Visual Communication and Organisational Change: Interdisciplinary Approaches Linking arts, communications and management

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This paper connects research that explores arts-based organisational initiatives (Meisiek, 2002; Clark and Mangham, 2004; Ladkin and Taylor, 2009; Barry and Meisiek, 2010 ; Schiuma, 2011) with the theory and practice of change management. Change management scholars such Clampitt et al. (2000) consistently place employee engagement and commitment at the heart of successful and effective change programmes. At the same time concept of grief as first articulated by Kubler Ross (1969) underpins the change process along with the concept of saying goodbye to the old organisation and its culture before embracing the new.

This research explores how Orbit Housing with the help of Couravel Consulting integrated the concept of workarts in the change process in order to facilitate the creation of a new group vision. The concept of workarts is a term first explored by Barry and Meisiek (2010) to emphasise the work that art does in workplaces as opposed to artwork. In many respects such an approach is in the tradition of Augusto Boal’s (1979/2008) dialogue technique (Image Theatre) based on symbolic still images. In this study, however, images are self-crafted. By allowing employees to explore the concept of endings and beginnings through their own artistic endeavours Orbit Housing allowed new meanings, discourses and stories to be developed. Here the role of storytelling helps to understand shared meaning and self-understanding as suggested by scholars Gabriel (2000), Gabriel and Connell (2010) and Cunliffe (2002b). Here the story is visual moving away from the traditional approach to storytelling in organisations that tend to be through text allowing text behind images to be explored – hidden texts – that allow a deeper and fuller understanding.

Once employee drawings and images had been explored, discussed and refined professional graphic designers were used to enable visual interpretations of new organisational structures and cultures to be crafted and employee owned. As Heracleous (2002) argues it is critical when managing change to involve and encourage participation from as many employees as possible. The concept of workarts facilitates this process and in the case of Orbit Housing combines it with the idea of employee-driven stories and subsequent professional illustration.

The concept of workarts also falls into the tradition of sense making. As suggested by Vuuren and Elving (2008), sense making, communication and change make a chord of three stands that hold organisations together in our complex and fast-paced world. Workarts has the potential to enable employees to make sense of change, own change and help ensure change is successful. There is a strong link between sense making and storytelling with stories being used to help make sense of reality and socially constructed entities of which an organisation is one.

The study takes a phenomenological exploratory approach through interviews to understand the impact that participatory workarts can have on the change communication process. Such an approach allows the gathering of rich data and the exploration of employees as social actors in the change process. The paper presents a model for integrating workarts into change programmes and how it contributes to effective change communication processes releasing employee commitment and engagement. The limitations of this study are related to the scope of the research – a UK-focused case study. Further studies in different cultural contexts need to be explored and perhaps longitudinal studies developed to look at longer-term impacts of participatory workarts.

The paper has practical impact as it creates a model for effective employee engagement during the change communication process. The model illustrates how the integration of participatory workarts, storytelling and professional graphic design can be synthesised to drive organisational change. In terms of originality and value, the paper combines research fields that look at art-based initiatives, storytelling and change communication scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015
EventEuropean Public Relations and Education Research Conference Annual Congress 2015 - BI University, Oslo, Norway
Duration: 1 Oct 20153 Oct 2015


ConferenceEuropean Public Relations and Education Research Conference Annual Congress 2015
Abbreviated titleThe application of workarts to change communications


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