A policy study of the emergence of a joint interdisciplinary school
Educational institutions have remained remarkably unchanged throughout the last century, even when the political, cultural and social environments have undergone very significant transformation (cf. Duderstadt, 2005; Fullan, 2007; Rowan & Miskel, 1999). Because of the noted similarity among educational institutions and the institutions’ perceived inability to change, I wanted to identify a significant change at an educational institution, and examine the context and policy process that promoted this change. The focus of this study was the process of policy development within one type of educational institution, the university. In this case study, I examined the policy process involved in establishing a joint, interdisciplinary school, the School of Policy and Research. Data were gathered from three sources: interviews, documents, and policies. I conducted semi-structured interviews with thirteen participants who had some connection to the School, and analyzed the data by coding emergent themes. These were not discrete themes, but rather were interconnected and reflected the complexity of the policy development process. From the findings, the concept of policy windows, as suggested by Kingdon (2003), was evident in the policy origin stage. The policy stream, the political stream, and the problem stream came together at a critical juncture as a confluence of forces that allowed the initiative of the joint interdisciplinary policy School to move forward into adoption and implementation. Due to this presence of a policy window, the initiative moved through the adoption stage relatively smoothly, at least initially. The policy actors were essentially the same at both universities; there was a core group of grassroots level faculty members who were involved in policy work and believed in the potential of the interdisciplinary policy School. They were supported by senior administrative personnel who saw this initiative as one way to address perceived problems confronting the institutions. However, the implementation stage at both universities was messy and difficult as the proponents of the School encountered many tensions, including issues around securing resources, program development, the proposal approval process, and several sources of resistance to change. The discipline-driven culture of the universities appeared to be an impediment to innovative practices that bridge disciplinary boundaries. Although the timing of this study obviated full consideration of the evaluation stage, the participants did speculate upon several intended impacts of the School, and they proposed possible collateral impacts. Implications of this investigation for practice included a need for individual organizations to conduct a thorough examination of situation-specific organizational practices that promote or inhibit innovation, including reviews of current practice for determining what programs need to be discontinued, for articulating how to monitor progress in achieving outcomes, and for identifying how to promote a more collaborative culture. In terms of implications for research, further exploration of the implementation stage of successful policy development was seen to have some potential. In change theory, further research could address the stark absence of the voice of resistors to change. Two elements of neoinstitutional theory that merit further research are the roles of agents in initiating change, and the role of isomorphic processes (coercive, normative, and mimetic) in inhibiting change in organizations. One theoretical implication of this study was the relevance of certain lenses (political, temporal, organizational, and cultural) in examining change. Additionally, the theoretical dichotomy of incremental and transformative change merits further examination in relation to the dynamics of the policy process.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorRenihan, Patrick; Burgess, David
CommitteeNoonan, Warren; Donlevy, Kent; Haines, Leonard; Mykota, David; MacGregor, Michael
Copyright DateJanuary 2010