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Preparing for disruptions to work and society: Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures

While there is much talk about the need to prepare for technological disruptions to work and society, there is little discussion about what values, structures and practices can be fostered to help people do so in a constructive and engaged way. OUBS plans to change this with the launch of REEF – Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures
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A pioneer in flexible learning for over 30 years, The Open University Business School delivers transformational, high quality business and management education

Collaboration in work and society

The 21st century is on the brink of a potential total social, economic and political transformation. Rapid technological advances in computing, robotics and communications have the potential to revolutionise work and life. Closer to the present, recent economic and political crises have led to increased anxiety and fear. The crucial question of both today and tomorrow is how we can ensure that these changes are empowering rather than disempowering for people and organisations.

In particular, there are growing concerns that people have little say in shaping either their present or future. These worries are heightened by predictions that technology will soon dramatically 'disrupt' how we currently live and work. Already, these fears can be seen in the insecurity experienced by precarious workers and the alienation many feel in relation to digital technology.

While there is much talk about the need to prepare for these 'disruptions', there is little discussion about what values, structures and practices can be fostered to help people do so in a constructive and engaged way. There is also a need to explore the implications of these developments for the theory and practice of democracy within work organisations as well as within civil society

The 'big idea' motivating REEF is how to help people and organisations engage with a precarious present and help create open futures together

The department of people and organisations at the Open University Business School is creating a research group that seeks to explore and shape the future direction of empowerment, work and society. REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures) will draw on the department’s multi-disciplinary scholarly expertise to empower policy makers, organisational leaders, social practitioners and people from across contexts to work together to co-create innovative solutions for meeting these coming opportunities and challenges. It also will seek to help develop the skills and knowledge necessary to aid individuals and communities in their efforts to positively engage with a precarious present and future.

The group will have three main research themes;

Creating open futures together

How can we ensure that the benefits of the future will be accessible to all and inclusive of everyone’s voices and needs? What are the broader opportunities for people to collaboratively explore existing and new possibilities that would enhance their overall wellbeing?

Engaging with a precarious present

How can we assist and learn from a diverse group of people from a wide range of organisations and contexts about the potential to successfully engage with modern day experiences of precariousness? What can this teach us about building institutions and relations that allow people to approach change with a sense of excitement rather than anxiety?

Learning and producing knowledge today for an empowering tomorrow

What are the present and the future skills people will need to feel empowered within a precarious present and an uncertain future?
What types of innovative and technologically advanced knowledge and teaching approaches can we develop to help people take advantage of these existing and coming opportunities and challenges?

Two more immediate areas of focus will be:

Creating an empowerment agenda for the future

The group hopes to take a leading role in creating a mult-disciplinary and wide ranging empowerment agenda for the future. In particular, it will focus on the ways of expanding the meaning of empowerment to include ways to produce a progressive 'smart' society and a 'post-employment/post-work' economy that is inclusive and whose benefits are universally accessible to all.

Building an empowering tomorrow today

The group seeks to expand the possibilities for fostering empowering 'post-employment/post-work' communities in the present. It will act to assist and include vulnerable communities and populations produce innovative solutions to problems of chronic unemployment and social exclusion. It will also offer leading stakeholders the tools and skills necessary for promoting and implementing a future empowerment agenda in their organisations and communities.

REEF will be the first of its kind in the world to focus on the future of empowerment 

While there is a growing awareness that these 'disruptions' could potentially lead to both positive and negative outcomes, there has not been a sustained group devoted to co-creating and putting into place concrete proposals, practices and strategies for making these empowering futures a reality today. The significance and uniqueness of this group will be its ability to use its wide-ranging scholarly expertise on themes of identity, leadership, power, human relations and learning to foster the production of inspiring and realistic policies for expanding personal, organisational and societal wellbeing in this rapidly transforming society.

The 'big idea' motivating REEF is how to help people and organisations engage with a precarious present and help create open futures together. It will seek to contribute to scholarly and public understandings of these changes while using this knowledge to help inform policy-makers and prepare practitioners.

Concretely, it will critically engage with a diverse set of partners and stakeholders in order to innovatively explore the opportunities and challenges posed by the future of work, assist governments in shaping it for the public good and train practitioners to be 'future empowerment leaders' within their organisations. It will also work with different individuals and communities to find ways to allow them to feel more included and have a greater voice in positively influencing the direction of these 'disruptions'. Its activities will include the publication of journal articles and books on these topics, media pieces helping to raise public awareness and stir civic discussion around these issues, collaboration with governments to produce 'empowering' proposals and policies and creating practitioner frameworks for practically guiding and implementing this future empowerment agenda.

The People Space is proud to be partnering with REEF through its People Space Leaders network. For more information please contact Siân Harrington

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