Cultural spaces can be thought of as an environment within which people interact. Culture is used in these spaces to generate influence that affects the interactions. Cultural spaces are a useful tool because the interaction can be influenced to generate positive outcomes for its participants.
To understand this better we need to take a step out into cultural systems. If cultural systems are the web of various cultures that exist between people, then cultural spaces are the areas where specific patterns of culture become more concentrated.
Cultural systems have a lot in common with organisational systems but separate out the cultural aspects from the functional focus of the organisation. Cultural spaces then add detail to the system by differentiating areas based on the level of cultural influence.
|Organisational Systems & Spaces||Cultural Systems & Spaces|
|Flexible & dynamic in nature|
|Made up of subsystems & surrounded by environmental systems|
|Feel the effects of change as ripples|
|Form as a network of tasks & activity||Form as a network of meaning|
|Develop through technical & social processes||Develop through a learning process|
|Tend to seek productivity & efficiency||Seek longer term connection|
Organisations and businesses are unique cultural spaces, but like culture itself, cultural spaces are formed through communication. This means cultural spaces transcend traditional boundaries i.e. an organisation's cultural space exists across physical and digital environments and includes both the employees and their stakeholders etc.
Cultural spaces are a mechanism for bringing people together within formal systems, but also as groups across formal systems. This helps navigate cultural differences and similarity.
The term space is useful as it helps keep the concept of culture connected to the real world. Cultural spaces offer a grounded view to a cloudy concept in an already complex environment.
Cultural spaces are formed through communication of meaning. They are differentiated by the level of structure that facilitates agreement around a shared sense of meaning. This brings two questions:
1. Communication covers three very broad areas:
These are the processes through which we communicate meaning. The basic foundation of meaning is our assessment of positive or negative. Does some aspect of the world bring positivity or negativity in our view; or does it offer neither and is in fact meaningless to us.
This can often be rooted in our assessment of risk and opportunity. When something avoids risk and/or offers opportunity it is positive; if it brings risk and/or removes opportunity it is negative. If we see no connection to either then it’s inconsequential.
This is where we start from when defining values. Values form the foundation of the structures that help share a sense of meaning across a group, but we expand out from there.
2. Structures of meaning can be built around cultural elements (Source):
Cultural spaces vary based on the level of agreed structure or fluid variety within the above elements. But how can we understand the options available to decide what to build?
To better understand the different levels of structure we can use a simple model based on the academic concepts of culture as stories, frames & categories [source]. Here we’ll reframe these into three spaces focused on Flow, Filtered & Container. This means as space creators we can:
Organisations consist of cultural spaces that exist somewhere on this continuum. So we can ask:
How do we create and inspire the right space in the right place with the right people, to let appropriate communication, meaning and culture develop.
When balancing the level of structure or fluidity within our cultural spaces we need to bear in mind the features and benefits of each. Features help us identify what a specific cultural space looks or acts like, while benefits are what we gain from each.
|Flow Space||Filtered Space||Container Space|
|Communication||All communications accepted.||All communications accepted.|
Some preferred and amplified.
|Some communications kept away. Some preferred and allowed.|
|Culture||Allows a varied and diverse culture.||Allows a varied and diverse culture to ebb around a core culture.||Purely a core culture with no variation or diversity of culture.|
|Stability||Doesn’t retain any sense of consistency or form.||Retains a sense of consistency amongst the diversity.||Retains only a sense of consistency, isolated from any diversity.|
|Applications||The right space for:|
-Acceptance of all
-High levels of novelty
|The right space for:|
|The right space for:|
-High risk environments
-Efficiency focused routine operations
-High conflict situations
|Management||Simple to manage as we allow everything, so even diversity is straight forward.||Complex as there can be a lot of diversity but it needs to be filtered.||Simple as there are clear rules and separation.|
|Direction & Goals||Unable to direct outcomes as no control over communications. |
Direction can be understood mainly in retrospect.
|Direction can be suggested through a nurturing of the amplified communications. |
Management needs to be responsive to changing conditions.
|Clear direction can be found through forceful focus.|
Clear connection between communications and goals can be established.
Success still not guaranteed.
There are a wide range of questions that we can pose around Cultural Spaces, here are some examples:
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