Participatory organisational development

Using participatory methods to anchor sustainability in the organisational culture, and promoting further opportunities for participation

What do we mean by this?

Organisational development is a systematic process of change that influences the culture and structures of an organisation as well as individual behaviour. Ideally, organisational development should include employee participation as much as possible, so that written and unwritten rules become entrenched in the corporate culture. Changes are either made at the organisation's own initiative or triggered by other changes in general conditions or policies.

Employees' codetermination rights are enshrined in German law. Giving employees options for actively and transparently participating in organisational change increases motivation. Strategic sustainability management, in particular, can only succeed in the long term if managers and employees accept sustainability-related decisions and can be brought on board for their implementation. By influencing the organisational culture, systematic organisational development, as a specific type of change management, greatly supports the strategic goals and measures of sustainability management.

Organisational culture is defined as the sum of values, styles, traditions, and routines that determine the interaction and communication between employees. When it comes to the concept of a "learning organisation", the organisational culture becomes the centre of focus for organisational development processes. In the private sector, change processes are often accompanied by extrinsic incentive systems to motivate employees and achieve rapid implementation success. Research organisations do not have as much liberty to use these kinds of incentive; therefore, when aiming to make changes, it is all the more important to cultivate an organisation-wide discourse on values through worker participation. The aim is to achieve widespread acceptance and to promote individual motivation and commitment. The use of participatory processes is time-consuming, requires a great deal of moderation, and demands a high level of social competence from all those involved, but it also boosts employee motivation and creates added value by accounting for different needs and by defusing potential conflicts.

In building projects, for example, getting future users involved early in the process can increase acceptance and avoid mistakes in the planning. Participatory processes are also suitable for strategic HR management when it comes to developing new career models or improving work-life balance through personalised offers.


How could a research organisation implement this?

  • Involve employees in identifying the needs for change through employee surveys, user satisfaction analyses, strategy workshops, or dialogue formats
  • Systematically involve managers as multipliers in change processes
  • Establish "task forces" of employees from different levels and functional areas
  • Involve employees in strategic change processes (e.g. developing the mission statement) and in operational change and development processes (e.g. planning new construction and renovation projects)
  • Identify internal practical examples of "participation and involvement processes" to be shared and discussed between functional areas as successful formats and processes

Practical examples

New Guiding Principles of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft


The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft's latest mission statement was developed in a large-scale participatory process that ensured organisation-wide employee participation through a variety of formats such as blogs, workshops, and world cafés.

Visit the website

Participation in the sections and Senate of the Leibniz Associatio

The Leibniz Association unites scientifically and economically independent research institutions within five sections as an overarching decision-making and participation structure. In the Senate of the Leibniz Association, and to some extent in the subordinate Senate committees, all decisions on strategic development and the Leibniz evaluation process include the participation of independent, external scientists and representatives of politics, business, and civil society.

Sustainability reporting

DNK criteria

  • 8 Incentive Schemes
  • 14 Employee Rights

GRI indicators

  • G4-LA4 and processes