Empathy-Based Stories of Digitalization and Professional Development: An empirical illustration and methodological exploration of the method of empathy-based stories

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


Overall, this article-based dissertation has twofold aims – methodological and empirical. First, the methodological aim is to introduce and further develop a qualitative data collection method called the method of empathy-based stories (MEBS). In the MEBS, the participants write short texts or stories based on frame stories (i.e., introductory scripts) designed by the researcher. The core idea in the MEBS is that at least two versions of a frame story exist, which differ in one element. This variation enables the researcher to examine how the stories change when one element is varied. In this dissertation, a literature review (Publication I) shows how the MEBS has been used in Finland, and discusses its strengths, limitations, and future prospects. The literature review demonstrates that although the MEBS has been used in Finland for decades, it is still a nascent method in international contexts. Thus, a methodological article (Publication II) introduces the method internationally for the first time. This second article illustrates some possible ways to design and conduct MEBS research, discusses its relation to narrative methods as well as explores its methodological possibilities and limitations.

The second aim of this dissertation is to empirically illustrate the possible relation between digitalization of work and professional development. Drawing on 101 empathy-based stories from 81 Finnish government workers, this dissertation provides different scenarios and illustrations on how digitalization might either support or hinder workers’ professional development. More specifically, the dissertation provides insights on how digitalization might alter the learning opportunities of the workplace (Publication III) and how digitalization can lead to different experiences of and responses to work–identity (mis)alignments (Publication IV).

Overall, this dissertation’s empirical findings lay the foundation for a more comprehensive understanding of the ways in which digitalization may influence workers’ professional development by illustrating possible scenarios and typifications. The findings show how digitalization, by changing work tasks, work practices, and knowledge development and management, potentially alters a variety of aspects related to workplace learning opportunities, such as job demands, the level of job control, task variety and complexity, and social support, and thus can either support or hinder professional development. In addition to illustrating how digitalization may change workplaces as learning environments, the findings show that whether digitalization supports or hinders professional development also relates to workers’ professional identities and how they practice their professional agency at work. Four types of workers (thriving developer, loyal transformer, stagnant self- doubter, and career crafter) are identified from the participants’ stories. By introducing these four typifications, the findings describe how digitalization influences professional development by requiring the workers to assess how their work aligns with their professional identities, consequently resulting in experiences of work–identity (mis)alignments, and agentic actions in the form of identity work and job crafting. Altogether, the findings emphasize the need to broaden our view on what accounts for professional development. The results also suggests that a full understanding of how digitalization can either support or hinder workers’ professional development requires a theoretically complex view that acknowledges the interrelations among digitalization, the workplace learning opportunities, professional identity, and professional agency.

This dissertation contributes to existing research on professional development and digitalization by applying a novel data collection method, that demonstrates the power of imagination and storytelling in exploring individuals’ perceptions, understandings, and sense-making. Moreover, by introducing the MEBS and showcasing its use empirically, this dissertation aims to generate methodological discussions and inspire researchers to find new ways of using the MEBS in diverse contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-2401-8
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (articles)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028


Dive into the research topics of 'Empathy-Based Stories of Digitalization and Professional Development: An empirical illustration and methodological exploration of the method of empathy-based stories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this