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Long description of the Research Project

Page history last edited by Will Bennis 8 years, 5 months ago


Dear Volunteers on the Research project for coworking.com,


This email is a follow up to the post from Alex, Jerome, and Jacob calling for volunteers to help develop our common coworking community needs (http://bit.ly/neWCar; and appended to this email). 


I am managing the "Research" topic, and I wanted to tell you more about it so you have some idea about how you want to be involved.


There are seven parts to this email. FEEL FREE TO SKIP TO THE SECTION THAT INTERESTS YOU MOST. (1) The purpose of the research; (2) The scope of the research, (3) Initial and potential future research projects, (4) Development of a coworking community research ETHICS committee, that is, an "Internal Review Board" (IRB), (5) What do you get out of helping? (6) Getting involved: who and how (including for the ethics committee), and (7) My own research related background.


Please note, there is also a page on the wiki for this research project with a list of volunteers. Please feel free to attach your name to a particular project, or to remove yourself altogether if you lose interest (but please also let me know).



The purpose of the "Research" project is to collect, analyze, organize, and disseminate high-quality scientific data about coworking and its relationship to work psychology and behavior (motivation, performance, and subjective well-being). The reasons for doing this are manifold, but here are three of the most important:


a) To develop a knowledge-base for communicating to the public about the value of coworking in a more compelling format: Right now we have a lot of ideas about how coworking helps people do better both professionally and personally, and a lot of place-specific examples or coworker testimony, but almost zero reliable scientific evidence one way or the other. Note: Susan Evans is already managing a project collecting stories/narratives about coworking. This is a separate, but complementary, project, and you should volunteer for that project if you are interested in that topic (see the links in the email referenced in the first paragraph to volunteer for her project).


b) To help train/educate coworking-space owners and designers about best practices in terms of workspace design. By collecting data about differences in design features as they relate to differences in perceived and actual performance and well-being, we can learn a great deal about how to improve the design of coworking spaces. 


c) To publish high-quality scientific research in peer reviewed journals and other outlets about workplace design and human performance and well-being. A large majority of basic psychology research is conducted in introduction to psychology classes or other highly controlled, usually artificial university settings using college undergraduates as research participants. There is a serious problem with this approach (acknowledged within the field): it's very difficult to know what generalizes outside these settings and this population, and most of the research that examines the degree these findings generalize suggests that they do not (for perhaps the most compelling evidence and arguments supporting this claim, see http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/Weird_People_BBS_final02.pdf). At the same time, any particular field study suffers from lack of control and difficulty in making generalizable claims, since any one environment has many potential confounds / idiosyncrasies that make it hard to know what's actually causing the particular findings. The diversity of coworking spaces, it's international presence, and the collaborative, open, and community oriented nature of the coworking movement puts us in an amazing position to conduct cutting-edge field-based scientific research that could profoundly contribute to the body of scientific knowledge about workplace design as it contributes to human psychology & behavior. The current body of research on this subject is small and I have not seen anything approaching the quality of data we could collect.



The research project has three distinct time frames correspondent to the scope of the research: 

(a) Short-termSome preliminary results from a small scale initial studies. Due by the Coworking Unconference in Austin during SXSW in March 2012.

(b) Long-term: Collaboration with (i) top university-based scientists specializing in this or related fields, (ii) coworking space owners, and (iii) coworkers; applications for research funding and support at all levels; ongoing data collection, analysis, and publications in various outlets, ranging from peer-reviewed scientific journals to popular media outlets.

(c) Ongoing: Development of new projects, ongoing collaboration with scientists, coworking space owners, and coworkers on existing and new projects.



(a) Collecting stories. Susan Evans is already managing this project as part of another project to educate/teach the public about coworking. Please contact her (susan@officenomads.com) if you’re interested in volunteering on that project and add your name to the volunteer database for that project (


(b) Coworking-space member surveys: Surveys are probably the least labor intensive way to collect a reasonable amount of data, and it would be great to start looking at co-workers perceptions of environmental/space-design variables as they’re associated with psychological/behavioural variables (motivation, productivity, and well-being). For our group, this kind of research stands the best chance of being collected and analyzed in time for SXSW in March.


(c) Experience Sampling Method (ESM). ESM uses beepers (or today, smart phones), to randomly collect “in the moment” data from research participants throughout the day. It gets around some of the problems with retrospective reports in normal surveys (people amend their memories unconsciously; so, for example, when using ESM methods, people often report work as the time of day when they are happiest, though when asked in a survey, work is often reported as the place people are when they’re least happy.) ESM also allows us to collect data about things people just aren’t aware of and couldn’t report with any confidence. Do you feel most productive when you’re working alone, with or without accessing the internet, in business meetings, facing other people or with your back to other people, in a coworking space, the library, a café, or a traditional office, and how is each associated with your sense of subjective well-being, etc. Ideally we would collaborate with someone like Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (though he doesn’t know it yet). He is pioneer of ESM method along with one of his graduate students at the time, and a highly accomplished research psychologist in domains directly relevant to coworking (creativity, good work in both senses of the term good, the psychology of optimal experience a.k.a. flow). One of the volunteers on this project, Sam Spurlin, is in the process of opening a coworking space and is currently a graduate student working with Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, and hopefully we can come together to create an outstanding project. This could potentially involve cutting edge positive psychology, and highly impactful research.


(d) Experimental studies. To get beyond correlations and to nail down cause and effect, experiments are often the most effective and least controversial tool. My thought is that we could “open source” an experimental research project by building buy in from the coworking community and setting up a standard recruitment and project review procedure, and developing some kind of data sharing & study collaboration protocols so that the coworking community could be co-designers and co-authors on some of the studies, then putting the word out to environmental psychologists and other researchers interested in workplace design and human psychology that we have this incredible potential for collaborative experimental research (such that coworking spaces around the world could conduct synchronous controlled experiments, selectively changing one variable in their space environments and recording the effects. Again, this could potentially contribute to cutting edge research that wouldn’t be possible without a collaborative, international group. But we could also independently develop our own experimental studies.


(e) Suggest your own project to lead, or better yet, help develop a system for evaluating and approving new research projects for the community. For example, a multi-site ethnography (participant observation, or just observation) project where we record various characteristics of space design and coworking member behaviour would be great and could contribute to a handful of Ph.D.s in anthropology or related fields that promote field research and qualitative methods. There is no end to what we might learn research collaboratively.



Any university-affiliated scientists we collaborate with will have their own IRBs and almost all granting institutions will require some form of IRB approval. But to do these projects well, we’ll also want to ensure that we as a coworking community develop our own review board and professional code of conduct for research. For example, do we want to collaborate with industry. If so (and even if not), how do we want to handle ownership of research data and the results of analyses? Should we develop norms for co-authorship with coworking spaces that collaborate in collecting data or designing the studies or writing up the results, and what should those norms be? How do we ensure objectivity (and avoid favouring certain companies above others) if we do collaborate with industry? We need some kind of ethics committee to help us do this well and in the spirit of coworking.



You won’t necessarily get all of the below out of helping with RESEARCH, but there’s a reasonably good chance you’ll get some of the below “perks,” especially with ongoing and effortful participation:

(a) The general good feeling that comes from helping others,

(b) Access to raw data and more intimate familiarity with analyzed data,

(c) The ability to ask and answer the questions you most want asked and answered,

(d) Contribution to the body of scientific knowledge, including co-authorship on publications you contribute to,

(e) Potential research funding to pay for time, research participants and materials, and/or research assistants.



For the research to be top quality, we need several kinds of volunteers, from experienced researchers, to coworking-space owners/managers who want to have a hand in deciding what kinds of questions are asked and answered, to coworking space members who provide unique insight into the value of coworking and what we need to know more about. SPECIFICALLY, we'll need people to

(a) Be part of a coworking space ETHICS COMMITTEE,

(b) Help in top-level design of the research projects (ideally experienced researchers, but also people who are scientifically minded, are ready to learn, have some ideas, and want to be involved.

c) Provisionally volunteer their coworking spaces as potential research sites, including helping to recruit participants from their coworking membership and helping to provide incentives to participants such as discounts on membership (depending of course on the level of participation).


Please let me know what area of research you'd like to be involved with and in what capacity. If you have research background or particular study design or analytic skills, please let me know that, too!



I have background in a few areas some more directly and some more peripherally related to coworking. I have a Ph.D. in psychology and human development from the University of Chicago. While there, I did my master’s research with Dr. Mihalyi Csikszenmihaly, a pioneer of Experience Sampling Method and an influential researcher on creativity and the psychology of optimal experience (Flow). My master’s thesis was on the importance of other people’s ideas on creative insight. My Ph.D. research examined the interaction between the physical environment, the social-cultural environment, and cognitive/psychological processes in how people make judgments and decisions. The dissertation won the prize for the best dissertation in the Committee on Human Development and was nominated for the best dissertation in the Social Sciences Division. Following this, I worked for one year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition headed by Gerd Gigerenzer and emphasizing the role of the environment in how people judge and decide, and in particular in how we assess the quality of judgment and decision strategies. Following this I worked for 5 years as a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in the Department of Psychology with Douglas Medin (current president of the American Psychological Society, the premier association for scientific psychologists). Research there examined cultural, environmental, and cognitive contributions to “sacred values” (goods considered so important that any kind of cost-benefit analysis is seen as inappropriate, even taboo). I continue to teach about cultural psychology and decision making at the University of New York in Prague (Czech Republic) while I run the coworking space, Locus Workspace.



Will Bennis