Tag Archives: organizational communication

Universities as Networks of Communication

Following the constructivist view means that communication constitutes organization. As my colleague Steffen Blaschke, together with Dennis Schoeneborn and David Seidl from University of Zurich, already stated in a recent article in Organization Studies, communication episodes among organizational actors may be fruitfully analyzed by applying network methodology.

Adopting this approach, we’ve just started to analyze datasets that were gathered during a comprehensive reorganization of administrative structures and processes at Hamburg University. To elaborate our understanding about the topics of interest in central (presidential offices), intermediate (school offices), and local (department offices) administrations, we study the data as two-mode networks of topics and actors. The below charts display the most centralized (1) and the most localized school (2) at Hamburg University. Blue nodes represent organizational levels (central, intermediate, local), red nodes represent topics (here: planning and strategy related issues). Issues that matter on one or more organizational levels are connected by verticies to the respective nodes.

CentralLocalThe full networks of communication will show which administrative issues matter for different organizational actors or, put differently, what content constitutes the three levels of administrative hierarchy. By contrasting the two extreme cases, we expect to identify administrative issues that may not be centralized easily and, in turn, issues that are difficult to localize.

Governing Organizational Change in Universities

Organizational change is an issue as old as organization theory itself. However, it has been largely overlooked in research on higher education institutions. We’re currently working on filling that void. Our short paper entitled Governing Change in Universities: Towards a Micro Foundation (Blaschke, Frost, and Hattke) just got accepted for presentation at the first Higher Education Research Conference in Zürich next year. Now the heat is on, the full paper is due in January. Here’s the abstract:

Universities are facing increasing institutional pressure to change due to government efforts of new public management, more and more academic competition over research grants, and rising student enrolments. Research on higher education institutions broadly suggests that it takes governance, leadership, and managment alike to cope with these recent developments (e.g., de Boer et al., 2007; Bradshaw & Fredette, 2008; Carnegie & Tuck, 2010). Governing organizational change in universities, however, is notoriously difficult. As loosely coupled systems of academic, administrative, or political issues and organizational bodies concerned with these issues, universities presumably defy tight couplings, which are required to govern change. Our aim, then, is to remedy this seemingly paradox by developing patterns of temporary tight couplings that facilitate governing organizational change in universities. Based on research on intentional organizational change and university governance, we first derive propositions for effectively governing four stages of intentional change: initiation, understanding, performance, and closure (Ford & Ford, 1995). We substantiate our theoretical reasoning with thirteen years of longitudinal data from the university senate of one of the largest German universities. Following the four stages, our findings indicate unique patterns of tightly coupled strategic issues and organizational bodies. In contrast to the rather broadly defined macro modes of university governance, leadership, and management, our patterns provide a micro foundation for governing organizational change in universities.

  • Bradshaw, P., & Fredette, C. (2008). Academic Governance of Universities: Reflections of a Senate Chair on Moving From Theory to Practice and Back. Journal of Management Inquiry, 18 (2), 123–133.
  • Carnegie, G. D., & Tuck, J. (2010). Understanding the ABC of University Governance. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 69(4), 431–441.
  • de Boer, H., Enders, J., & Schimank, U. (2007). On the way towards New Public Management? The Governance of University Systems in England, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. In D. Jansen (Ed.) New Forms of Governance in Research Organizations, (pp. 137–152). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
  • Ford, J. D., & Ford, L. W. (1995). The Role of Conversations in Producing Intentional Change in Organizations. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 541–570.