Practicing Dialogue: How an Organization can Facilitate Diverse Collaborative Action

Journal of Business Ethics 189 (3):453-478 (2024)
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Abstract

In addressing social issues, organizations have a responsibility to promote diverse participation, yet often struggle to harness the benefits of racial and gender diversity. Using a community-based participatory research design, with data collected over an 18 month field study, we examined how a social change organization, FoodLab, facilitated diverse collaboration. FoodLab aimed to grow a good food economy in Detroit, Michigan, through working with their members, local food entrepreneurs. We found that recurrent episodes of practicing dialogue catalyzed collaborative action around multiple issues, including shared kitchens, licensing, and membership. Practicing dialogue included intentional convening, participatory devices, and collective language. While leaders set up the initial procedures and rules, leaders and members, together, enacted these structures. Through high quality interactions, participants developed additional resources, knowledge, motivation, and relationships. Across episodes of practicing dialogue, traces of high quality interactions supported sustained effort around social issues. Our findings demonstrate the dynamic aspects of organizational structure and individual action in working towards diverse collaborative action.

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