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Alternative Approaches for Studying Organizational Change

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'Alternative Approaches for Studying Organizational Change'

Andrew H. Van de Ven and Marshall Scott Poole

The article discusses four approaches to research organizational change. These approaches are based on the combination of two dimensions; whether organizations consist of things or processes, and whether we should use variance or process methods for conducting research. Although these approaches might seem to oppose each other, the authors view them as being complementary and therefore argue that combining the insights from the four approaches provides a richer understanding of organization change than any one approach by itself.

Organizations: things or processes?

Organizations can viewed of as social things or actors, where the identity or substance of the organization doesn't change, but only their development and adaptation in relation to other dimensions and properties can change. In this view research focuses mainly on unique organizational features such as identity, structure, culture and performance. Organizations are then studied as nouns (social entities). On the other hand, organizations can also be viewed as a process or activity of change. In this view, organizations are always in some particular state of phase of a process: there is always something moving. In this respect, organizations are seen as a verbs (an emergent flux).

Organization processes: Variance or Process methods?

Variance methods of researching change occur when change is represented as a dependent variable, which is explained with a set of independent variables that statistically explain variations in the dependent variable of change. This method is sometimes labeled as limited, as it is difficult to conceptualize change and development and critical aspects of change processes are often disregarded. Process methods, which tend to be more complex due to the dynamic nature of processes, are event-driven approaches which try to explain the temporal order and sequence in which change events occur, based on a story or historical narrative. Process methods try to identify and test linkages between events and patterns, and try to penetrate the logic behind observed progressions, whereas variance research is not capable of tapping these deeper aspects of change.

When this foregoing discussion is combined, a typology of four approaches for studying change is suggested. The authors believe that, when related and combined, these four approaches provide a richer understanding of complex organizational dynamics than can be obtained from only one approach.

Approach 1: Variance Study of Change in Organizations

This approach treats change in an organization as a dependent variable and tries to explain it by causal analysis

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