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Collaboration and Culture

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

Organizational Culture and the Dynamics of Collaborative Networks

Featuring Chris Weare and Nicole Esparza

Recently, inter-organizational collaborative networks have received increasing attention from political science and public administration scholars. From a policy perspective, this interest has been sparked by the rise of networked-based forms of policy development and implementation due to the devolution of policy responsibilities to local actors and increasing reliance on public-private partnerships. From a scholarly perspective, this interest is driven by the increasing awareness that social structure and not just actor characteristics are important determinants of organizational behavior and system performance.

In this paper we introduce the importance of organizational culture to dynamics of collaborative networks. While sociologists have been interested in the link between culture and networks (Emirbayer and Goodwin 1994; Mische 2003) and political scientists have examined the cultural roots of political preferences (Wildavsky 1987), the extant literature on collaborative and policy networks has paid scant attention to the role played by organizational culture. This omission is problematic given that culture – defined as individuals’ and organizations’ world views – arises from the social structure and social interactions within which actors are embedded and choices about future interactions are made so that they are consistent with and reinforce existing social perceptions. Thus, culture and networks are closely linked.

We develop a theory of culture based on Douglas and Wildavsky’s group-grid paradigm that links cultural preferences to the social structures in which actors’ are embedded. It focuses on two key components of social structure: 1) grid, the degree to which prescriptive norms are placed on individuals and 2) group, the strength of individuals’ identification with a particular group. We derive a number of mechanisms that detail how particular cultures facilitate or inhibit collaborative behavior and how differing cultures tend to interact. We demonstrate the importance of these culture-based mechanisms employing a unique dataset on the field of affordable housing in Los Angeles. The dataset combines social network data of organizational collaborations between private, non-profit, and state actors with ethnographic observations of a set of key organizations. We identify organizational culture through ethnographic observation and we detail the structure of organizational collaborative networks through both a sociometric survey and with ethnographic field data. We then demonstrate how organizational cultures play a central role in the constitution and fissure of a central coalition and how culture-based explanations fare better than those based on either rational, interest-based action or social structure.

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