Managing values : the reproduction of organisational values in social economy organisations

Aiken, Mike (2002). Managing values : the reproduction of organisational values in social economy organisations. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines how quality social economy organisations reproduce their organisational values. The `social economy' sector is of growing importance in the European Union for employment and as a deliverer of public services. Others see social economy organisations as an important component of civil society: as advocates for the disadvantaged, as critics of social injustice, and as innovators of social changes (Korten 1990; Putnam 1993). These organisations are seen as distinctive in being independent of government and commercial enterprise, and because they are value-based. This study examined a crucial issue for social economy organisations: how they reproduce their distinctive values.

The research examined six social economy organisations in the voluntary and cooperative sector in the UK using an exploratory case study strategy. Semi-structured interviews, documentary evidence and group discussions were used to illuminate the understandings of organisational actors. Organisations were chosen in a range that stretched from a worker co-operative operating in commercial markets; through to social enterprises using a mixture of public, private and charitable income streams; to charities using grants and government contracts.

The study assumed a realist ontology. It drew from institutionalist and management culture theories informed by the not-for-profit research literature. The argument has been that economically orientated value-based organisations will face inevitable degeneration in the face of market pressures with a loss of their distinctive values (Webb 1930). A parallel argument has suggested that charitable organisations face threats to their independence from statutory funding regimes particularly with contracts for welfare services (Taylor 1990). This study suggests that a decline of values may occur, but that it is not inevitable, and shows some of the processes operating in social economy organisations which can enable and encourage the reproduction of values. These included integrated organisational structures which gave space to embed values in practise and enabled key values to influence decision-making processes.

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