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Exploring a designed liminality framework: Learning to create future-orientated knowledge

Walker, Gabrielle Mary (2019) Exploring a designed liminality framework: Learning to create future-orientated knowledge. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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The anthropological theory of liminality is increasingly entering discussions surrounding complexity in contemporary organisations, although conversation continues to be shrouded in anthropological intellectualism and scholarly debate. Liminality is represented by a three-tiered liminal framework and is an intense iterative change process documenting people’s movement from a state of relative structure to a new state of development. Despite incremental movements towards a practice-orientated discussion, liminality is not currently readily translatable from its anthropological origins to meet organisational needs. Indeed, research remains focused on discrete aspects of the liminal concept and debates focus on precise definitions, rather than how best to establish or facilitate a safe and relevant contemporary liminal experience.

This research collates, synthesises and articulates the parameters of a practice-based liminal framework. Scenario planning was identified as a reliable crucible for a pursuit of a practice-based liminal framework, as an established collaborative strategic planning practice with many real-life facilitator accounts of transformative outcomes in businesses. When practiced with the purpose of challenging mindsets, scenario planning facilitators purposefully curate different worldviews. A high degree of turbulence is intentionally provoked to challenge and catalyse cognitive change for groups creating multiple potential futures in foresight spaces.

Despite similarities between scenario planning and liminality, the differences in scholarship, research approach, and rhetoric necessitated that this research occurs at a mid-point between organisational studies and the social sciences. The overarching guiding research question was: What are the foundations of a practice-based framework for liminal spaces? This question was addressed using an empirical concept analysis approach that drew on extant literature and data from a scenario-informed strategic planning consultancy project undertaken with top management at a nation-wide health care organisation in Australia.

Findings showed that the organisation had pre-existing attributes and a successful designed liminal space was already primed. The organisation has a history of longitudinal strategising, apt risk-taking, and an ability to respectfully engage in difficult and raw conversations. The data also identified how tacit signals from the CEO supported the devolving of his “power” to support the emergence of liminal space. Additionally, internal liminal supporters acted as intermediators supporting the client organisation and consultants, an important component in this contemporary example.

This study contributes to the theory-practice discussion and draws attention to the role of the facilitator and the psycho-social nuances required across a liminal transition. A five-phased designed liminal framework demonstrates how facilitators undertake role changes throughout a project in response to the different cognitive demands from individuals. Facilitators require a range of versatile psycho-social competences to meet individual needs and evoking, challenging, holding and/or enhancing constructive debate in groups requires different competences.

This research contributes to wider debates on liminality practice, tools and competences for facilitators (non-liminars). The findings offer many foundations to future research that will focus on the cognitive needs of creating unique knowledge, and the liminal experience. The framework speaks directly to facilitators who guide groups to create future-orientated knowledge within business contexts. This research translates to other professional environments where relationships and up-levelling play a role, such as, education, coaching and mentoring.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Business
Supervisor(s): McKiernan, Peter, Minaee, Simon, Paull, Megan and Reibel, Tracy
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