Opening and re-inventing research practices in management? Around learning expeditions

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By François-Xavier de Vaujany, Université Paris Dauphine

Between the 11th and 15th June, a group of French academics participated to a learning expedition in Tokyo called #visualizinghacking2017. This event was organized by an academic network (the Research Group on Collaborative Spaces) focusing both on the study of third-places and collaborative spaces (e.g coworking spaces, makerspaces, fab labs and hackerspaces) and their use as possible boundary-spanners and levers for change in academic practices.

Numerous places were visited, from Lodge (at Yahoo Japan) a coworking space on Monday to Creww an accelerator on Thursday. Based on all the questions and online/offline reactions we received , here are a couple of first quick thoughts based on this experimentation and other ones organized by the same network (#collday2107, #visualizinghacking2016, #RGCS2016 and 2015/2016 RGCS live events). These are just first, intuitive and exploratory ideas. More systematic research about the online and offline data for #collday2017 will follow shortly.


  1. About the use of Twitter for scientific ‘writing’ in the context of a learning expedition


Live tweets or sequences of tweets can be useful ‘meta-texts’, combining situations, people, organisations and publications. When published in the flow of an event, tweets create a live narrative that can extend the event in time and space (see our live tweets), and give it additional sense in relationship with other events (organized or not by RGCS). We did our best to tweet articles and references related to what we saw at the time we saw and experienced them. In many ways, tweets can liberate an object from the four-dimensional continuum—one temporal and three spatial coordinates.

 Twitter is nothing like traditional article publishing as it provides an emotional, temporal network that integrates all possible source material—research articles, books, pictures—which can be made more meaningful and be given new life by live tweets. It calls for creative new ways of writing that remind of visual arts techniques like ‘assemblage’ and ‘collage’ whereby found objects can be used to create something new that transcends them.


  1. About other practices involved in sharing live scientific knowledge (in particular in the context of a learning expedition)

Other practices—e.g. Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, animating the learning expedition itself, having recurring participants in the expeditions—are likely to contribute to making the event more indelible and unforgettable in so far as they generate emotions. Indeed numerous studies have shown that the longest-lasting memories are linked to emotions. They are recalled with more clarity and detail, which is likely to increase the quality of future publications.

 In the context of our learning expeditions, Whatsapp, Facebook, emails and even text messages play a big role in the process: they constitute modern-day rituals that cement all participants together. They make the group more horizontal and involved in sharing whatever knowledge has been acquired. Increased engagement and horizontal communication turn participants into active ‘ambassadors’ keen on spreading the word.


  1. Beyond scientific writing : learning expeditions as community-builders


Increasingly all events tend to be mainly about team and community building. Our RGCS learning expeditions have provided plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this. There is no exaggerating the impact the community had on the RGCS network and its production. The numerous emails, messages and posts using the #visualizinghacking2017 hashtag are an excellent case in point.

 Storytelling and community managing prove more and more necessary to give life to scientific writing and extend its reach and impact. Indeed storytelling is a powerful way to make a point. Topics and research do still matter, of course, but style and delivery tend to become equally important. Incidentally, some of the best storytelling is often quite succinct, which is quite different from what is usually associated with scientific writing.


  1. For a necessary pivot in space and time for learning expeditions… a major annual ‘unconference’


‘Unconferences’ are participant-driven events that are quite different from conventional conferences with their fees, sponsored presentations and top-down organisation methods. That is what our first RGCS international symposium in Paris last year was all about. We strived to return the word ‘symposium’ to its original meaning—in ancient Greece, it was a part of a banquet conducive to debate and creativity.

 Titled “Work and Workplace Transformations: Between Communities, Doing, and Entrepreneurship”, the 2016 RGCS symposium was a big unconference designed to provide the whole group and its undertakings with a tone, a spirit and a dynamic. It aimed to enhance, order and lever all of our events and various experimentations. Naturally we hope our next symposium will achieve all that, and more.


  1. To feel and to inspire: learning expeditions as emotional experiences

Over the last three years, over the course of various events and experimentations, I’ve been shocked to see how many academics were bored with their work and disillusioned with academia. Some of them are sick and tired of the whole ‘publish or perish’ game. Others remain dissatisfied even when they are academically successful. Perhaps the relative isolation and the immutable traditions of academia are perceived as increasingly out of touch.

 They came to our events simply to ‘have fun’! They longed for the use of new media to write, produce and assemble academic production—in addition to the more traditional academic journals. They embarked on a journey whose destination they didn’t know and thoroughly enjoyed themselves in the process. Many of us started wondering whether scientific writing couldn’t also leave room for the expression of emotions.

Of course traditional modes of writing are still favoured by numerous academics and still have a valuable role to play in the academic world, but more of us now seek to explore new ways of writing that allow for emotional tones and styles. Some journals have started to publish pieces that reflect this trend.

 Furthermore, bodies and emotions seem to be critical to our open experimentations. For example, the conversations people have while walking are fundamentally different from those they have sitting indoors. We have walked together so much! We have also spent lots of time in third-places in Berlin, Tokyo, etc. continuing on our conversations while doing something with our hands, dropping all formality, feeding on the richness of the context and analysing it together.

 Walking and talking is a powerful combination. It effectively mixes people. You can avoid someone in a ‘safe’ seminar room or event convention center, but in a crowded metro, bus or tramway, you may end up speaking to whoever just happens to be near you. When there is a large diversity of stakeholders—academics, entrepreneurs, representatives of public institutions, journalists—walking works as a powerful engine to break down barriers and create new synergies, which is reflected by the stream of tweets produced by the walkers.

 Live tweets are like a big emotional wave… The events, people, existing articles books, organisations, surf on it, enhance it and thrive on it. In many ways, tweeting requires a large amount of emotions and empathy.

From a research point of view, we believe that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological view of space and time (e.g. of embodiment, expression, gestures and events) can be a powerful way to analyze what is in the flow of the kind of learning expedition described here.

 This piece isn’t meant to be a “lesson”. We hope it won’t seem arrogant. It is merely an account of the many experimentations, questions and doubts our group has had in its journey…and the strong desire we have to share them…

* Many thanks to Tadashi Uda, Tomazaku Abe, David Vallat, Anouck Adrot and Charles-Baptiste Gérard for joining this crazy adventure… and to Aurore Dandoy for blogging on our website! Many thanks to all those who supported it from afar—e.g. Amadou Lo, Julie Fabbri, Stéphanie Fargeot, Serge Bolidum, Aurore Dandoy, Marie Hasbi, Constance Garnier, Albane Grandazzi, Stefan Haefliger, Viviane Sergi, Anna Glaser, and many others. There are so many things I will never forget (e.g. the exoskeleton experience)!

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