Bureaucratic politics and organisational reform at the University of Queensland, 1969-1982

Kidston, Robert Keith (1987). Bureaucratic politics and organisational reform at the University of Queensland, 1969-1982 PhD Thesis, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Kidston, Robert Keith
Thesis Title Bureaucratic politics and organisational reform at the University of Queensland, 1969-1982
School, Centre or Institute School of Political Science and International Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1987
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 571
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
9304 School/Institution
Formatted abstract
Aim of Study
The aim of this study is to add to the body of knowledge concerning how policies are formulated and conflicts resolved in large complex organisations. The essence of the problem studied concerns the reconciliation of demands for egalitarian participation in organisational decision-making with the competing demands for efficient bureaucratic control.

Not enough is known about how participants in organisations arrive at an accommodation between conflicting views. Part of the explanation for this seems to be that many policy studies in the past have failed to examine the internal dynamics of organisational decision-making in the detail and depth necessary to reveal fully the underlying reasons behind particular policy outcomes. Informal factors involving the backgrounds, motivations, values and ideologies of key actors as well as their interpretations of the relevant policy environment are frequently glossed over in a effort to impose "rationality" on the process. The problem is exacerbated in the policy domain of organisational development involving the redesign of decision-making structures and processes. Too much weight is often given to excessively deterministic connections between organisational goals and structure and between organisational environment and structure in order to explain why one pattern of governance was selected rather than another.

Scope and Method
This study has examined the policy process associated with the reform of the system of governance of one large, complex organisation, the University of Queensland. The scope of the study has been limited to the University's internal decision-making structure and processes over the 1969-1982 period. So that the necessary level of detail and depth would be achieved, the case study method was used.

Because of the methodology used, this thesis can make no claim that its findings, by themselves, can be extrapolated without qualification to other organisations or even generalised to other universities. The approach has been to apply political and organisational theory to the empirical data gathered in respect of one organisation in order to provide evidence for the validation or falsification of two theoretical propositions which are central to understanding the role of organisational behaviour in policy making. These propositions are:

Principal Hypothesis
That the policy process is influenced by environmental and structural factors but that within those constraints, policy outcomes are shaped primarily by the political behaviour of strategically placed participants moderated by systematised bureaucratic procedures.

Subsidiary Hypothesis
That the tension which exists in organisations between internal demands for autonomy through participation in decision-making and the external demands for accountability through hierarchical control over decision-making will be worked out, on balance, in favour of greater bureaucratisation.

This study has found that the policy process associated with the reform of the University's system of governance was influenced by a range of environmental factors. These included historical precedent, cultural traditions, relevant external political issues, the level of economic resources made available and the effects of technology. Structural factors such as the need for additional layers of hierarchical control to coordinate the intense, horizontal differentiation of the University were also influential. However these influences fell far short of any deterministic relationship with organisational structure as suggested in systems organisational theory (Katz & Kahn, 1966) or in Strategic Contingencies Theory (Greenwood et al, 1975). Rather it was the exercise of strategic choice by key actors and their related political behaviour which had the greatest impact on policy outcomes.

With regard to strategic choice, this study found evidence to support the contentions postulated by Child (1972), Dyson (1976) and Jenkins (1978) that key actors were able to exert considerable influence over the policy process by deciding which issues would be elevated to the political agenda and by indicating strongly what their preferred policy options were. Leaders were able to do this by interpreting environmental and structural factors so that such factors were defined as constraints upon or opportunities for reform according to the leaders' ideological values and assessment of the University's performance. By imposing their own definition of environmental and structural reality on the University, leaders were able to give particular salience to the policy options that coincided with their preferences.

The study thus found evidence to support the propositions expressed by Wildavsky (1979) and Pfeffer (1981) that policy outcomes are strongly influenced by the political behaviour of strategically placed participants. However this behaviour was moderated by the use of systematised bureaucratic procedures in a process described in this thesis as bureaucratic politics. The ad hoc committees of inquiry set up to reconcile conflicting views relating to organisational reform together with the regularised processes of internal review and consultation served as formal, constitutional checks on institutionalised power. This moderating effect was reflected in the fact that policy outcomes were not always congruent with the options advocated by relevant leaders.

The main substantive outcome that occurred as a result of the continuing tension between internal demands for autonomy through participation in decision-making and external demands for accountability through hierarchical control was a trend towards increased bureaucratisation.
Keyword University of Queensland
Organizational change
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Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
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Created: Thu, 10 Dec 2009, 08:51:24 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service