A workers' inquiry resource: digital tools for organising

by Autonomy

March 11 2021

We’re excited to announce that we’ve been working with Common Knowledge to build a digital resource that will enable people to document and reflect upon their working conditions. The project builds upon the rich history of workers’ inquiries: rather than research done “from above” (e.g. by the bosses), we’re focusing on facilitating research “from below”, based on the perspective and experience of workers themselves. The goal isn’t only to offer tools that might help workforces build up a more detailed picture of working conditions – it’s about using them to transform these conditions and build power in a strategic way.


Our hypothesis is that you do not need to know the entire history of workers’ inquiries in order to carry them out successfully. In fact, most organisers won’t have much time to spare on intense theoretical training. With that in mind, we’re processing historical methods into simple, step-by-step guides. Alongside this, we’re collecting examples of these methods being used successfully in the real world.

What we've done so far

One of Autonomy’s research affiliates, Patrick Carmichael, started by collecting a range of research approaches from historical workers inquiries, workplace sociology and the social sciences – along with a variety of case studies showing each approach in practice.


Using this research as a starting point, we began working on a prototype version of the resource. Together, we decided to use Notion for this first stage of the project. This application enables us to focus on making the content as clear as possible, without the overhead of building a new website. It also allows us to test and iterate very quickly.


We also spoke to a number of organisations and individuals who work on similar topics, including Notes from Below, Ella Baker School of Organising, Breakroom and Organise, which has helped us define the project’s scope and goals.


We wanted to collect feedback on our prototypes as early as possible, so we ran interviews with trade union organisers from United Voices of the World (UVW), The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and Nurses United. Our goal was to better understand the needs of organisers in the workplace and inform how the different approaches could be useful. It’s always inspiring to hear directly from organisers. We’ll be publishing the research findings in another post.


Based on what we learned from these interviews, we decided to simplify the content further. We want to make it more accessible, while still keeping the examples, case studies and historical references for those who are interested in learning more about workers’ inquiries.


We’ve also refined the design and navigation of different user journeys and added examples of digital tools that may be useful for different approaches.

What's next?

We’ve got some more interviews planned to see how the updated prototype is working and identify any further gaps. We’re also planning to try some of the methods within Common Knowledge.


We’re planning to launch a public version by the end of the month. Our goal is to create a collaboratively owned and maintained resource that will grow and change over time.

We’re still on the lookout for modern examples of workers’ inquiries in practice. This includes any research and organising techniques that might not be traditionally considered a workers’ inquiry.


If you want to contribute an example, or you’re interested in the project and want to chat, get in touch via email at info@autonomy.work