CERN through the looking glass: narrative, meta-narrative and strategy in a twenty-first century organisation

Little, Stephen (2009). CERN through the looking glass: narrative, meta-narrative and strategy in a twenty-first century organisation. In: APROS 13 Stream 4: Strategy and Change: Living with Maps, Masks and Mirrors!, 6-9 Dec 2009, Monterrey, Mexico.

Abstract

This paper sets out the context for a two year study of relationships within the ATLAS experiment at CERN, Geneva, and focuses on the tensions between the narratives deployed by the managers within this international collaboration to enlist and shape the participation of its members. It describes the complex and potentially conflicting narratives deployed bythe individuals charged with the management of a unique organization. These managers are scientists elected to their post by their peers in order to sustain the organization in conditions of uncertainty and complexity derived from the heterogeneity of members and stakeholders and the uncertainty inherent in the core scientific endeavour. These narratives appear to play a key role in sustaining the collectivist ethos which underpins the collaboration and which substitutes for formal managerial structures (see Knorr-Cetina,1999). However this collectivism is itself an obstacle to effective performance in certain contexts. For example, technology transfer represents significant additional value from the core research at CERN. However the ethos of transparency conflicts with the commercial confidentiality essential to the marketability of intellectual property.

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