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NSF CAREER Award to Begin September 1

Joshua Barbour


It's official! The National Science Foundation funded my CAREER application to the Science of Organizations program: CAREER: The Future of Work in Health Analytics and Automation: Investigating the Communication that Builds Human-Technology Partnerships (SES 1750731)

Here's the project abstract: 

Advances in technologies such as the internet of things, robotics, and artificial intelligence are transforming work through data-intensive automation, which may eliminate jobs without creating new ones or deskill and diminish existing work. This project will investigate how work is automated to encourage forms that benefit work and workers. The project will expand knowledge about the everyday conversations that shape the implementation of automation, and how leaders make choices about how to have those conversations in the first place. The project will focus on health and healthcare work, with is a context likely to be affected by datafication and automation and likely to provide STEM-related careers for individuals who have the right skills. In healthcare, automation may help providers prevent medical errors, lower the costs of caregiving, and augment or create new forms of work, but the success of such systems depends on how they are designed and implemented. By focusing on the actual communication involved in automation, the project will generate theoretical insights and practical recommendations for leaders in health and analytics organizations, regarding (a) what makes the communication involved in data-intensive automation effective or not, and (b) how to structure and facilitate that communication. The research will be used to create short films and a learning module for students making key career decisions. The films and module will be designed to reach groups underrepresented in STEM and to provide information about STEM careers affected by automation and STEM-related, communication competencies. The project will help students at community colleges and universities understand and prepare for the opportunities and challenges of automation.

Recent research has demonstrated that automation is determined not merely by the features of new technology or pressures to make work more efficient, but by a complex, communicatively-negotiated mix of workers' and managers' ideas about factors such as market forces, professional standards, regulation, industry knowledge, and human and technology workflows. Automation involves intertwined changes in the technologies and organization of work. These changes unfold in and through everyday communication about how work is and ought to be accomplished. Using a combination of interview and observational methods, the project will investigate two theoretically and practically important contexts: (1) Healthcare organizations that develop and implement technologies such as automated metrics dashboards and clinical decisions support systems, and (2) Quantified Self communities where practitioners of personal analytics are creating new human-technology partnerships, new forms of work and play, through automation. Insights from this project will advance research on automation, data-intensive work, communication design, and organizational and technological change.

Excited to be Delivering a Talk on Narrative Message Testing at the OCMC 2017

Joshua Barbour


I'm on my way to give a talk at this year's OCMC in Athens, OH at Ohio University. I'll be talking about narrative message testing, message replications in experimental design, and their utility for organizational scholarship at the Storytelling and Organizing Pre-Conference Workshop. Thank you OU, the OCMC organizers, and the Barbara Geralds Institute for Storytelling and Social Impact for the invitation!

2016 Management Communication Quarterly Article of the Year

Joshua Barbour

Communicating/Organizing for Reliability, Resilience, and Safety: Special Issue at Corporate Communications

Joshua Barbour


UPDATE 2 (March 28, 2017): The deadline for submissions has been extended to April 15th.

UPDATE 1 (February 20, 2017): Corporate Communication's manuscript central portal has been updated for the special issue. Submitters should select the special issue in Step 4: Details and Comments (e.g., "Please select the issue you are submitting to...Communicating/Organizing for Reliability, Resilience, and Safety"). The call should be posted here soon too.


I am excited to be involved in this special issue at Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Editor-in-Chief Timothy Coombs has made space for a special issue focused on Communicating/Organizing for Reliability, Resilience, and Safety. The deadline is April 1, 2017, and the full call maybe found here: RRS Special Issue

The guest editors are Professors Patrice M. Buzzanell, William J. Kinsella, Keri K. Stephens, and me, and we are looking for diverse submissions that bring a communication lens to the study of the organizational and interorganizational systems that people depend upon to manage safety in a risky world. Personally, I am particularly excited by the opportunity to create conversations between scholarship focused on organizations as producers of communication and organizations as constituted of communication. Building on the the International Communication Association 2016 Remembering, Regulating, and Resilience Preconference, this special issue invites submissions that address these sorts of questions: 

  1. What does or what could the communicative accomplishment of reliability, resilience, and safety entail?
  2. How does a communication perspective necessitate a reconceptualization of terms like reliability, resilience, and/or safety?  
  3. How are reliability, resilience, and/or safety intertwined?
  4. How do micro-, meso-, or macrosocial communicative action and the work practices they comprise contribute to, undermine, and constitute reliability, resilience, and/or safety?
  5. How do processes typically conceptualized as inside organizations (e.g., regulatory oversight) interact with processes typically conceptualized as outside organizations (e.g., policy making)?
  6. How does public and institutional memory of disaster (e.g., Bhopal, Chernobyl, Love Canal, Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon) enable and constrain the communicative accomplishment of reliability, resilience, and safety?
  7. What tensions and tradeoffs characterize organizational enactments of reliability, resilience, and safety?
  8. How and to what degree are conceptualizations of resilience, reliability, and safety related to local, national, ethnic, organizational, and professional cultures?
  9. How are conceptualizations of resilience, reliability, and safety entrained into careers, occupations, and professions?
  10. How do people engage in and negotiate reliability, resilience, and safety expertise in team, organizational, and/or interorganizational engagements?
  11. How can resilience, reliability, and safety be cultivated at and across multiple levels of human experience simultaneously?
  12. How can research in this domain inform the design of communicative interventions?
  13. How might research in this domain have a positive influence on policy making?
  14. How do questions of justice, equity, and democracy play out around issues of resilience, reliability, and safety?

Feel free to contact us if you have questions, and please consider submitting! 

A Week of Collaboration and Conversation

Joshua Barbour

This week, I am getting ready for a week of collaboration and conversation at North Carolina State University. I'm there to work on an agent based model of uncertainty and information behavior in the context of infectious disease outbreaks and water infrastructure with Dr. Emily Z. Berglund in Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and the study of safety and reliability as communicative accomplishments with Dr. William Kinsella. I'm lucky to have the chance to talk with colleagues in NCSU's amazing Communication Department. I'm presenting a talk entitled, "Engaged Communication Scholarship in Sensitive Settings: Studying Communication in Nuclear Power Plants" on April 27th at 2:00 PM thanks to the kind sponsorship of NCSU's Department of Communication, Department of Nuclear Engineering, and Program in Science, Technology & Society

Graduate Student Professional Development: Job Visits and Job Talks

Joshua Barbour

" Information Architect " © BUSINESSTOWN 2014–2015 

"Information Architect" © BUSINESSTOWN 2014–2015 

As I prepared my short remarks for faculty panel on professional development for the Organizational Communication and Technology area (Team OCT) graduate students, I was inspired by the wonderful artwork of Tony Ruth (@lunchbreath). My topic was the job visit and job talk.

I shared these principles: 

  1. Demonstrate you can do the job
  2. Ask questions
  3. Be yourself
  4. Remember that interviewing is embodied
  5. Inform your support networks

Really though, I pointed them to the work of wiser folks than me including Dr. Edward Schiappa’s helpful book, and this handout of questions that I received from the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I mentioned too that ethnographic fieldwork provides a helpful model, and pointed folks to my piece with Rebecca Gill and Marleah Dean on practical advice for shadowing.

What does macromorphic mean?

Joshua Barbour

Recently, a few colleagues have asked me to explain the term. Inspired by the notion of the sedimentation of discourse to describe the accretion of ideas and words into structures over time in organizing, the term borrows its form from geology and their interest the overarching characteristics of rock formations. Morphology refers to the study of shapes and shaping in natural forms (cf., morphemes - the smallest unit of language and linguistic morphology – the structuring of those morphemes in language). As opposed to terms such as micro-, meso-, or macro-level, macromorhic should imply an interest not just in the discrete phenomena occurring at each level, but in the shaping of macro-level phenomena at micro- and meso-levels. The term means to reflect the notion, for example, that institutional phenomena manifest at these other levels of human experience. For example, the regulatory, legal, and cultural frameworks that influence communication at nuclear power plants, toxic waste storage facilities, or healthcare organizations are no doubt macro-level, but they have expression in how regulators manage information, how teams of scientists, engineers, and project managers negotiate interorganizational relationships, and how teams of healthcare providers work together to provide care. These processes are not macro-level, but they are macromorphic. They are part of the building up, sustaining, changing of institutional phenomena. 

We first used the term to capture our interest in the understanding the building up of institutional and organizational phenomena in and through communication. We wrote, “Institutions can be best thought of as macromorphic patterns of behavior, beliefs, and structures within which organizations have life and much dyadic communication can be taken for granted,” and “An institutional perspective directs our attention to these macromorphic structures that influence behavior at the micromorphic level” (Lammers, Barbour, & Duggan, 2003, p. 337, 338). I have worked to elaborate this impulse in much of my scholarship on institutional beliefs and professional identity (Barbour & Lammers, 2007, 2015), organizational legitimacy (Barbour, Doshi, & Hernandez, 2015), information management and meaning making in regulatory communication (Barbour & Gill, 2014; Barbour & James, forthcoming), and interprofessional communication (Barbour, 2010; Barbour, Gill, & Dean, forthcoming). 

Image credit: "Granite outcrops at Silesian Stones Mountain in southwestern Poland." by Pudelek CC 3.0 


Measuring Professional Identity Recently Published

Joshua Barbour

I recently published an essay on the operationalization of professional identity constructs with Dr. John C. Lammers at the Journal of Professions and Organizations. We take an institutional logics approach to specifying the measurement of professional identity. We argue that the measurement of such constructs should include indicators of belonging, attachment, and belief. We offer a multilevel confirmatory factor analysis as exemplary evidence. Theoretically, the piece should be of interest to scholars of professionals and professions. The piece should also remind practitioners that professionals hold a complex web of ideas about their work, and that being a member of a profession, being attached to the profession, and holding beliefs consistent with the prevailing norms of a profession are related but not the same.

Crossing the Boundaries Between Preparation, Response, and Recovery

Joshua Barbour

At the most recent conference of the National Communication Association in Chicago, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel titled, Theory Meets Practice: Interorganizational Collaboration in Disaster Management. Dr. Elizabeth Carlson got us organized, and the panelists included Natalie White, Dr. Keri Stephens, and Dr. John Lammers standing in for Elizabeth. Dr. Scott Poole chaired. Brian Brauer and Dr. Matthew Seeger responded. I wanted to share the remarks I prepared. I made the argument for the need for research connecting preparation, response, and recovery processes, and I offered a couple of ideas about how to do so. Check it out. 

2014 Aspen Conference on Engaged Scholarship: Studying communication among inspectors at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Joshua Barbour

For the plenary case at the 2014 Aspen Conference on engaged scholarship, I gave a talk on doing research in security sensitive settings. Here's an outline and the references.

Through the session, I shared stories from my research and concrete practices for doing research in sensitive settings.

Along with the practices I highlighted in my talk, we prompted conference participants to tell their research stories and identify in them concrete practices for doing research in sensitive settings. The discussion generated many more insights and ideas than will fit here. Nneka Logan and Lacy McNamee took the lead in making sense of the notes we took. We have highlighted just a few of the insights that emerged. Be on the look out for the summer dates for Aspen 2015. 

1. Confronted with negotiating access, researchers should look for the right first contact. Conference participants discussed the merits and pitfalls of finding a sponsor high in the hierarchy of the organization, and decided to be sure to recognize where you start informs the research and the conversations you get to have. That choice should be informed by the culture of the organization and the needs of the project. Researchers were encouraged to look in their own networks for contacts commensurate with the level of access needed. Most agreed that finding a sponsor was key, but also discussed the need to get support for your project at as many levels as possible and particularly at the level above the “problem” level. This point resonated with an idea in my talk: Taking a collaborative approach to the research and creating a scope of work document with the sponsors as a way to co-create the project, generate buy-in, and navigate rules and culture. That scope of work can also define the deliverables from the start and set expectations about what the project will do. These expectations are especially important in funded research where the researcher needs to prioritize the deliverable. If one fails to deliver, future funded research may not be forthcoming. 

2. Confronted with collaboratively designing projects to provide organizational value and promote scholarly knowledge/insight, researchers should have future-oriented conversations about what might happen in the research process such as unanticipated consequences, surprises, and emergent dilemmas to help co-researchers or collaborators become sensitive to potential consequences of participating in the research. When working with organizations that have resource or time limitations, talk with people that are giving you access about how they would find value in the research that you do and how the research might be designed to provide value. When giving feedback to organizations during the research process, keep the conversation open-ended by facilitating a workshop or meeting in which all involves data- and discussion-driven recommendations. 

3. Confronted with the compliance and legal implications of engaged scholarship, take them seriously. Talk to attorneys (but they will focus on worst case). Talk to the institutional review board (IRB). Ask, what are my reporting requirements, what legal responsibilities need to be made clear to participants? Find out what protections the IRB or teachers’ union offers should research notes or the researcher be sued or subpoenaed. To deal with reporting responsibilities regarding ethical/legal issues (i.e., workplace violence, mental health issues, malpractice), establish a confidential contact with whom you can share concerns as they arise in the project (i.e., university attorney, human resources, a point of contact in the organization under study).

We hope to see you in 2015 in Aspen!


Information Avoiding Research Featured in Real Simple

Joshua Barbour

real simple photo.PNG

Check out the July 2014 issue of Real Simple. Julia Edelstein wrote an interesting article with a focus on health information management. She drew in part on my research on health information avoiding. It's a fascinating and informative read, and it was great working with the team at Real Simple. Thanks are due too to the team that worked on that piece in the Journal of Health Communication, Lance Rintamaki, Jason Ramsey, and Dale Brashers.

Summer Institute on Flooding

Joshua Barbour

The Summer Institute on Flooding at Disaster City held by the Texas A&M University Center for Emergency Informatics started on June 3rd. The focus of my talk ("Communication Design for Disaster Response") includes alternative models for communication and communication design as an approach to using those models to improve communication before, during, and after disasters. Here are the slides and a reference list I prepared as background. 

Special Issue on Communication Design

Joshua Barbour

My piece on the collective communication design information management at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now available. The issue itself is a fascinating foray into communication design. Check it out!  

Our contribution focuses on collective communication design processes--how organizations create and implement communication processes to solve organizational problems. 

Special Issue on Shadowing Available Online

Joshua Barbour

My piece on the practical side of shadowing research with Rebecca Gill and Marleah Dean is now available in the online version of a great special issue of Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management. We drew on our experiences shadowing in hospitals, businesses, and power plants. We organized the piece on ten practical suggestions for shadowing that we organized into three fluid phases:


#1 Proactively engage issues with shadowees ahead of time

#2 Prepare for embodied shadowing

#3 Take classes or hold discussion on the emotional side of qualitative methods

#4 Pack a “shadow kit”


#5 Plan to follow the rules, at first

#6 Play around with strategies for notetaking

#7 Dance in the doldrums

#8 Locate or create social support


#9 Mitigate the anticipation of shadower-as-betrayer

#10 Exit the field mindfully

Talk on Feb 21 at Donuts and Disasters: Revisiting the Stormwater Footprint Quiz

Joshua Barbour

center talk.jpg

In 2010, under the able leadership of Dr. Emily Zechman Bergman, a team of students and faculty from Civil Engineering, Communication, and Computer Science came together to develop a game to help change how people thought about stormwater management. Most folks think about stormwater management as something that governments do, but the choices of developers and individuals home owners and renters have consequences for how communities manage the stormwater too. Those choices have consequences for flooding and the disasters like hurricanes. The student team won an honorable mention at the Environmental Protection Agency P3 Competition. The team won first place in their category for their poster at the Texas A&M University Undergraduate Student Research Week, and Alyssa Politte won the Texas A&M University Undergraduate Research Scholar 2011 Best Thesis award for her work related to the project.

On Friday, Feb 21st, I gave a talk for the Center for Emergency Informatics at Texas A&M University about my work on this project, and I took the opportunity to explain how it fits into my larger body of work on communication design. I am most excited these days when I think of communication as a site of intervention for making our work together more efficient and equitable.

Meanwhile, the we just finished reviewing the proofs for our article based on the experimental evaluation of the game for Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy. Here it is at their site.

Here are the slides for the talk (PDF), and the Center for Emergency Informatics has made the talk available for viewing too.

Here's a link to the quiz itself.

Many thanks to the team of faculty and students who made this happen! Thanks Dr. Emily Zechman Bergman, Dr. Alex Sprintson, Tommi Jo Scott, Alyssa Politte, Sean Saathoff, Sam Collard, Marcio Giacomoni, Jenna Kromann, Chandana Damodaram, and Avery White. 


Practical Theory Master Class -- An Opportunity to Cook Ideas

Joshua Barbour

We had a wonderful workshop last week! Here's the flyer.

Drs. Mark Aakhus, Robert Craig, and Vernon Cronen visited with us for two days. In the spirit of a master class in the performing arts given our focus on practical theory, we spent the first day focused on presentations from the visitors. We watched the masters play. Then, the next morning, we spent a session in one-on-one and group meetings with the three visitors. In the afternoon, we turned to three case studies to let us play with practical theory under the guidance of our visitors.

I was lucky enough to present one of the case studies, and in my small group, Dr. Cronen walked us through how Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory would ask questions of a project that I've been developing. The time talking about my project gave me space to develop my ideas. That was great. But my most valuable take away was more generic: the value of cooking ideas together. We so often work on our projects in isolation. It was wonderful and generative to spend the time talking through my ideas while other scholars asked questions. I described this experience as cooking ideas together. I couldn't wait to get back in the kitchen after the workshop, and I have ideas to move forward thanks to spending time with the ideas with others.

Thanks to all who participated!

Next spring, we are holding another workshop on collaborative research strategies. I hope to get to cook ideas together again.

Stormwater Footprint Calculator

Joshua Barbour


Back in 2011, I collaborated with a group of civil engineering, computer science, and communication students under the direction of Drs. Emily Zechman of Civil Engineering and Alex Sprintson of Computer Science to develop a game to teach individuals with disparate expertise about stormwater issues and to create a tool to test different metrics for communicating civil engineering concepts.

Dr. Emily Zechman’s description of the project follows:

Although watershed management typically utilizes large infrastructure projects to control stormwater runoff, the choices of residents and landowners at the lot-level can also impact hydrologic sustainability. A decentralized management approach could more naturally restore flow regimes and result in significant, long-term cost savings. This research develops a new stormwater footprint game that can be used for educating about the impact of personal decisions on hydrologic sustainability and increase stormwater awareness. The game utilizes a stormwater sustainability metric, the Hydrologic Footprint Residence (HFR), to communicate the impact of development decisions. Students and professors from the Departments of Civil Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Communication collaborated to develop the gaming system, to field an experiment to test the game, and to make the game available to students across campus through undergraduate and graduate courses.

Our work demonstrated that completing the quiz improved individual’s knowledge about stormwater management and changed attitudes. Game play made participants more likely to take action to support local sustainable practices. Our experiment also demonstrated that the HFR–our stormwater footprint–worked better than peak flow--an orthodox civil engineering metric--for communicating the effects of stormwater.

The wonderful student team, Marcio Giacomoni, Tommi Jo Scott, Alyssa Politte, Jenna Kromann, Sean Saathoff, and Sam Collard, won an honorable mention in Washington, DC at the EPA student design competition for sustainability.

Take the quiz here: http://people.tamu.edu/~barbour/HFRQ/Quiz/HFR.swf