Becoming a mutual: How members negotiate identity during and after public sector 'spin-out'
Date: 13 July 2020
University of Exeter
PhD in Leadership Studies
This thesis provides one very intensive case-study account of the challenges that a public service organisation faces as it ‘spins out’ of the public sector and becomes a public service mutual. The study of public service mutual’s is important due to their vital role in the delivery of public services in austerity and post-austerity ...
This thesis provides one very intensive case-study account of the challenges that a public service organisation faces as it ‘spins out’ of the public sector and becomes a public service mutual. The study of public service mutual’s is important due to their vital role in the delivery of public services in austerity and post-austerity Britain (and elsewhere), the organisational form is used widely in other sectors, and yet there are challenges in or gaps in how the lived experiences of an organisation are played out and understood. The turbulence of both changing environments and institutions introduces between stakeholders a multitude of tensions and interactions. Stakeholders therefore seek to negotiate individual and organisational identity simultaneously, through the challenges of change. This thesis explores two main questions: What are the challenges a ‘public service’ organisation faces during a major change? And how do stakeholders negotiate their identities in the face of the challenges of change? To investigate these questions, this research employs a qualitative, interpretive, social-constructionist perspective theoretically based in the fields of identity, organisational change and sensemaking. I was embedded in the organisation to collect data across a period spanning three years consisting of extensive observation, document collection, interviews, focus groups augmented by participatory activities. The account tells the stories of how stakeholders respond to and enact organisational evolution. Narratives of change were prepared through an interpretive analysis of the observational, documentary and interview transcripts presenting an in-depth chronological account of evolution. This chronological re-reading of events explores how identities are constructed and reconstructed over time, through a blending of sensemaking about the past, present and future. III This research arrives at four theoretical contributions 1) Stakeholders perform identity work by creating their own narrative for identity as a new organisational form evolves, pieced together from senior level and local level organisational narratives and the ambiguity arising in-between. 2) In a spin-out, identity formation processes unfold through. 3) The iterative emergence of individual and organisational identity manifests through evolution to present initially hybrid, and then multiple, identities. The latter arising from the way identities are composed and/or deconstructed through identity legitimisation and contestation 4) Stakeholders use sensemaking processes through certainty and uncertainty to initially temporally frame what is changing, then to determine a position for their own continuity. This case study presents insights across three years following the ‘spin out’ of a public service from local authority ownership into an independent entity. This work provides direction for practice and public policy by framing the major challenges of change for becoming a public service mutual: communication, independence and the implementation of new ways of working. This new understanding can sensitise managers and stakeholders to the significance of identity challenges during and after spin-out process, and guide them as to the events and milestones that might offer opportunities for constructing/reconstructing identities.
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