For now this is a glorified ‘under construction’ page – I have reached the point in the PhD process where I am wandering through a forest of lit and am not sure I have any idea what I’m doing. You can watch this journey unfold via the Research Learning Program and Sensemaking streams, or read my original research project proposal below, with the awareness that it is outdated and doesn’t capture my current thinking. The ethos of the project remains, however – developing a means (whatever that means might be) to foster organisational learning and culture making, embrace complexity and create a more human university, from scratch.

A pair of line drawings - one showing a cyclist on a straight path to a finish line as a metaphor for what you think your PhD plan is, and the other showing a path of huge mountains, valleys, cliffs, oceans and forests as a metaphor for the reality of the PhD process.

Human from Scratch is a participatory action research project that investigates culture, change and the human experience at UNE and aims to shift the organisational culture from one of default to one of intentional making (culture “from scratch”) through the implementation of a cultural design framework. The titular focus on the human aspect stems from the fact that humans are the agents that create and experience culture and change, through the shared meanings of languages, rituals and artefacts. The action research process focuses on gaining deep understanding of the culture and human experience of staff at UNE through sustained inquiry, followed by the co-design and implementation of a cultural design framework that may have the ability to shift culture, increase change capability and improve the human experience.  The project exists as two parallel concepts – the first is the implementation of the cultural design framework; the second is the undertaking of the action research process itself, particularly the inquiry work and its focus on organisational storytelling.

Research design

The project uses a participatory action research (AR) methodology, based on the work of Maxwell’s (2003) modified action research model. It begins with a reconnaissance phase that incorporates three simultaneous processes – situational analysis through sustained inquiry and organisational storytelling, competency analysis of researcher and participants, and engagement with the literature. This reconnaissance informs the development of the action research question, which in turn drives the action research spiral of planning, implementation (action), reflection/evaluation and iteration.

The inquiry process uses a participatory narrative inquiry (PNI) methodology (Kurtz, 2014 and Clandinin, 2007) with an orientation to organisational storytelling. The goal of this inquiry is gain deep understanding and capture the narratives of UNE culture and the experience of change – how do humans experience life at UNE? What stories do we tell ourselves? What stories do we tell others about UNE? How do we create shared meanings? and so on.

The action research question will be refined based on the reconnaissance phase, but for now stands as ‘Can we shift UNE’s culture from one of default to one of intentional design using a cultural design framework, and can we increase change capability and improve human experience by doing this?’. This question leads into the action research spiral, consisting of a hybrid appreciative inquiry (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2003) and design thinking (Brown & Wyatt, 2010) process of co-creation, an implementation phase, and a reflection/evaluation phase in which PNI is revisited to understand and evaluate the impact of the framework.

The co-creation process will focus on the development of a cultural design framework for UNE. A cultural design framework is an adaptation of a concept developed by Ozenc & Hagan (2017) that describes the development of strategies to intentionally engage in culture-making through a design process, to create new ways of doing and being and build positive culture in organisations.The framework developed in this project will focus on three key areas of human organisational experience identified in the literature – language, ritual and artefact – and use these to shape the design work.

The contexts for innovation can be drawn from key AR and PNI principles – situated in a workplace context during the course of carrying out business as usual, with a real world focus on people and place, and drawing together the researcher and those involved in the research (done with, not done to). The workplace context in this project will follow a spiral trajectory, beginning with local context (starting in one’s own backyard), then progressively moving outwards through the institution as scale and capacity allow.

Preliminary research design framework

Armour, C. (2018). Leaders Who Ask. Bacca House Press.

Bass, B., & Avolio, B. (1993). TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE. Public Administration Quarterly, 17(1), 112-121. Retrieved from

Brown, J. S., Denning, S., Prusak, L., & Groh, K. (2005). Storytelling in organizations: Why storytelling is transforming 21st century organizations and management. Routledge. Chicago  

Brown, T., & Wyatt, J. (2010). Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2010

Butler-Kisber, Lynn. (2010). Qualitative inquiry : thematic, narrative and arts-based approaches. Los Angeles ; London : SAGE

Campbell, K., Schwier, R. A. and Kenny, R. F. (2005). Agency of the instructional designer: Moral coherence and transformative social practice. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(2), 242-262.

Cherry, Nita. (1999). Action research : a pathway to action, knowledge and learning. RMIT Publishing, Melbourne

Herda, E.A. (1999). Research conversations and narrative: A critical hermeneutic orientation in
participatory inquiry. London: Praeger

Kurtz, C. 2014. Working with Stories in Your Community or Organization: Participatory Narrative Inquiry. Third Edition. New York: Kurtz-Fernhout Publishing.

Maxwell, T.W. (2003). ‘Action Research for Bhutan?’, Rabsel III, 1-20.

Ozenc, F. and Hagan, M. (2017). Ritual Design: Crafting Team Rituals for Meaningful Organizational Change. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, Proceedings of the Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International Conference, 2017. Springer Press.. Available at SSRN:

Sachs, J. (2018). Unsafe Thinking: How to be Nimble and Bold When You Need It Most. Cambridge, Massachusets: Da Capo Lifelong Books

Schein, E. H. (1993). On dialogue, culture, and organizational learning. Organizational Dynamics, 22(2), 40+. Retrieved from

Smith, A. (2016). Autumn. London: Penguin Random House.

Smith, A. C. and Stewart, B. (2011), Organizational Rituals: Features, Functions and Mechanisms. International Journal of Management Reviews, 13: 113-133. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2370.2010.00288.x

Thomas, S. (2012) “”Narrative inquiry: embracing the possibilities””, Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 12 Issue: 2, pp.206-221,

Whitney, D and Trosten-Bloom, A. (2003). The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Wood, J. (1982). Human communication : a symbolic interactionist perspective. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York