The new sciences of chaos and complexity and organisational change : a case study of the Open University

McMillan, Elizabeth M. (2000). The new sciences of chaos and complexity and organisational change : a case study of the Open University. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis investigates the use of ideas and insights from the new sciences of chaos and complexity in organisations, especially in organisational change interventions. It contends that organisations are still dominated by approaches derived from classical, traditional science and that these are no longer very helpful. Newer approaches to organisational life are emerging, including the learning organisation, and these offer innovative ways forward. Other more radical ideas are also emerging from understandings derived from the new sciences.

It uses a detailed case study of the Open University to explore the use of a range of change theories in introducing change into a complex, complicated, traditional organisation. The change process studied used ideas drawn from modern notions of strategic change but also some ideas available in the literature which draws on insights from the new sciences. Stacey's (1992, 1993, 1996) work particularly his 9 point complexity theory of organisation (1996) is used to provide a theoretical framework.

This thesis concludes that the new sciences offer an effective and innovative way of introducing organisational change and offers a transition model of strategy which may serve as an enabling bridge between classical notions of change and a new sciences approach. It supports and builds upon Stacey's work by showing the benefits of using of self organising principles, especially self organising teams, as part of a strategic change intervention. Further it adds to the ideas on the human dynamics of change, suggests ways in which to introduce such a strategic change process and offers an additional interpretation of the development of teams in organisations.

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