Perceived expertise and positioning
We identified notions of Whiteness as being problematic through direct experience when conducting earlier work. As white researchers, we recognised the privilege conferred when commencing this project. We acknowledged that prior experience did not make us 'experts', nor could we position ourselves as understanding the impact that White privilege might have on colleagues. We deliberately located ourselves as having requisite skills to bring to project design and facilitation, whilst positioning ourselves as non-experts concerning critical Whiteness, per se. We also had a strong desire to explore inequity and to promote social justice.
In the final report we discuss mitigation of potential risks for institutions and institutional researchers. As this subject area could be deemed from sensitive to provocative, we gave full consideration to ethical principles. From the outset we were transparent about the implications of holding difficult conversations and possible unintended consequences.
A model for cultural change?
We uncovered a possible theoretical model for positive cultural and behavioural change. This is based upon two global themes identified when we undertook a thematic network analysis of key findings (adapted from Attride-Stirling, 2001). Thematic network analysis involves identifying: global themes, of most importance as principal metaphors; organising themes which cluster more abstract but basic principles; and basic themes which are lowest order premises. Global themes in our work concerned comfort and neutralising, in which all identified organising themes (language, self, momentum) and their underpinning basic themes, interacted in a complex manner.
We applied the work of Stacey (1996) concerning organisational dynamics, in which complexity is recognised as a key factor influencing capacity for change (see Diagram 1 below). The global themes have been turned into axes in which comfort is represented on a continuum between comfort and discomfort, whilst neutralising is on a continuum with de-neutralising. We contend there appears to be potential for uncovering an optimum level of discomfort and de-neutralisation if seeking positive organisational change, although this needs to be tested by other studies. If you perceive a high degree of comfort alongside a high degree of neutralisation, we argue this can result in an inert organisation, incapable of making meaningful change.
Diagram 1: Conditions for organisational change through the lens of complexity