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Research Details

The Experimental Hand on Digital Platforms

Abstract

Organizations have embraced experimentation as a means of testing new ideas and processes, guiding decision making, and evaluating worker performance. Nowhere is this more evident than in labor platform organizations, in which experiments are deployed at an unprecedented scope and scale. While prior research has examined the efficacy of experiments from the platform organization’s perspective, much less attention has been devoted to understanding the social effects of experimentation on the subjects of experimentation (i.e., less powerful workers). To build theory in this domain, we collected and analyzed longitudinal qualitative data from one of the world’s largest digital labor platforms. We found that the platform organization developed what we identify as an experimentation repertoire of transparent, concealed, and open-ended experiments, which reconfigures less powerful workers’ sense of autonomy in unexpected ways. Specifically, we find that worker responses normalize experimentation over time as the new status quo. Together, we argue that organizations’ experimentation repertoire is constitutive of the “experimental hand” that engenders unanticipated social effects on less powerful actors’ autonomy. We discuss the implications of our findings for the literature on less powerful worker autonomy, the organizational management of experimentation, and the future of work.

Type

Working Paper

Author(s)

Hatim Rahman, Tim Weiss, Arvind Karunakaran

Date Published

2022

Citations

Rahman, Hatim, Tim Weiss, and Arvind Karunakaran. 2022. The Experimental Hand on Digital Platforms.

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