Björn Gustavsen: Democratic Dialogue and Development

Living reference work entry


Björn Gustavsen, with an original professional background as a lawyer and judge in his native Norway, has had a formative role in organizational development processes in Norway, Sweden, Scandinavia, and the European Union over four decades. Following in the tradition of Norwegian working life research by Trist and Thorsrud, he has provided the conceptual framework and practical case studies which have driven major national and international programs. He has learned from different experience of organizational change in, for example, the USA and Japan, but he has identified a distinctive way forward for the European Union, where he has acted as a senior adviser. In contrast to conventional Taylorist top-down management and reliance on expert consultants, his approach has been bottom-up and concept driven, with a focus on empowering workers. With a commitment to long-term sustainable processes, he has emphasized the importance of capacity building and succession planning, highlighting development organizations. His approach to partnership and coalition building has enabled collaboration across sectors, in the cause of creating collaborative advantage. He has a distinctive fluent academic writing style, but spends most of his time engaged in the design and practice of development, and editing the work of younger colleagues. He has seen the role of academic journals and edited books in the development process, so has encouraged new publications, but without seeking to dominate. He took ideas of action research and case studies and applied them to national enterprise development programs, working with the labor market parties. This has resulted in a distinctive research and development culture.


Action research Democratic dialogue Development coalition Development organization Labor market parties 


  1. Ekman, M., Gustavsen, B., Asheim, B., & Pålshaugen, O. (Eds.). (2011). Learning regional innovation: Scandinavian models. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  2. Ennals, R. (2014). Development coalitions. In D. Coghlan & M. Brydon-Miller (Eds.), Sage encyclopaedia of action research (pp. 250–252). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Ennals, R. (2016). Wittgenstein and his followers. European Journal of Workplace Innovation, 2(1), 83–96.Google Scholar
  4. Ennals, R., & Gustavsen, B. (1999). Work organisation and Europe as a development coalition. Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. European Commission Directorate-General for Employment and Social Affairs. (1997). Green paper: Partnership for a new organisation of work. Brussels: European Commission.Google Scholar
  6. Göranzon, B. (1992). The practical intellect: Computers and skills. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Göranzon, B. (ed.) (1995). Skill, technology and enlightenment: On practical philosophy. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Göranzon, B., & Josefson, I. (eds.) (1988). Knowledge, skill and artificial intelligence. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Göranzon, B., & Florin, M. (eds.) (1990). Artificial intelligence, culture and language: on education and work. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  10. Göranzon, B., & Florin, M. (eds.) (1991). Dialogue and technology: art and knowledge. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  11. Göranzon, B., & Florin, M. (eds.) (1992). Skill and education: reflection and experience. London, Springer.Google Scholar
  12. Göranzon, B., Hammarén, M., & Ennals, R. (eds.) (2006). Dialogue, skill and tacit knowledge. Chichester, Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (1997) Introduction to action research. Thousand Oaks, Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Gustavsen, B. (1992). Dialogue and development. Maastricht: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  15. Gustavsen, B. (1996). Development and the social sciences: An uneasy relationship. In S. Toulmin & B. Gustavsen (Eds.) (1996) pp. 5–30.Google Scholar
  16. Gustavsen, B., (1997). Organisation as development coalition. AI & Society, 11(3–4), 177–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gustavsen, B. (2001a). Theory and practice: The mediating discourse. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice (pp. 17–26). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  18. Gustavsen, B. (2001b). Innovation: Working together to achieve the unique. In B. Gustavsen, H. Finne, & B Oscarsson (Eds.) (2001).Google Scholar
  19. Gustavsen, B. (2003). Action research and the problem of the single case. Concepts and Transformation, 8(1), 93–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gustavsen, B. (2004). Making knowledge actionable: From theoretical centralism to distributive constructivism. Concepts and Transformation, 9(2), 147–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gustavsen, B. (2007). Research responses to practical challenges: What can AR contribute? International Journal of Action Research, 3(1–2), 93–111.Google Scholar
  22. Gustavsen, B. (2011a). Innovation, participation and “constructivist society”. In Ekman et al. (Eds.) (2011) pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
  23. Gustavsen, B. (2011). Promoting innovative organization. In Ekman et al. (Eds.) (2011) pp. 70–92.Google Scholar
  24. Gustavsen, B. (2012). Collaboration, autonomy and constructivist society. In Johnsen & Ennals (Eds.) (2012) pp. 27–37.Google Scholar
  25. Gustavsen, B. (2015). Practical discourse and the notion of democratic dialogue. European Journal of Workplace Innovation, 1(1), 25–35.Google Scholar
  26. Gustavsen, B., & Engelstad, P. H. (1986). The design of conferences and the evolving role of democratic dialogue in changing working life. Human Relations, 51(1), 431–448.Google Scholar
  27. Gustavsen, B., & Hunnius, G. (1981). New patterns of work reform: The case of Norway. Oslo: The University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Gustavsen, B., Hofmaier, B., Ekman Philips, M., & Wikman, A. (1996). Concept-driven development and the organization of the process of change: An evaluation of the Swedish working life fund. Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gustavsen, B., Colbjornsen, T., & Pålshaugen, O. (Eds.). (1997). Development coalitions in working life: The enterprise development 2000 program in Norway. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  30. Gustavsen, B., Finne, H., & Oscarsson, B. (Eds.). (2001). Creating connectedness: The role of social research in innovation policy. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  31. Gustavsen, B., Nyhan, B., & Ennals, R. (Eds.). (2007). Learning together for local innovation: Promoting learning regions. Luxembourg: Cedefop.Google Scholar
  32. Gustavsen, B., Hansson, A., & Qvale, T. (2008). Action research and the challenge of scope. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), The Sage handbook of action research (pp. 63–96). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action. London: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  34. Johnsen, H. C. G., & Ennals, R. (Eds.). (2012). Creating collaborative advantage: Innovation and knowledge creation in regional economies. Farnham: Gower.Google Scholar
  35. Levin, M. (Ed.). (2002). Researching enterprise development: Action research on the co-operation between management and labor in Norway. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  36. Pålshaugen, O. (2006). Reading and writing as performing arts: At work. In B. Göranzon, M. Hammarén, & R. Ennals (Eds.), Dialogue. Skill and tacit knowledge. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Shotter, J. (2006). Dialogue, depth and life inside responsive orders: From external observation to participatory understanding. In B. Göranzon, M. Hammarén, & R. Ennals (Eds.), Dialogue. Skill and tacit knowledge. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  38. Toulmin, S. (1990). Cosmopolis: The hidden agenda of modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  39. Toulmin, S. (2001). Return to reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Toulmin, S., & Gustavsen, B. (Eds.). (1996). Beyond theory: Changing organisations through participation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  41. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. As seen above, Gustavsen has contributed to the development of a rich supporting literature. This final section includes a short list of reference books that enables readers to further their interests.Google Scholar
  2. Coghlan, D., & Brydon-Miller, M. (Eds.). (2014). Encyclopaedia of action research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Fricke, W., & Totterdill, P. (Eds.). (2004). Action research in workplace innovation and regional development. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  4. Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (Eds.). (1998). Introduction to action research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  5. Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (Eds.). (2007). Introduction to action research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Gustavsen, B. (1980). Improvement of the work environment: A choice of strategy. International Labor Review, 119(3), 241–286.Google Scholar
  7. Gustavsen, B. (1985). Workplace reform and democratic dialogue. Economic and Social Democracy, 6, 461–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of action research. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of action research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Working Life and InnovationUniversity of AgderGrimstadNorway
  2. 2.Department of Skill and TechnologyLinnaeus UniversityVäxjöSweden
  3. 3.Kingston Business SchoolKingston UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations