Dialogic OD is rooted in Social Constructionist thinking

Broadly assumes that:

Meaning and understanding are central to human activity

Ways of meaning making are embedded in social-cultural processes and are specific to particular times and places

People define themselves—assumes people are self-defining and socially constructed participants in their shared lives


  • It is appropriate to adopt a critical perspective to what is assumed to be reality. The social constructionist is often concerned with revealing the ‘operations of the social world’ (2010:8) . He/she will be concerned with patterns of relating, rituals, established and assumed rules
  • There is a desire to inquire into understanding human nature – what is happening between us all.

(Lock and Strong 2010)

Key thinkers that influence social constructionism

  • Giambattista Vico
  • Edmund Husser
  • Alfred Schutz
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty
  • Karl Marx
  • Mikhail Bakhtin
  • Erving Goffman and Anthony Giddens


Relevant to Dialogic OD specifically:

Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (The Social Construction of Reality 1966)

Ken and Mary Gergen

John Shotter

Organisational Discourse—a related construct by Grant and Marshak

‘a set of interrelated texts that, along with the related practices of text production, dissemination, and consumption, brings an object or idea into being’ (2011:208)

  • Discourses are both integral to and constructive of organizational dynamics and change.
  • Discourses are created and supported via socially constructive processes that involve the negotiation of meaning among different organizational stakeholders with different views and interests.


  • Demonstrating the role of power in establishing or challenging prevailing discourses is important to understanding organizational change.
  • Discourses are embodied in texts, which come in a wide variety of genres, including written documents, speech acts, pictures, and symbols.
  • Discourses do not exist or have meaning independent of context, even as they also create context.
  • Organizational discourses and their related practices of consumption, production, and distribution comprise of sets of interrelated texts that can react to draw in and transform other discourses.

Keys Concepts in Organizational Discourse

  • Text – words, symbols, pictures etc, that conveys meaning
  • Context – historical and social settings in which texts are embedded
  • Narrative – Written or verbal accounts with a focus on themes
  • Conversation

Conversational Consulting (a related form of Dialogic OD)

  • A contracted, helping relationship through which people skilled and knowledgeable in conversation as a change process work with clients to create conversations that make a positive difference to businesses/organisations.


  • A contracted inquiry relationship, through which client and consultant learn, how to enable the social construction of new organisational and system realities through dialogic processes.

Defining Conversation

An experience between two or more people who, through the expression of thoughts and feelings, creation of new ideas, perspectives and understandings.

  • The experience of conversation will include:
  • A sense of being listened to, and of listening to others.
  • An atmosphere of trust and openness.
  • A liberty in expressing thoughts and feelings
  • A sense, for at least one person, that what is going on has some importance and value.


Affirmation of your self-value and the value of others.

An awareness of new perspectives and ideas.

Knowing that, as a result of conversation, something is different.

The development of shared meanings and understandings.

A sense of equality between people.


The experience of conversation may include:

  • A profound, even life-changing, insight or “aha” moment.
  • A release of emotion.
  • The sense of being taken to a better place.
  • A close sense of unity between participants.
  • A decision to make change happen.
  • Sense making at the deepest levels. (Cantore 2004:11)


Wheatley (2009) offers a somewhat simpler definition of conversation:

“….. where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard and we each listen well.”(2009:3)

Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future.

Key Premises of Dialogic OD Mind-set (1)

  • Reality and relationships are socially constructed
  • Organisations are meaning-making systems
  • Language, broadly defined, matters
  • Creating change requires changing conversation
  • Transformational change is more emergent than planned
  • Consultants are a part of the process, not apart from the process


Applications of Social Constructionism in Dialogic OD

  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • Search conferences and Future search
  • Open Space
  • Circle Conversations
  • Engaging Emergence

35+ other techniques and methods

The main focus of Dialogic OD ‘involves changing narratives that underpin social reality’ (Bushe 2013:11)


  • BAKHTIN, M., 1984 Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics . Minneapolis :University of Michigan Press
  • CHEUNG-JUDGE, M. and HOLBECHE, L., 2011. Organisation Development-A practitioners guide for OD and HR. 1st edn. London: Kogan Page.
  • LOCK, A. AND STRONG,T., 2010 Social Constructionism . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • BUSHE,G., 2013 (2013) Dialogic OD :a Theory of Practice. OD Practitioner Vol 45 (1) pp 11-13
  • CANTORE,S. and HICK, W.,2013. Dialogic OD in Practice-Conversational approaches to change in a UK Primary School OD Practitioner Vol 45 (1) pp 5-10
  • GRANT, D. and MARSHAK, R.J. (2011) ‘Toward a discourse-centered understanding of organizational change’. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 47(2), 204-235.
  • BUSHE, G.R. and MARSHAK, R.J. (2009) ‘Revisioning organization development’. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 45(3), 348-368.
  • OSWICK, C.(2016) Discourse, Social Contructivism, Organizing and OD Lecture to PG Cert Organisational Change June 2016 London.

Readings (Full details in Course Handbook)

  • BUSHE, G. and MARSHAK, R. Eds. (2015) Introduction + Chapters 1 & 2
  • Advances in Dialogic OD OD Practitioner Vol 45 (1)
  • LEWIS, S., PASSMORE, J., & CANTORE, S. (2016). Chapter 1,3,4

Discovery Interview (Activity)

Working in pairs, tell the story of a specific experience of when you felt you led or contributed to a change process that worked well.

  • Be as specific as you can
  • Get into the detail
  • Using listening skills to uncover what really happened
  • Take notes if it helps

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