Making a difference : organization as design

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Mainstream organizational research is based on science and the humanities. Science helps us to understand organized systems, from an outsider position, as empirical objects. The humanities contribute to understanding, and critically reflecting on, the human experience of actors inside organized practices. This paper argues that, in view of the persistent relevance gap between theory and practice, organization studies should be broadened to include design as one of its primary modes of engaging in research. Design is characterized by its emphasis on solution finding, guided by broader purposes and ideal target systems. Moreover, design develops, and draws on, design propositions that are tested in pragmatic experiments and grounded in organization science. This study first explores the main differences and synergies between science and design, and explores how and why the design discipline has largely moved away from academia to other sites in the economy. The argument then turns to the genealogy of design methodologies in organization and management studies. Subsequently, this paper explores the circular design methodology that serves to illustrate the nature of design research, that is, the pragmatic focus on actionable knowledge as well as the key role of ideal target systems in design processes. Finally, the author proposes a framework for communication and collaboration between the science and design modes, and argues that scholars in organization studies can guide human beings in the process of designing and developing their organizations toward more humane, participative, and productive futures. In this respect, the organization discipline can make a difference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-573
Number of pages16
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2003

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