ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Comprehending organisational change through process research methodology - Case of the Evolutionary Change Theory.

Hafsa Ahmed, Michaela Balzarova, David Cohen

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 4 - Law Building, Room 106
Date: 2012-07-10 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-19


The study of organizational change is an important topic in social sciences and organisational change theories need to incorporate analysis of processes while examining the territory/environment around organisational change to better understand it (Pettigrew, Woodman, & Cameron, 2001). Tsoukas and Chia (2002) rightly argue that traditional methods of research fail to address distinct characteristics of change; therefore, Weick's (1969, 1979) argument for focusing on the dynamic organizational processes rather than the static organizational forms (Orton, 1997) lead towards process research. Utilising process research involves exploring organisational change as events/activities unfold over time as process research considers the entities as reification of processes (Bakken and Tor, 2006; Van de Ven & Poole, 2005). Furthermore, process research on organisational change is fitting as it examines - 'its fluidity, pervasiveness, open-endedness, and indivisibility' (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002).
The Evolutionary Change Theory proposed by Van de Ven and Poole (1995) represents a mechanism of organisation change which is cyclical in nature and progresses through the stages of variation, selection, and retention. Originally a process explained by Darwin in biology as 'natural selection', it made its way to organisational theory with Hannan and Freeman's seminal work on population ecology (1977). However, critics highlight that natural selection is too deterministic as it denies managerial intentionality and freewill while also ignoring the strategic decision making abilities of organisational actors (Aldrich & Pfeffer, 1976; Lewin, Weigelt, & Emery, 2004). The critiques provide a basis for examining the relevance of various external and internal influences on the process of organisational change following the mechanism of the Evolutionary Change Theory.
We situate our research in the New Zealand electricity industry and examine the industry wide changes since 1984 by using process research. Our research relies on archival data; hence, obtains a retrospective account of the process of change. We argue that a retrospective account is more advantageous due to its holistic nature and helps in interpreting events (Poole et al., 2000: 118). We develop an account of important incidents throughout the change process, utilise temporal bracketing and visual mapping to make sense of the process data, and eventually develop a narrative. A narrative explains how the process of organisational change unfolded and takes into account the impact of external and internal influences. Based on our appraisal, we recommend a more refined model of the Evolutionary Change Theory.