Innovation within discussions of diverse and low-skilled workforces, the article offers detailed descriptions of the CUAR process undertaken. Following analysis of the difficulties encountered applying CUAR to Workplace Innovations in this context, the article concludes by addressing the importance of adapting the procedure and exercises of (Critical Utopian) Action Research to small-sized research projects. It further illustrates the method’s potential to promote a socially-driven and participatory approach to Workplace Innovation, whilst emphasising the need for more research projects in this area to be conducted for (and with) workforces considered both “low-skilled” and ethnically diverse.
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