Sub-Theme 17: The (Surprising) Nature of Innovative and Resilient Organizations
University of Agder, Norway
Charles University, Czech Republic
University of Manchester, UK
Francisco O. Ramirez
Stanford University, USA
University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
Call for Papers
This panel is interested in building on seminal insights from complexity theory in the context of knowledge-intensive public organizations (KIPOS) operating in highly complex and dynamic organizational fields. The concept of resilience rests on the idea that organizations must be prepared for the unknown, but not in the traditional way of planning for the unknown. Planning comes from a Newtonian understanding of social phenomena; i.e. the idea that there are simple and linear causal mechanisms that an organization can use to improve or reshape itself. KIPOS, including but not limited to universities, stand-alone research units, hospitals, schools, museums and arts organizations, are complex multi-actor, multi-level organizations that exhibit properties such as emergence, self-organization, and co-evolution, that cannot be explained in linear models (Karlsen and Pritchard, 2013). Complex systems theory offers concepts to explain non-linearity, emergence, self-organization, and co-evolution among other phenomena. In the past few decades KIPOS have been subject to strong external pressures to become more accountable, efficient, and productive. Many of the primary tools for enacting this – metrics based systems of evaluations, performance based funding, and strategic planning – rely on setting objectives, forecasting, and planning. The emphasis on strategic planning occurs not only in the central management core, but is often also internalized by the organization (e.g. in the form of tighter structural coupling) and dispersed even to the individual level where strategic behavior is encouraged to align individuals and maximize both their outputs and rewards. These, we contend, are in contradiction to innovation. As Potts (2009; p.39) suggests, such demands of efficiency and accountability “quietly, and with all best intentions, slowly strangle the ongoing possibility of innovation”. Innovation and resilience are intertwined since adaptability is key for long-term survival. In this sub-theme, we are particularly interested in papers that use the core concepts of complexity theory to address core questions surrounding the organizational underpinnings (and the interplay between internal and external factors) of different types of KIPOS currently experiencing disruptive change. Pertinent queries include but are not restricted to the following aspects:
Is surprise antithetical to a managerial culture? Does managerialism undermine resilience?
Is a resilient organization more able to promote innovation, creativity, and discovery? If so, how and under what ‘ideal’ circumstances?
What are the characteristics that make knowledge based organizational forms resilient?
What can biological models of complexity tell us about organizations? How do the concepts of evolution and niche finding fit (if at all)?
Does the trend towards standardization, driven by rankings and global organizational archetypes, damage organization’s resilience?
Do metrics (rise of performative regime) make resilience more difficult?
What are the effects (if any) of loose and tight coupling in resilience?
How do the actions of certain agents within organizations affect their overall resilience?
What kinds of emergent properties are present in resilient public organizations?
What are the micro-foundations of organizational change in knowledge intensive public organizations? To what extend are they suitably explained by complex systems theory?
Is resilience context/sector specific or do resilient public organizations share a set of core characteristics and behaviours?
What conceptual models best help us to understand Innovation and resilience in public sector organizations?
How can public policy support resilient organizations?
In addressing these (and other queries) we appeal to social scientists working across disciplinary boundaries and resorting to innovative methodologies that move beyond the traditional linear approaches of science in an attempt to provide a more holistic understanding of the co-evolution of, and interplay between, systems or fields, organizations and organizational participants. The panels will shed light on the complexities associated with resilient organizations and provide insights for the practice of managing and leading public organizations that are experiencing disruptive pressures.
POTTS, J. (2009). The innovation deficit in public services: The curious problem of too much efficiency and not enough waste and failure. Innovation 11(1): 34–43.
KARLSEN, J. E. & PRITCHARD, R. (eds.) 2013. Resilient Universities: Confronting Changes in a Challenging World, Oxford: Peter Lang.