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The Experimental Hand: How Platform-based Experimentation Reconfigures Worker Autonomy, Academy of Management Journal


We examine how platform-based experimentation influences worker autonomy when workers do not have access to the same relational opportunities that workers in conventional bureaucratic organizations have traditionally relied on to preserve their autonomy. By analyzing longitudinal qualitative data from one of the world’s largest digital labor platforms, we found that the platform implemented three experimentation regimes—explicit, concealed, and unbounded—that reconfigured workers’ autonomy in unexpected ways. We theorize the introduction of and successive changes in platform-based experimentation as constitutive of the experimental hand. Our model of the experimental hand captures how successive changes in platform-based experimentation regimes reconfigure workers’ degree of autonomy: workers first experienced increased autonomy, followed by diminished autonomy, and finally workers normalized their diminished autonomy as a “business as usual” aspect of work life on the platform. Whereas prior research has primarily examined the design and efficacy of experiments from the perspective of organizations, our study builds new theory on the social effects of experimentation, capturing the implications faced by workers.




Hatim Rahman, Tim Weiss, Arvind Karunakaran

Date Published



Rahman, Hatim, Tim Weiss, and Arvind Karunakaran. 2023. The Experimental Hand: How Platform-based Experimentation Reconfigures Worker Autonomy. Academy of Management Journal.


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