Date:februari 28, 2016

Onderzoeker FSW VU ‘Participatief veranderen’

Title of master research

Establishing theoretical and empirical insights on  participation in organizational change processes


Research proposal

The purpose of this research is to identify and explore issues associated with the use of participation in conjunction with Organization Development activities. It is a first step in the development of a theory on the effectiveness of  participation in Organization Development (OD) activities. Participation is a favorite construct in organizational change theory, however our understandings and assumptions regarding participation are often simplistic (Woodman,1989:208). For example, Pasmore & Fagans (1992:375) belief that the main success factor in participative change approaches in OD is combining individual development processes with organizational development efforts. There are reasons to belief that this view of participative processes places significant limitations on the success of organizational change projects in general. This research addresses this knowledge gap on the effect of participation in OD processes.

The evasive desire to involve people in meaningful decisions that shape their lives has been part of human history (Pasmore & Fagans, 1992). The field of Organization Development (OD) builds on this desire. OD’s values (see for an overview French & Bell, 1999) include the empowerment of participants at all levels of organizations to take part in making decisions that affect them. Reviews of OD like those of Conger and Kanungo (1988), Cotton et al. (1988), Ahlbrandt et al. (1992), Wagner (1994), Glew et al. (1995) show us that the mechanisms for involving people in decision making are at best imperfect. To follow the reasoning of Pasmore and Fagans (1992:378) one cannot conclude that participation in organizations, that is simply involving people in decision making, will produce positive benefits to either those involved or the organization as a whole.

Dachler and Wilpert (1978:1) reach the conclusion that “No clear set of questions, let alone a set of answers, which begin to define the nature of the participation phenomenon are discernable.” The same point is made by Kanter (1983:243) who believes that there are crucial perils and problems, dilemma’s, and decisions, need to be addressed in managing participation so that it produces the best results for everyone. Up to this point, very little empirical evidence has been provided to support the assumed effects of participation in OD. Moreover, findings from research on participation in other settings are largely inconclusive, the average effects of participation on attitudinal outcome variables such as job satisfaction and commitment are modest (Cotton et al., 1988; Wagner, 1994; Lines, 2004). The average effect of participation on group and organization level outcomes, such as productivity is virtually zero (Lines, 2004). Such research has also revealed that participation is a much more complex issue than is often suggested, both as a theoretical construct and as an empirical phenomenon (Cotton et al., 1988; Keef, 1991; Glew et al., 1995; Lines, 2004).

Nowadays there is a high interest in the question of how we can make organizational change processes more successful. Although we all belief that participation is an important success factor, most change processes don’t realize the intended goals. The mixed track record of participation in OD, and of OD interventions in general, may be attributable, as I belief to a failure to understand what conditions are required to sustain effective participation in organizational change.

The research is part of the OPOS research program of the department Organization Sciences; especially the second theme on:


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