07 May 2021
The Sasin Lecture series continued with a Zoom presentation by Drew Mallory, Ph.D., on The Efficacy of Online Organizational Inclusion Training. Dr. Mallory’s research over the past few years has taken place over three continents, culminating in an organizational change intervention currently ongoing in Belgium. He uses a methodology known as participatory action research, which turns researchers into change agents and participants into partners. The current research, an organizational inclusion training, has faced a variety of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative is ongoing, but the data has yet to be collected. Thus, for the lecture, Dr. Mallory reviewed the project’s history and methodology and discussed which questions will hopefully be answered by the upcoming data collection. The lecture began with an overview of the research origins and methodologies that has led to this point. Dr. Mallory is an organizational psychologist and social worker, which led him to use action research instead of ‘traditional’ management research. Action research is defined as “a participatory, democratic process concerned with developing practical knowing in the pursuit of worthwhile human purposes”. This includes practice as well as just theory, action and reflection. The methodology aims to find practical solutions to pressing concerns and focuses on the flourishing of individuals and communities. The present research began in the USA in 2016, arising from a research methodology called ‘Appreciative Inquiry’. This is a constructive inquiry process, and he outlined the five-step iterative cycle involved. It moves through discovery, dream, design and deployment phases, all guided by the defined topic of inquiry—in this case, inclusion. Dr. Mallory described issues such interventions face. The USA-based project began when Purdue University (USA) had been experiencing troubles due to racism, and he had been selected to identify possible solutions. Taking a larger view, Dr. Mallory aimed for the institution to be more inclusive and welcoming to all. The discovery phase involved talking to all the stakeholders involved. Then ‘miracle questions’ were asked as part of dreams: What would the perfect organization look like? He identified that the obvious strength at Purdue was the people at Purdue who felt “different”. He began video recording the interviews he conducted with such individuals. These were integrated into the design phase, which resulted in the development of several interactive tools, including websites, educational modules, trainings, and a community database, all guided by and including the video interviews. These allowed anyone to search and link to a database of information, communities, and helpful resources. During deployment, he worked with community partners to house each of the tools. He also joined to pilot an organizational certification, which became the subject of the present research. Dr. Mallory explained that appreciative inquiry is typically measured by ‘affect’, rather than ‘effects’—something he approaches critically. Evaluation is also sometimes measured by the numbers involved and identification of trends, although these aren’t conclusive. In Dr. Mallory’s case, although the appreciative inquiry was now set up and delivered, a local and national rise of right ideology collided with the deployment phase. The university administration of Purdue became silent, and many participants started to feel unsafe and requested that their videos not be released. In the end, without warning, all the data and work from the intervention was deleted. Dr. Mallory wrote a paper about the process, with a focus on emphasizing the risks appreciative inquiry-based interventions face from outside sources. He assumed he was done. However, he was then invited to a Belgian university to continue work on similar themes. At first, he only compared the stories of those he interviewed in the USA with those who considered themselves identity-based misfits in Belgium. As findings started emerging, the university requested that he develop a similar change intervention for a Belgian context. The scaled-back approach focused mainly on adapting the USA-based certification for Belgium. The resultant three-step training process, currently being tested on Belgian organizational leaders, includes an inclusivity workshop, a policy workshop and a skills training workshop. Beta trials were run online and have received positive feedback. Dr. Mallory is now at the point of testing the training to see if they “work”, using metrics that extend beyond Appreciative Inquiry’s light touch. Based on American studies and beta testing, he thinks the trainings will positively affect trainee knowledge and attitudes toward diversity, but he is more interested to see downstream effects on non-leader members of the organizations. He hopes to find that the policies and exercises created in the workshops will result in organizational members feeling more included and part of their organizations. The lecture ended with a lively Q&A session that explored how some inclusivity issues can be applied and used in Thailand. He is conducting additional projects to generate a novel understanding of inclusion issues locally.