This paper conceptualises and examines the processes through which abstract
concepts, or abstractions, can be utilised in co-creating knowledge within ‘impactfocused’
organisational and business research i.e. applied research that primarily seeks
to promote change in practice rather than principally aiming to make theoretical
contributions to academic debates. The paper uses the abstraction ‘hospitality’ as an
empirical example and discusses the techniques used to ‘operationalise’ this concept
i.e. make it understandable for research participants enabling researchers to use it
within data generation and the creation of practical insights in organisational enquiry.
The study employed two methods: firstly, participant generated photos; and secondly,
two interactive workshops with 38 practitioners where the abstract concept
‘hospitality’ was used to generate practical organisational insights.
The paper distinguishes between four stages: the elaboration of abstraction;
concretisation of abstraction; probing perspectives on abstraction; and exploring
experiences of abstraction. It is argued that utilising specific techniques within these
four stages facilitates: a) recognisability: the extent to which organisational
stakeholders understand the content and meanings of the abstraction; and b)
relatability: the extent to which stakeholders appreciate how the abstract concepts are
relevant to interpreting their own practices and experiences.
This is an exploratory study, used to develop and refine elicitation techniques, rather
than to draw definitive conclusions about the applicability of specific abstract
concepts. Nevertheless, reflecting on the processes and techniques used in the
utilisation of abstractions here can help to operationalise them in future impactfocused
The paper conceptualises the processes through which abstract concepts can be made
apprehendable for non-specialist, non-academic practitioners. In doing so, it discusses
how various elicitation techniques support the utilisation of abstractions in generating
insights that can support the development of constructive, context-specific practices in
organisations and businesses.
Faculty of Business\Oxford School of Hospitality and Management
Year of publication: 2017Date of RADAR deposit: 2017-02-10