Centralized Organization and Distributed Trust

bitcoin-2729807_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Marc-David L. Seidel of the University of British Columbia. Seidel recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Questioning Centralized Organizations in a Time of Distributed Trust,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below,  Seidel reflects on the inspiration of his research:]

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointTechnology has always fascinated me. This fascination led to many interesting opportunities including working for the creator of the first Campus-Wide Information System (CUInfo) and the first online counseling service (Dear Uncle Ezra) well before HTML and the web existed. I learned the true potential of networked communication at this point, and was always trying to figure out ways to get non-technical people interested – yet frequently failed miserably.

In graduate school, while I was procrastinating on my dissertation on the airline industry, I started reading about proposals of the HTML specification and I started to feel outdated technologically. It struck me that this new protocol may finally help bring the potential of the internet to non-technical people. So I decided to learn how to develop an HTML webpage to “get back up to speed.” This ultimately led to me creating the first online airline portal (Airlines of the Web) in 1994 prior to the consumer commercialization of the internet. As others entered the online travel space, a distributed community formed. This was highly collaborative at the start. As the consumer internet started to commercialize, I was fascinated by the interaction of those interested in online enabled communication and those interested in online profit. That experience of seeing how communities formed online around a common interest, led me a bit later to co-creating the first crowdsourced telecom consumer information rates and fees database (ABTolls) with a mission of helping people get the best consumer information possible. All of those experiences, combined with my strong academic interest in organizational theory, led to my interest in Community Forms (C-Forms) of organization. It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of organizations as technology has enabled inexpensive direct peer to peer communication.

Similar to when I first learned of HTML in the early 1990’s, when I first learned of blockchain I got a very similar feeling including the need to “get back up to speed” and have immersed myself in the growing communities of people working on the technology. Through learning about the technology, and distributed trust more broadly, I have recognized that many of our assumptions about formal organization are being fundamentally challenged by shifts to distributed forms of trust – where individuals previously unknown to each other can enter into direct peer to peer trusted interactions with no need for a central organization to vouch for either of them.

Removing the need for central organizations in many domains is a drastic shift to many underlying assumptions of the theories in our field. So my goal with this piece is to introduce the basic concepts of distributed trust to the non-technically inclined in our field, and to highlight how we need to address the future which is coming quickly. Implicit assumptions about the legitimacy and power of central network positions no longer ring true. Many core aspects of our field are being called into question at a fundamental level. I hope reading the Generative Curiosity piece helps other scholars to start to recognize what is coming, and how their own individual research domains will be impacted. As the technology develops, insights from organizational theory can help to shape our joint future so that the societal impact of this shift is designed in such a way to ensure a better more equitable future for all.

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Bitcoin image attributed to geralt. (CC)

Text Mining in Organizational Research

text-mining-1476780_1920[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Stefan Mol, Vladimer B. Kobayashi, Hannah A. Berkers, Gabor Kismihok, and Deanne N. Den Hartog of the University of Amsterdam. They recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled “Text Mining in Organizational Research,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Mol recounts the events that led to the research and the significance it has to the field:]

07ORM13_Covers.inddWere there any specific external events that influence your decision to pursue this research?
One critical on-going event that lead us to pursue this research is the revolution and promise brought by the rise of big data to understand and enhance organizational processes. A large proportion of these data are comprised of texts that are generated every day at rates that imply that manual analysis of all of this data is no longer possible. The abundance of untapped text data suggest the existence of information with the promise of generating new knowledge that may be used to enhance both individual and organizational level outcomes.
Although, organizations already collect and store text data, many do not fully take advantage of the knowledge that can be gleaned from analyzing text. This may be due to a lack of expertise in conducting automatic text analysis or text mining. The mission of our work here is to empower organizational researchers by raising awareness of the possibilities afforded by text mining, helping them see how text mining might help them answer their research questions, and helping them to understand and use the text mining process and tools.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
With this article we hope to contribute by facilitating dialogue between data scientists and organizational researchers about the opportunities afforded by text mining. As an example, we illustrate the role that text mining of vacancies might play in job analysis. Previous approaches to job analysis rely on time consuming collection and analysis of survey and observation based data the results of which soon become outdated due to the fast changing nature of jobs. Using text mining we demonstrate how one can take advantage of other data sources such as online job vacancies to understand the requirements and skill demands of different types of jobs. Our goal is to not only apply text mining to the field of job analysis but more importantly to inform organizational researchers about the wide-ranging uses text mining could have in organizational research. We hope that this will spark an increase in the use of text data and machine learning in organizational research.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
Existing text mining solutions are technique and tool-oriented because most techniques and Big Data tools are currently primarily shaped by technical fields, such as statistics and computer science, that put greater emphasis on the computational and technological aspects. However, applying these in the field of organizational research holds great promise. Organizational researchers bring with them a repertoire of organizational theories. These theories provide domain specific information and requirements that can influence the selection of techniques and analytical strategy, and the way to evaluate the success of the particular application. Our advice for incoming organizational researchers wanting to explore text mining is to draw on their own theoretical expertise and from there start selecting the appropriate techniques and approaches to text mining. Also, as with using other analytical tools, we do need to pay careful attention to rigor in evaluation and validation of text mining based results.

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Business Cases for Sustainability – A Stakeholder Theory Perspective

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Stefan Schaltegger and Jacob Hörisch of Leuphana University, Luneburg and Edward Freeman of Darden Business School.  Schaltegger, Hörisch and Freeman recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Business Cases for Sustainability: A Stakeholder Theory Perspective,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, the three authors reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

33048305825_efac4c4770_oWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

More and more private companies are voluntarily releasing statistics concerning how often they receive requests for their subscribers’ information, on what grounds the requests are made, and how many subscribers’ data has been disclosed. These statistics are bundled in transparency reports and their release has generally been seen as shedding light on otherwise secretive government activity, be it surveillance practices undertaken by intelligence agencies, by security intelligence agencies, or by law enforcement agencies. I wanted to understand a few things in my course of research: would companies that were not facing intense socio-economic pressures produce voluntary transparency reports that robustly revealed government surveillance practices? How effective are voluntarily produced transparency reports, generally, in shedding light on corporate and government activity? And what might be the impacts of standardizing these sorts of voluntary reports, and how might such standardization come about?

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?

Countries around the world are grappling with the issue of government access to telecommunications data. The issue has become particularly poignant given revelations of international spying undertaken by Western countries, as well as a range of existing and proposed laws in Europe and North America that would facilitate police and security services’ access to communications information. However, governments have tended to be deeply secretive in how they use existing powers or how they would actually use proposed powers. Private companies’ voluntarily produced transparency reports, which provide statistics and narrative accounts of how often and on what grounds governments request access to companies’ data, act as a novel way of shining a light upon government practice. I was motivated to understand just how much these reports genuinely shed light on government practice and how much they cast shadows over the politics and policies of communications surveillance.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
There is an extensive literature on corporate social responsibility documents and the extent to which those documents make private firms transparent, as well as a literature discussing the importance of rendering government surveillance transparent to the public. What is novel about my research is it explores how private firms’ reports are produced in contravention of state desires or interests and, thus, how transparency reporting can happen outside of situations where the market or government are clamoring for revelations of firm behavior. Core to my findings is that voluntarily produced reports could potentially be standardized to enhance comparability across firms and the reports’ revelatory nature, but that any such standardization may conceal as much about firm behavior as it reveals. Ultimately, this research advances the scholarly and public policy debate over how (in)effective private firms’ reports’ are in advancing the state of knowledge of government surveillance activities versus concealing some aspects of such activities.

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Text Classification for Organizational Researchers: A Tutorial

baby-84626_1920[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Stefan Mol of the University of Amsterdam. Dr. Mol recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled “Text Classification for Organizational Researchers: A Tutorial,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Mol reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

07ORM13_Covers.inddWhat motivated you to pursue this research?
Machine Learning assisted text analysis is still uncommon in organizational research, although its use holds promise. Most manual text analysis procedures conducted by researchers in this field are about the assignment of text to categories such as in thematic and template analyses. However, manual classification of text becomes laborious and time consuming (and sometimes subject to reliability issues) when one needs to do this for a sizeable amount (hundreds of thousands or millions) of pieces of text. An alternative is to use automatic text classification systems that can be constructed by researchers, which allow them to speed up the process of labeling or coding large sets of textual data. The design and building of text classifiers could be of use for various areas of organizational research. Our aim was to illustrate how this could be done and provide a tutorial. We used the example of building a text classifier to automatically sort job type information contained in job vacancies. The importance of validating the results of text classification was demonstrated through data triangulation, using expert input. We believe that the use of this procedure among organizational researchers can improve reliability and efficiency in analysis that involves classification.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?
Building classifiers involves several rounds of training, testing, and validation before they can be deployed in practice and the most challenging aspect is training the classifier and choosing the parameters in such a way that the results are valid from the standpoint of application. The classifier we built for the job analysis task was able to recover job task sentences with high precision as assessed by an expert in the field, although the classifier was initially trained with minimum expert input. Our results thus suggest that job vacancies are a reliable alternative source of job information that can augment existing approaches to job analysis. More generally, we believe this also suggests that wider use of text classification holds promise for organizational research in a broader sense.
What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
One class of techniques that are now increasingly applied in the area of text classification are word embeddings. Word embeddings map each word to vectors of real numbers. The similarities among word vectors can be used to quantify and categorize the meaning of words in specific contexts. We initially planned to include a short discussion about this but we decided not to because these techniques warrant more in depth discussion which go beyond the scope of our current article. However, organizational researchers interested in recovering context specific meaning of words may benefit from the specific approach taken with word embeddings and we recommend them to get to know these techniques as well.

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Is Business Ethics Too Important to be Left in the Hands of Business: A Democratic Alternative?

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[We’re pleased to welcome author Carl Rhodes of the University of Technology, Sydney. Rhodes recently published an article in Organization Studies entitled “Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Rhodes reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

Cover image for latest issue of Organization Studies

When people think of business ethics they normally imagine what businesses can or should do to be judged as ethical.  Whether the focus is on breaches of ethical norms by corporations, or models for the achievement of ethical business, the common approach is that it is organizations themselves who are the ethical agents.

This assumption is limited because it fails to account for how corporate responsibility does not necessarily arrive through the voluntary actions of corporations themselves. In response, in my own research I have been exploring a more democratic and socially focussed understanding of how business ethics is practiced.  The results were recently published in my article in Organization Studies called ‘Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty’

The 2015 Volkswagen emission scandal illustrates what I call democratic business ethics; an ethics where citizens and the institutions of civil society hold corporations to account for their actions, and in so doing disrupt the self-interested abuse of corporate power.  At the time the scandal broke, Volkswagen was the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and a company widely heralded for its environmentalism and its corporate social responsibly activities.  Despite impeccable ethical credentials, the scandal revealed a corporation whose success had been boosted by sophisticated cheating on fuel emission tests.

The paper shows how Volkswagen was brought to justice for its actions not because of its own proclaimed ethics or moral hubris, but because of the interaction of individuals and institutions from outside of business, in this case NGOs, scientists, law makers, government agencies, the media, and the general public.  This was a demonstration how business ethics manifested in the interruption of a flagrant case of corporate fraud, deceit and criminality.

The paper develops the idea of democratic business ethics by focussing on how civil society in particular can and should ensure that corporations are made morally responsible for what they do. This is an ethics made practical through forms of dissent and contestation that redirect power away from centres of organized wealth and capital, returning it to its democratically rightful place with the people.

The conclusion is that business ethics is far too important to be left in the hands of business, and needs to be exercised in the democratic sphere so that corporations are serving society rather than the other way around.

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Contributing to The International Debate on Meta-Organizations: Why Meta-Organizations Matter

[We’re pleased to welcome author Héloïse Berkowitz of the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris and Sanne Bor of the Hanken School of Economics. Berkowitz and Bor recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Why Meta-organizations Matter: a Response to Lawton et al. and Spillman,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below,  Berkowitz and Bor reflect on their research:]

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat are meta-organizations?

A meta-organization is an association of organizations. Meta-organizations are an important phenomenon of collective action among organizations. The International Football Club Association FIFA is an example of a meta-organization, but there are many more out there. Star Alliance is another one. The United Nations also is a meta-organization. Inside or across sectors and industries, thousands of trade associations contribute to collective action at the level of organizations. Multi-stakeholder groups, that gather not only businesses, but also NGOs and governments or universities, also constitute a growing form of meta-organizations.

What motivated you to write this article?

We both recently had completed our PhDs on meta-organizations (at Ecole polytechnique, France and Hanken School of Economics, Finland), a setting not commonly studied at our departments and both were searching for connections which would share our interest in developing meta-organization theory. We had not ever really met before, but when we took our breakfast in Stockholm during a workshop organized by the SCORE (Stockholm Centre for Organizational REsearch), we easily found common ground for a scientific dialogue. We agreed right away that there was a need not only to investigate meta-organizations further, but also to give visibility to this concept – already 12-year-old. Discussing during the workshop and further on when we both moved back to our respective institutions, we started drafting a common research project.

A little later, while we were drafting our common research project, two great papers on the topic of meta-organization appeared online in the Journal of Management Inquiry. The first was Lawton, Rajwani and Minto (2017), the second was Spillman (2017). They precisely called for more research on the topic. We were so excited! Their focus was on an approach that can be traced back to a paper published in the Strategic Management Journal (Gulati, Puranam and Tushman, 2012), which slightly differs from our approach, which builds on Ahrne and Brunsson’s work (2005, 2008). We instantly decided to suggest writing a paper in which we would respond to these two papers with the aim to bridge and link research on meta-organizations across the approaches. In addition, we wanted to explain the theorizing developments by the ‘European School’ of meta-organization. This resulted in our contribution to the debate.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Our paper suggests a research agenda for meta-organization studies, a good start for any new scholar and incoming researchers wishing to contribute to this growing body of knowledge. In particular, there is a dire need for empirical work, testing the theoretical bases that are emerging from the multiple ongoing research projects across continents synthesized in our paper.

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How Do Individuals Judge Organizational Legitimacy?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Melanie Eichhorn of the ESCP Europe Business School. Eichhorn recently published an article in Business and Society entitled “How Do Individuals Judge Organizational Legitimacy? Effects of Attributed Motives and Credibility on Organizational Legitimacy,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Eichhorn reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:

 

BAS_v50_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

Almost all of the leading scholars in the field of organizational legitimacy perpetually emphasize the need for empirical studies that investigate how individuals judge whether or not organizations are legitimate, i.e. whether they are perceived to comply with social norms and values. The current lack of such studies creates an unpleasant situation. Our knowledge about what goes on in our minds when judging the legitimacy of corporate behavior basically rests on theoretical models. To close this gap there is hardly a way around insights from social psychology research. Social psychological reasoning does not only allow comprehending cognitive processes of individuals but also demonstrates how individuals influence institutions.

At the end of the day it was the match between the given research gap and our interest in psychological research that motivated us to work on this project.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

The belief-attitude approach applied in our study explains that collective and individual judgments are not necessarily congruent and that two individual beliefs—attributed motives and the perceived credibility of the organization—lead to a change in individuals’ legitimacy judgment.

Being cautiously optimistic we hope that our study will be only one out of many future studies that experimentally investigate individual legitimacy judgements in organizational research. Experimental vignette studies are a promising data collection technique because they combine the advantages of a laboratory experiment—high internal validity—with those of a field experiment—high external validity. Currently such studies are quite rare in business and society research. Hence, our study hopefully promotes the use of experiments in studies dealing with such issues. Thereby, legitimacy is only one out of many fascinating objects of research.

What is the most important/ influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

We would like to seize this opportunity and highlight a recently published article by Finch et al. (2015). For our research area we regard this study as important. It deals with individual legitimacy judgements in regard to the oil sands industry in Canada. Even so the study was overlooked by recent reviews—we deem it the most promising approach to further explore how people judge organizational legitimacy.

The key element of their study is the definition of legitimacy as an attitude. This allows for applying an abundance of scholarly work from decades of social psychology research to the investigation of individual legitimacy judgments. These various existing insights on attitude formation and attitude change as well as those on belief building and belief adjustment provide several fruitful avenues for future research.

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