The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Organizational Change Tactics: Assessing and Advancing the Evidence Base

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 9:00 AM
Marina 6 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Thomas R. Packard, DSW, Associate Professor, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Amber Brychta, MSW, Research Assistant, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA
Background and Purpose: Human services organizations (HSOs) are facing increasing challenges such as funding pressures and increasing performance accountability expectations, including those for evidence-based practices. Planned organizational change processes can be used to address such challenges and improve organizational outcomes. There is a massive literature on organizational change, ranging from popular management books to academic research on specific aspects of change. There is a growing literature regarding human service organizations, including increasing attention to implementation science and evidence-based practices. Much of this literature is based on case studies, often with little detail on the use of change tactics, an important aspect of organizational change. Research which offers generalizable, evidence-based guidelines for implementing change is not common.  This study’s objective was to assess the evidence base in this organizational change literature to lay the groundwork for more systematic knowledge development in this important field.

Methods: This study used a content analysis of two related streams of literature on organizational change.  First, this literature was eloquently summarized by Fernandez and Rainey (2006) in Public Administration Review, with a particular focus on the public sector, a common arena for HSOs.  A second content analysis, focusing specifically on recent literature in HSOs, was also conducted.  For the first analysis, the sample included citations from Fernandez and Rainey which addressed organizational change tactics. The second analysis used data retrieved from Social Services Abstracts from 2005 to 2011 using the keyword “organizational change”.  Titles and abstracts were reviewed to identify those which specifically mentioned organizational change tactics. Data gathered on these cases (articles or books cited) included the empirical basis of the research, types of data collected, and the mention of any of 22 change tactics.

Results: In the first study (N=82), the most common evidence base was literature reviews (28%), followed by multiple case studies (26%) and the author’s authority as a consultant (11%) or as a researcher or teacher (11%). Methods reported included qualitative (75%), quantitative (12%), and both (13%). Only 7 articles reported statistically significant findings. The most frequently mentioned tactics were support from top management (mentioned by 65%) and providing sufficient resources (59%). Cases mentioned an average of 7 tactics each. In the second study (N=39), the most common evidence base was multiple case studies (25%), followed by literature reviews and single case studies (24% for each). Methods included qualitative (58%), quantitative (16%), and both (26%). Four articles reported statistically significant findings. The most frequently mentioned tactics were support from top management (mentioned by 59%) and clear communication of the urgency for change (51%). Cases mentioned an average of 5 tactics each.

Conclusions and Implications: In both the broad literature reviewed by Fernandez and Rainey and the social services literature mentioning organizational change, few articles or books substantively addressed the important variable of change tactics. Literature reviews, case studies, and authority-based were the most common sources of evidence, suggesting a great need for more empirically-based research which can guide researchers and practitioners to develop and use new knowledge to improve organizational effectiveness.