#Awalkinthepark – think tanks, discursive institutionalism institutional logic

Right, so here are four more things (a couple of them very short)

Ladl, S. 2011. Think Tanks, Discursive Institutionalism and Policy Change. In Papanagnou, G. (ed) Social Science and Policy Challenges: Democracy, Values and Capacities. UNESCO Publishing. Pp. 205-220.

Tolbert, P. and Zucker, P. 1999. The Institutionalization of Institutional Theory. In Clegg S. and Hardy, C. Studying Organizations. London: Sage. pp. 171-184.

Sarma S. 2013. Review of Thornton, P. Ocasio, W. and Lounsbury, M. 2012. The Institutional Logic Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Organization Studies, Vol 34, (1), pp.133-136

Anon. 2016. Wikipedia: Institutional Logic.

Ladi does a good job on using Schmidt’s Discursive Institutionalism to look at the power of the think tanks, especially their Janus-faced nature – turned to both policy makers (“coordinative discourse”) and to the great unwashed (“communicative discourse”).
On the great Schmidt-Bell debate, she’s cautiously critical of some of Schmidt’s claims, arguing that

“part of Schmidt’s critique of some of the tools of historical institutionalism is too harsh and should be reconsidered. Specifically, Schmidt (2008) claims that in order to explain change the historical institutionalist tradition relies too much on concepts such as critical junctures, which are unexplainable moments in time when change is triggered, often as a result of exogenous factors. Discursive institutionalism is expected to shed light on the agency during those critical junctures through the study of ideas and discourse. Although agency is a significant parameter in explaining change, another parameter is time, and critical junctures are an integral part of time. The limitation of discursive institutionalism to explain all kind of change is acknowledged because it is accepted that events outside people’s control happen, and actions have unintended consequences (Schmidt, 2010).
(Ladi, 2011: 207-8)

She’s good on advocacy coalitions and policy learning (such as it is).

An important aspect of policy learning is its collective nature. For learning to lead to change, it has to be collective and to include a large number of people across and within organizations who believe in policy change. Learning applies more easily to individuals than organizations, and thus the analysis of its impact upon policies is not always straightforward (Hannan and Freeman, 1989).
(Ladi, 2011: 209-10)

I was going to accuse her of being too starry-eyed about think tanks (she writes things like “Think tanks are there to provide this rethink when necessary. The main objective of think tanks is to bring knowledge and policy-making together by informing and if possible influencing the policy process” (p211) but then she gets down to brass tacks;

Most think tanks state that they conduct independent research in order to inform the public and the government on how to improve public policy. Their rhetoric often says that their work is for the common good and for educating the public. Nevertheless, their concern about their image and reputation limits the spectrum of their policy proposals. Even more, the extent to which think tanks can determine their own research agendas and their own arguments is doubtful because they are dependent on contracts and public and private funding (Stone, 2007). For instance, Jacobs and Page (2005), in a study about influence upon US foreign policy, conclude that internationally oriented businesses are the most important source of influence, followed by experts who may themselves be influenced by businesses.
(Ladi, 2011: 211)

“think tanks neither act as neutral bridges between academia and politics nor always function having public good as a compass.
(Ladi, 2011: 212)


She’s good on instrumental v. symbolic uses of knowledge (without getting to Foucault-y) which she then (p.214) links to Schmidt’s coordinative and communicative discourses.

Boswell (2009) argues that there are two types of knowledge use, instrumental and symbolic. Instrumental use of knowledge assumes rational policy-making where knowledge is used in order to solve a problem, while the symbolic use of knowledge refers to knowledge as a means of legitimation and strengthening of a policy position.
(Ladi, 2011: 212)

As per Jacques and Dunlap on climate counter-movement book publishing ahead of Rio and Kyoto,

“Additionally, the timing of think tanks’ action is important. It is during critical junctures that think tanks increase their chances of acting as carriers of coordinative and communicative discourse, thus affecting policy change.”
(Ladi, 2011: 214)

I’ll admit to being a little concerned about her claim that the fall of the Berlin Wall was “not an unexpected event” (p.215), but that’s a quibble; this is good stuff!

To read (after thesis)

Boswell, C. 2009. The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge. Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press.
Parmar, I. 2005. Catalysing events, think tanks and American foreign policy shifts: a comparative analysis of the impacts of Pearl Harbor 1941 and 11 September 2001. Government and Opposition, Vol. 40, pp. 1–25.

Tolbert and Zucker do a great job at clarifying

“the links between institutional theory and previous traditions of sociological work on organizational structure, and to provide some context for understanding the receptivity of organizational researchers in the late 1970s to institutional theory as an explanatory framework. The next section reviews the initial exposition of the theory in Meyer and Rowan’s (1977) seminal article…”
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:171)

The Meyer and Rowan looks great (it is the one from whence habitualization, objectification and sedimentation comes from), with the point that if you don’t look like everyone else in your eco-system don’t be surprised if you don’t survive-

A second major implication pointed up in Meyer and Rowan’s analysis is that the social evaluation of organizations, and hence organizational survival, can rest on observation of formal structures (that may or may not actually function), rather than on observed outcomes related to actual task performance.
“Thus, organizational success depends of factors other than efficient coordination and control of production activities. Independent of their productive efficiency, organizations which exist in highly elaborated institutional environments and succeed in becoming isomorphic with these environments gain the legitimacy and resources needed to survive (1977: 352).”
This claim sharply contradicted underlying market-oriented, or at least performance oriented assumptions about the functions of formal structure that dominated previous work: (1) that inefficient organizations – in production terms – would be selected out through a process of interorganizational competition; and (2) that correlations between measures of formal structure and such characteristics as size and technology thus resulted from the survival of organizations whose form matched the demands of their production environments.
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:172)

So, if organisations don’t look around at what others are doing, then it’s (internal) champions who make change. Or try to. It’s uphill…

Champions are most likely to emerge when there is a large potential ‘market’ for the innovation (e.g. when environmental changes have adversely affected the competitive positions of a number of established organizations.). To be successful, champions must accomplish two major tasks of theorization (Strange and Meyer 1993): creation of a definition of a generic organizational problem, a definition that includes specification of the set or category of organizational actors characterized by the problem; and justification of a particular formal structural arrangement as a solution to the problem on logical or empirical grounds (see also Galaskiewicz 1985). The first task involves generating pubic recognition of a consistent pattern of dissatisfaction or organizational failing that is characteristic of some array of organizations; the second task involves developing theories that provide a diagnosis of the source of dissatisfaction or failings, theories that are compatible with a particular structure as a solution or treatment.
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:177)

There’s good stuff in that too about “permanently failing organizations” (I can think of a few). Meyer and Zucker wrote a book in 1989 with just that title.

Sarma’s review makes me want to read the book, or at least Thornton and Ocasio Instituional logic in Greenwood Oliver et Sage handbook of orgnaizational institutionalism. We’ll close out with Wikipedia…

Thornton and Ocasio (1999: 804) define institutional logics

as the socially constructed, historical patterns of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality.[3]

But they are messy/competing, natch.

Multiple logics can create diversity in practice by enabling variety in cognitive orientation and contestation over which practices are appropriate. As a result, such multiplicity can create enormous ambiguity, leading to logic blending, the creation of new logics, and the continued emergence of new practice variants.

And this one looks good (if depressing)

Zilber, T. B. (2002). “Institutionalization as an Interplay between Actions, Meanings, and Actors: The Case of a Rape Crisis Center in Israel.” Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 234-254.

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