The research team from SSE, Lund U. and Karolinska Institutet will conduct a research project named: The art of ignoring. Six case studies of long-term and episodic acts of ignoring and their structural enablers.
The research team is led by Anna Essén (SSE), and also involves researchers Mats Alvesson (Lund U.) and David Ebbevi (Karolinska Institute). The research team has received 1 000 000 SEK from the Jan Wallander’s and Tom Hedelius’ Foundation and Tore Browaldh’s Foundation.
The research in brief
Organizations invest large amounts in systems for generating, storing and displaying information in new ways, in order to keep up with the “data-driven” economy. Scared by recent movements such as “Metoo” and scandals such as “the Macchiarini case”, organizations also invest in encouraging employees to articulate perceived risks and malfunction. This will make relationships visible and will lead to more effective ways of working and living, the story goes. We want to introduce another perspective. Namely that of how and why information is often ignored. We are interested in two kinds of acts of ignoring. Our preliminary observations indicate that comprehensive efforts to collect, compile and display information are often accompanied by equally persistent acts of ignoring the information. Why do do actors engage in such paradoxical - and what we refer to as systematic - acts of generating and ignoring information? We will also study episodic ignoring, in terms of exceptional cases leading to scandals, as long as these are assessed to say something about organization (dys)functioning. To this end, we focus on two research questions:
1. Why and how do individuals and organizations ignore information?
2. What makes such acts of ignoring possible/easy?
We define acts of ignoring as involving a) an (at least partial) awareness of an issue (a piece of information), and b) absence of efforts to respond to or delve further into (information about) the issue. Hence, ignoring is not simply a matter of lacking information or knowledge. It is a matter of not allowing knowledge, partial information, or a hunch, to make a difference (McGoey, 2007; 2012; Moore & Tumin, 1949). You can only ignore what you know.
Based on exploratory interviews and anecdotal data, we have selected (purposive sampling (Patton 1990)) cases that will allow us to generate insights and build theory about the diverse mechanisms that may be involved in systematic and episodic acts of ignoring. Three cases involve systematic (long-term ignoring): maintaining and ignoring the "open comparisons" (public disclosed healthcare performance data), the Waiting time registry, School performance data. Three cases involve episodic ignoring of signs of exceptional dysfunction. Here we will investigate at least 3 cases where ignoring is a key part of the escalation of exceptional problems to scandals. As these are sometimes hard to access directly – people involved may be unwilling to participate – we will partly rely on published material. Much work will go into finding good cases. Possible examples are Dramaten and unlawful employments at Gothenburg University, Aftonbladet, with histories related to the metoo debate (pointing at acts of ignoring indications of sexual harassment), and the “Macchiarini case” at Karolinska Institutet (e.g. Asplund, 2016), which involved a lack of response to indications and explicit warnings about the risk tied to a specific surgery treatment. We will select 3 or more cases based on relevance and access during research.
“I am thrilled! This scholarship provides us with the opportunity to learn more about episodic ignoring in terms of how and why marginalization of ones own responsibility occurs in situations involving problems that are ambiguous and where responsibility is undefined,” says Anna Essén, research fellow at SSE House of Innovation. “Also, we are excited to be able to study systematic ignoring and thus approach digitalization and data accumulation from a critical perspective. We really feel that learning more about systematic acts of ignoring data is an important antidote to today's focus on data-accumulation structures. Not least in the public sector, vast attention is paid to the establishment of documentation and measurement systems, while the more critical question of how the content is (not) used is often overlooked.”
For more information regarding this research project, please contact Anna Essén.