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Ambiguity at the heart of design work: Sensing and negotiating ambiguity in knowledge-creation work
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Industrial Economics and Management (Dept.), Industrial Management.
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Ambiguities have long intrigued design and new product development (NPD) researchers: The fascination seems rooted in an endeavor to understand how design outcomes may be created despite the ambiguous nature of such work. There are several classic contributions on how to categorize, avoid and approach ambiguities. Some of the newer theories have also pointed to benefits arising from temporarily sustaining ambiguity.

Little research has considered how ambiguities emerge, how ambiguities are sensed by practitioners, and the actions the practitioners take, either to harness or to reduce the generative and transformative power of ambiguity, however.

This is unfortunate, since ambiguities are at the heart of such knowing-work. If one does not know how to sense the emergence of ambiguities and act to reduce or harness their generative and transformative power, i.e. negotiate ambiguity, the work might become unproductive, confused, uncreative, and might require more energy and attention.

The purpose of this research is to portray how ambiguities emerge and are negotiated in knowing-work. This is achieved by drawing on two cases of design and NPD work, from practice epistemology.

The results indicated that the emerging ambiguities changed in the ongoing work, some being reduced, others becoming obsolete or persisting. The results also included five generalized actions to negotiate ambiguity: (1) constructing points of references, (2) mediating between perspectives, (3) anchoring in expertise, (4) disarming future resistance, and (5) creating shared visions.

This research has concluded that the very essence of design work concerns the emergence and fading away of ambiguity. The actions taken to negotiate ambiguity mediates the emergence of the design outcome. This research makes two contributions: first, it illustrates how ambiguities open up design work by creating a space for action; second, it illustrates how actions to negotiate ambiguity maneuver in this space for action.

Abstract [sv]

Den typ av arbete som tar sig an utvecklandet av nya produkter och tjänster omges ofta av oklarhet kring vad som skall skapas, hur den framtida marknaden ser ut samt vilka utmaningar som kommer att framträda under arbetets gång. Sådana oklarheter har studerats i design- och produktutvecklingsforskning, ofta under antagandet att oklarheterna bör undvikas och minimeras. Dock finns det även nyare forskning som pekar mot att oklarheter kan vara fördelaktiga i arbetet.

Forskningen är dock begränsad vad gäller hur oklarheterna framträder i arbetet, hur praktiker förnimmer dessa oklarheter, samt hur en kan ta sig an dessa oklara situationer för att söka reducera eller dra nytta av potentialen i oklara situationer.

Detta är olyckligt, då oklarhet ligger i skapandearbetets kärna. En sådan begränsad kunskapsbildning leder till förenklade antaganden kring oklarhetens roll i design- och produktutvecklingsarbete. Därtill får det rent praktiska konsekvenser då designkonsulternas praktik och yrkeskunnande delvis är höljd i dunkel, genom att deras förmåga att förnimma och förhandla oklarhet tidigare förbisetts.

Syftet med denna forskning är således att studera hur oklarheter framträder samt förhandlas i skapandearbete, genom att stödja sig på empiriska studier av arbetet i två designkonsultföretag, utifrån ett praktikperspektiv. Resultaten visar både att oklarheter uppkommer och försvinner kontinuerligt i arbetet, samt beskriver fem förhandlingsaktiviteter: (1) skapa referenspunkter; (2) medla mellan perspektiv; (3) förankra i expertis; (4) avväpna framtida motstånd; och (5) skapa gemensamma visioner.

Slutsatserna visar på att oklarheter skapar tolkningsutrymme i arbetet: i tvetydighetens många tolkningar öppnas ett utrymme för skapande och möjlighet till omtolkning. Därtill framkommer att förhandlingsaktiviteterna manövrerar i detta tolkningsutrymme, genom att nyttja eller minska oklarhetens många tolkningar.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2017. , p. 312
Series
TRITA-IEO, ISSN 1100-7982 ; 2017:08
Keywords [en]
ambiguity, negotiating activities, design work, NPD, knowledge-creation work, practice epistemology
National Category
Business Administration
Research subject
Industrial Engineering and Management
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-206508ISBN: 978-91-7729-385-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kth-206508DiVA, id: diva2:1093346
Public defence
2017-06-09, F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

QC 20170508

Available from: 2017-05-08 Created: 2017-05-05 Last updated: 2017-05-08Bibliographically approved

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