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Working Notes

Working notes differ from the fieldnotes used by anthropologists and sociologists. Fieldnotes produced by participant observers detail the content and experience of interactions in “the field.” Eric Miller (1995) defines working notes as notes that are created for organizational members to read. Researchers develop working notes to promote the awareness of organization members and to open a dialogue between the researcher/consultant and members of the organization. Miller goes on to describe working notes as an important process for sharing preliminary feedback with organizational members.

“…It goes beyond data feedback: it is the product of a practitioner struggling to make sense of the data and to communicate it in a way that offers the client a new perspective on a familiar problem.”

The use of working notes allows organizational consultants to share their working hypotheses with organizational members in order to develop a “shared understanding” of the organizational dynamics that are observed. In this way, working notes become a potential, or third, space (see Diamond, 2007).

The working note converts the dyadic relationship into a triangle and the note itself is the third. The consultant offering it is usually not defensive because it does not purport to give a definitive answer; and in any case collaborative consultancy carries with it a recognition of and respect for the knowledge and experience of the client.

Incorporating working notes into organizational assessment and organizational field research allows researchers/consultants to add richness to the organizational data being collected, represent organizational members in the diagnostic process, and begin to explore resistance to change.

Above all, where consultants are able to display that they do not pretend to have all the answers — that they are learning as well as teaching — then managers in turn will more readily accept that they too are not infallible. And in that way the culture of dialogue can begin to permeate the client system as a whole.

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