“What issues might arise in the search for flat hierarchies, network structures and decentralization of project management? What role might informal hierarchies play in the unexpected unfolding of events? Is a flat hierarchy even possible – and if so, is it desirable?”
As part of my studies in Management and Organizational Behavior – a class bringing together students from Design and Organizational Change programs across The New School– I decided to deepen my understanding of above-mentioned topics. The case study that appeared as the site of my interest was “close to home” in the form of the organizational structure and process leading up to Verge – a student-led three day conference happening under the umbrella of the Transdisciplinary Design program. The process was one which I followed from an insider-outside perspective as a first year Transdisciplinary Design student, involved in the initial few weeks of the planning process and then withdrawing my participation to focus on other work.
The informal stories I heard from other students along the way revealed tensions, frustrations and ambiguities, that sparked my interest as I´ve long seen the how of co-creation as an art in itself, worthy of as much investigation and inquiry as figuring out the what. As a theoretical lens to better understand the dynamics at play, I consulted the research article “Formal and informal hierarchies in different types of organizations” by Thomas Dieffenbach and John A.A. Silence, and also conducted eleven in depth interviews with members of the Verge team from the first and second year cohorts.
Excerpts from the essay are featured below:
“As part of the Transdisciplinary program at Parsons, we are introduced to concepts such as network structure, self-organizing systems and emergence. It´s a highly collaborative program, founded upon ethics of co-creation, learning together, and the questioning of “the expert”. Through creative interventions we seek to transform the systems of our societies in a more sustainable and resilient direction, working across disciplines, hierarchies and barriers in the process.
Embodying these ideals in practice are however more complicated than one might think, a lesson learnt by this year´s Verge team. On a surface level, the conference was professionally and meticulously delivered, receiving praise from visitors and faculty alike. Behind the scenes stood a shattered team, frustrations, people feeling forced into roles and workloads they had not intended to take on, others feeling disrespected and used. The non-hierarchical experiment had turned into a traditional hierarchy in a process where no one stood as the winner.”
Download the entire paper here.
As an additional side note, the practice of writing the essay from a “traditional social research discourse” (with its claims of objectivity, truth seeking etc), also made me feel the need for a sort of disclosure of intent in relation to this discourse, as I´m wary of making claims of absolute truths from the standpoint of “an objective researcher”.
My wish rather that the essay be seen and used as one possible narrative of the events that occurred – captured at one moment in time (as interpretations of events also change with distance/additional experiences etc) through the lens of my particular position/experience in relation to the situation at hand, as well the theoretical lens I chose to employ. Then evaluated for its usefulness in sparking discussion about future practice, as part of s self-reflective kind of communal learning experience.
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