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Institutional change on the frontlines: A comparative ethnography of divergent responses to institutional demands

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to shed light on how actors within, on the surface, similar
organizations cope and work with imposed institutional changes.
Design methodology/approach – This research is based on an ethnographic field study addressing
why, despite being exposed to the same institutional demands, organizational actors respond by
developing diverging institutional orders of appropriate organizational conduct. This research
examines how middle managers and frontline staff in two similar Danish social care organizations
respond to demands to adopt a New Public Management (NPM)-based logic of individualized service
delivery.
Findings – The study shows how institutional diversity may underlie apparently similar
organizational structures and responses. NPM-style modernization efforts partly converged with
diverse professional motives and rationales around, on the surface, similar organizational changes.
The findings illustrate how differential institutional orders are maintained by middle managers and
frontline staff despite exposure to the same demands.
Research limitations/implications – There are different limitations to this ethnographic field
study due to the character of the methodology, the limited number of organizations, informants and
time span covered. Attending to micro-level processes within organizations provides a rich
understanding of how particular forms of organization and action emerge in response to institutional
demands. This calls for more ethnographic research on how actors within organizations cope and
work institutional change.
Originality/value – Relatively little organizational research has addressed how individual actors at
the lower levels of organizations cope and work with institutional changes using ethnographic
methodology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Organizations and Management
Volume6
Issue1
Pages (from-to)26-45
Number of pages20
ISSN1746-5648
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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