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Mimetic, coercive, and normative influences in institutionalization of organizational practices: The case of distance learning in higher education

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Kristi D Caravella
Abstract:
In this study, DiMaggio and Powell's (1983) institutional model of isomorphic change is hypothesized to explain the changes witnessed in educational organizations with regard to the acceptance, implementation and institutionalization of distance learning. In order to show the power of institutional theory in explaining organizational change over time, a comparative qualitative case study methodology is utilized. Document analysis and interviews are used to explore the utility of this isomorphic change model. Each research question seeks to explore different influences of institutional isomorphism, coercive, normative, and mimetic. DiMaggio and Powell (1983) suggest organizations converge on similar practices and behaviors and appear similar to like organizations over time. The appearance of change toward homogeneity is explored through the isomorphic change theory which indentifies three forces, coercive, normative and mimetic, influential in determining how adopted behaviors and practices become isomorphically accepted by the organizational field. Coercive isomorphism stems from political influence and organizational legitimacy, often conveyed through laws, regulations, and accreditation processes (or outside agency requirements); normative isomorphism is associated with professional values; and mimetic isomorphism is copying or mimicking behaviors that is a result of organizational response to uncertainty. By examining the organizational field for the presence of these forces and measuring the extent of these forces at various points in time one is able to explain convergence on regularized practices and institutionalized behaviors, or how an organizational field becomes institutionalized, around a particular idea or practice. The coercive, mimetic, and normative forces present in the field dictate institutionalization and theoretically produce an environment that induces organizational conformity, or homogeneity, through pressure to appear legitimate, competition, mandates associated with funding, and influential professional group and network values.

MIMETIC, COERCIVE, AND NORMATIVE INFLUENCES IN INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF ORGANIZATIONAL PRACTICES: THE CASE OF DISTANCE LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION

by

Kristi D. Caravella

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of

The College for Design and Social Inquiry

in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, Florida

May 2011

All rights reserved INFORMATION TO ALL USERS The quality of this reproduction is dependent on the quality of the copy submitted. In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed, a note will indicate the deletion. All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code. ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway P.O. Box 1346 Ann Arbor, MI 48106 - 1346 UMI 3462569 Copyright 2011 by ProQuest LLC. UMI Number: 3462569

ii

Copyright by Kristi D. Caravella 2011

iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank my Committee Chair, Dr. Hugh Miller, and Committee Members, Dr. Khi Thai and Dr. Floydette Cory Scruggs for all their patience, assistance, and guidance. I also would like to thank all the other mentors in my life who have made this journey possible. Most importantly, I would like to thank God Daddy for seeing this project and my life through until I go home to Him.

v

ABSTRACT

Author: Kristi Caravella Title: Mimetic, Coercive, and Normative Influences in Institutionalization Of Organizational Practices: The Case of Distance Learning in Higher Education

Institution: Florida Atlantic University Dissertation Advisor: Dr. Hugh Miller Degree: Doctor of Philosophy Year: 2011

In this study, DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) institutional model of isomorphic change is hypothesized to explain the changes witnessed in educational organizations with regard to the acceptance, implementation and institutionalization of distance learning. In order to show the power of institutional theory in explaining organizational change over time, a comparative qualitative case study methodology is utilized. Document analysis and interviews are used to explore the utility of this isomorphic change model. Each research question seeks to explore different influences of institutional isomorphism, coercive, normative, and mimetic. DiMaggio and Powell (1983) suggest organizations converge on similar practices and behaviors and appear similar to like organizations over time. The

vi appearance of change toward homogeneity is explored through the isomorphic change theory which indentifies three forces, coercive, normative and mimetic, influential in determining how adopted behaviors and practices become isomorphically accepted by the organizational field. Coercive isomorphism stems from political influence and organizational legitimacy, often conveyed through laws, regulations, and accreditation processes (or outside agency requirements); normative isomorphism is associated with professional values; and mimetic isomorphism is copying or mimicking behaviors that is a result of organizational response to uncertainty. By examining the organizational field for the presence of these forces and measuring the extent of these forces at various points in time one is able to explain convergence on regularized practices and institutionalized behaviors, or how an organizational field becomes institutionalized, around a particular idea or practice. The coercive, mimetic, and normative forces present in the field dictate institutionalization and theoretically produce an environment that induces organizational conformity, or homogeneity, through pressure to appear legitimate, competition, mandates associated with funding, and influential professional group and network values.

vii

MIMETIC, COERCIVE, AND NORMATIVE INFLUENCES IN INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF ORGANIZATIONAL PRACTICES: THE CASE OF DISTANCE LEARNING IN HIGHER EDUCATION

List of Tables…………………………………………………… ………….. ………….xi

Introduction …………………………… ………………... …..……… …… ……………....1

Research Questions……………………… ……………….. …… …… …….…...…1

Hole in the literature……………… … ……………..………….…………….....4

Significance of Research…………………………….……………………...….5

Theoretical Framework – Institutional Theory…………………..…………………….7

Old Institutionalism……………………… ………………... ..………...……….10

New or Neo-Institutionalism………………………………...………...……...12

Old Institutionalism versus New Institutionalism………………..……...……16

Other Typologies of Institutional Theory………………… ………………. …….18

Institutional Isomorphism………………………… ……………… …………….21

Educational Institutions and Isomorphic Institutionalism………… …… …….27

Research Methods..………..……....………………………… …………... …………….32

Documents and Institutional Records…………… ……………… …...…………33

Interviews………………………………………………………...…………...34

The Distance Learning Case Study…………………………………………...38

Independent Variables…………………………………………..…… ……….. 40

viii Coercive Pressures…………………………… ……………… ……………...….41

Coercive Pressure Variable Measurement 1 – The Higher Education Act………………………...……………………………….41

Coercive Pressure Variable Measurement 2 – SACS Accreditation Manuals and Commission Documents…… ............ ….....43

Normative Values of Professionalism…………………… ………….. ………..45

Normative Value Variable Measurement 1 - Professional Associations and On-the-job Socialization…………..……………….45

Normative Value Variable Measurement 2 – Professional and Academic Journals……………………………………...…………….48

Normative Values Interview Variable Measurements – Genuine Organizational Participation and On-The-Job Socialization… … …….51

Mimetic Reinforcement……………………………………………...……….52

Mimetic Reinforcement Interview Variable Measurements – Standardized Program Formats, One-best-Approach Formats, Common Symbol and Phrases, and Common Organizational Structures…………………………………………… …………. ……...53

Dependent Variable - Institutional Isomorphism……………………….…….53

Variable Measurement 1 - Distance Learning Full Time Equivalencies (FTEs)…………………………………………………55

Variable Measurement 2 - Media Sources…………………………....58

Summary of Findings…………………………….……………………...……………60

Coercive Pressures…………………………………………………...…….....60

Coercive Pressure Variable Measurement 1 – The Higher Education Act………………………………………………..………..60

History of the Higher Education Act……… …………… …...….61

Coercive Pressure Variable Measurement 2 – SACS Accreditation Manuals and Commission Documents………...............67

ix History of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation Manual Publications……………….…68

SACS - Policies, Guidelines, Good Practices, and Position Statements……...……………………………..……..74

SACS Distance Learning Definitions………………...………79

Normative Values of Professionalism…………………… ………….. ………..81

Normative Value Variable Measurement 1 - Professional Associations…………………………………………………………..82

Normative Value Variable Measurement 2 - Professional and Academic Journals...……………………………………….................85

Normative Value Interview Results - Genuine Organizational Participation and On-The-Job Socialization………… …………. …...…91

On-the-job socialization and Networking…………………….92

Emotive organizational participation………………………....93

Mimetic Reinforcement………………………… …………………. …………....95

Mimetic Reinforcement Variable Measurements - Interview Results: Organizational copying and mimicking……………………..96

Standardized program formats………………………………..97

One-best-approach formats or best practices……………........98

Common organizational structures…… …………… …………...99

Common symbol or phrases…………………………………100

Definitions of distance learning………………… …….. ……..102

Institutional Isomorphism………………………………… … ………... ……...104

Dependent Variable Measurement – FTEs………… ……….. . …….....105

Dependent Variable Measurement – Media Sources………………..108

Correlation of the Independent and Dependent Variables…… … ………... …..111

x

Conclusion……………………….……………………………... ………….. ………..112

Research Questions…………………………………………...……………..113

Limitations………………………………………………………...………...117

Implications of Research…………………………………………..………...119

Future Directions for Research…………………… ……………… …...………123

Appendix A – Mimetic Interview Questions…………………………………..……125

Appendix B – Normative Interview Questions………………………………….…..128

Appendix C - IRB study participation forms………………………………………..129

Appendix D – List of Professional and Academic Journals…… …………… …...........133

References…...………………………………………………………………………140

xi

TABLES

Table 1. Sources for Coercive Variable Measurement 1 – Higher Education Act…...42 Table 2. Sources for Coercive Variable Measurement 2 – SACS Accreditation Manual and Commission Documents…...…………..……………………….44

Table 3. Sources for Normative Variable Measurement 2 – Professional and Academic Journals……………………………………..…...……………..…50

Table 4. Sources for Dependent Variable Measurement 1 – FTEs…….……………..58 Table 5. 1998 and 2008 Higher Education Act – References to Distance Learning……………………………………………………………………..62

Table 6. Summary HEA References by Time Period……………………………...…64 Table 7. List of Southern Association of Schools and Colleges Policy, Guidelines, And Good Practices….……..…………………………………...77

Table 8. Summary Data SACS Commission Documents…………………………….79 Table 9. Professional Associations by Institution…………………………………….83

Table 10. List of Journals, Dates Published, and Scope………… ………….. ………...87

Table 11. Distance Learning Full Time Equivalencies (FTEs) by Institution………106

Table 12. Summary of Dependent Variable News Source Data…………………….109

1

1. INTRODUCTION

In this study, DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) institutional model of isomorphic change is hypothesized to explain the changes witnessed in educational organizations with regard to the acceptance, implementation, and institutionalization of distance learning. In order to show the power of institutional theory in explaining organizational change over time, a comparative qualitative case study research methodology is utilized in this study. Document analysis and interviews are used to explore the utility of DiMaggio and Powell’s isomorphic change model. Each research question in this study seeks to explore different influences of institutional isomorphism, coercive, normative, and mimetic. The three research questions explore the three individual sources of influence as theorized by DiMaggio and Powell.

Research Questions:

Research Question 1: Do coercive pressures lead to institutional isomorphism?

Research Question 2: Do normative values of professionals lead to institutional isomorphism?

Research Question 3: Does mimetic reinforcement lead to institutional isomorphism?

2 DiMaggio and Powell (1983) suggest that organizations converge on similar practices and behaviors and appear similar to like organizations over time. The appearance of change toward homogeneity is explored through the authors’ isomorphic change theory which indentifies three forces influential in determining how adopted behaviors and practices become isomorphically institutionalized (accepted) by the organizational field as a whole. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary (2007) isomorphism is defined as “being of identical or similar form or shape or structure.” These three forces include coercive pressure, normative values of professionalism and mimetic reinforcement. Coercive isomorphism stems from political influence and organizational legitimacy, often conveyed through laws, regulations, and accreditation processes (or other outside agency standardization or oversight and compliance requirements); normative isomorphism is associated with professional values; and mimetic isomorphism is copying or mimicking behaviors that are a result of organizational response to uncertainty. Mimetic behaviors are “of the nature of imitation or mimicry” (Random House, 2011). By examining the organizational field for the presence of these forces and measuring the extent of these forces at various points in time, it is theorized that one is better able to understand convergence on homogenized practices and institutionalized behaviors, or how an organizational field becomes institutionalized, around a particular idea or practice. The coercive, mimetic, and normative forces present in the field dictate the institutionalization of organizations. Theoretically, these three forces, coercive, mimetic, and normative, produce an environment that induces organizational conformity, or homogeneity, through pressure to appear legitimate, competition,

3 mandates associated with funding, and influential professional group and network values. DiMaggio and Powell (1983) theorize that institutionalized behaviors may limit organizations’ innovative capacity. In essence, an organization may get stuck in an isomorphic institutional rut or path that can consume its structures, processes, culture, norms, and, in the long run, its organizational goals. Another problem with institutionalized structures is that once developed and diffused throughout an organizational field they can limit and constrain an organization’s ability to change its course or develop new structures in the future. According to DiMaggio and Powell (1983) institutional structures can become so concrete and overreaching that organizational change can be limited for decades to come. This concept of how organizational field forces can impact the institutionalization of organizational practices is important for organizational leaders who are often faced with implementing large scale organizational change. If leaders are cognizant of these forces they might be able to use them to their advantage in achieving desired organizational change. Isomorphic change happens when “organizations are heavily influenced by institutional environments that dictate how legitimate, successful organizations should look and behave and constrain the ability and motivation of their decision makers to conceive of and implement certain (other) types of organizational change” (Zajac & Kraatz, 1993, 85). As a result, “such environments often lead to the uniform adoption of certain practices and structures by organizations (institutional isomorphism) and to the persistence of these practices and structures (inertia), independent of rational

4 efficiency or effectiveness concerns” for the particular organization (86). If indeed the dangers of isomorphism exist then studies that explore organizational change using an institutional isomorphic framework are important as these studies can illuminate key aspects of organizational change such as efficiency, innovation, and effectiveness.

Hole in the literature:

In a comprehensive analysis of the studies using DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) theory of isomorphic change, Mizruchi and Fein (1999) note that while there are more than 160 studies found in six journals that attempt to use DiMaggio and Powell’s framework, only seven of those studies incorporate all three isomorphic forces, coercive, normative and mimetic (The six journals include: American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociological Review, The American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Administrative Science Quarterly, the Academy of Management Journal and Organization Science). Mizruchi and Fein (1999) discuss the importance of analyzing all three forces. What the authors find problematic of the studies in their literature review and analysis is that “researchers are positing a particular process that results in a behavioral outcome, but they are measuring only the outcome while assuming the process” and that the focus on only one isomorphic force “leads to failure to consider an alternative process (that) might be operative” (664). The authors’ concern is that “this selective appropriation provides a limited picture of the world and at the same time unfairly implicates them (DiMaggio and Powell) as accessories to this limited picture” (680). Based on Mizruchi and Fein’s research on the use of DiMaggio and Powell’s theory

5 this study seeks to fill this hole in the literature by considering all three forces theorized by DiMaggio and Powell. In addition, this study is an empirical test using qualitative data hypothesized toward more isomorphic institutionalization of organizational practices because of the effect of these three forces – this is an approach not found in the current literature. Notably, the qualitative data garnered through the normative and mimetic interviews in this study illuminates the hypothesis that coercive, mimetic, and normative forces overlap and intermingle, a concept that was not thoroughly explored or examined in other institutional isomorphic change studies.

Significance of Research:

According to Galaskiewicz and Wasserman (1989) the study of decision making under conditions of environmental uncertainty still occupies a central position in the organizational literature and that “DiMaggio and Powell’s contribution to this literature points out that decision making under conditions of uncertainty is often influenced by subtle social processes – coercive, mimetic, and normative” (454). Considering the many uncertainties of state and federal fiscal support, and the complexity of the organizational field in which colleges and universities operate today, it is important that this institutional framework continues to be perfected as studies using this framework highlight aspects of organizational efficiency and effectiveness, organizational change and innovation, inertia, organizational change capacity, and organizational ruts.

6 Also, many of the challenges and criticisms of the isomorphic institutional change model focus on the model’s inability to account for organizational change. By clarifying the differences between isomorphic change and the natural process of institutionalization, this study addresses these challenges thereby influencing future research studies using this theoretical model. The next chapter provides an overview of the institutional framework. Both the old and the new institutional streams are discussed. The institutional framework in which this study is posited also is outlined.

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2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: INSTITUTIONAL THEORY

This chapter describes the theoretical framework upon which this study is based. Institutional theory finds its most traditional roots in the social sciences ranging from studies in ethnography, phenomenology, political science, organizational studies, and anthropology. According to DiMaggio and Powell (1991) “sociologists find institutions everywhere, from handshakes to marriages to strategic-planning departments.” March and Olsen (1984) note that “human actions, social contexts, and institutions work upon each other in complicated ways, and these complex, interactive processes of action and the formation of meaning are important to social life” and are at the heart of the institutional framework. March and Olsen continue their explanation: “Institutional thinking emphasizes the part played by institutional structures in imposing elements of order on a potentially inchoate world” (743). According to DiMaggio and Powell (1991) institutional analysis is “neither to expose the inefficiency of organizational practices nor to celebrate the non-optimality of institutional arrangements…but to develop robust explanations of the ways in which institutions incorporate historical experiences into their rules and organizing logics” (33). According to Dacin, Goodstein and Scott (2002) institutional theory has the ability to explain both individual and organizational action.

8 Institutional theory as it relates to organizational change is a departure from the rational perspective which “suggests that the characteristics of organizations shift over time in order to pursue better substantive performance” and achieve economic efficiency (Ashworth, Boyne and Delbridge, 2005, 2). Institutional theory explains organizational change as driven by “formal legitimacy,” or the need to “conform to expectations of key stakeholders in their environment” (Ashworth, Boyne and Delbridge, 2005, 2). In addition, rather than focusing on “technical” elements that tend to separate and identify variation among organizations with regard to change, institutional theory emphasizes “social and cultural” elements that attempt to understand “similarity and stability” with regard to organizational change (Ashworth, Boyne and Delbridge, 2005, 3). Like the rationalists, institutionalists focus on centralization and internal control. Similar to the internal, top-down hierarchy that exhibits force on individual organizational players in the rational school, in the institutional school a clear top- down hierarchy exists between an organization and other influential organizations in its external environment that affect the organization’s ability to make decisions and engage in change. For example, accrediting and appropriation agencies like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and the Department of Education (DOE), respectively, have power over schools through the enforcement of accrediting standards and appropriation authority. Authors such as DiMaggio and Powell (1991) and Frumkin and Gadjuschek (2004) note that there is still an overriding rational school paradigm that organizations strive to be efficient, but in the institutional framework researcher theorize that the that

9 the drive for efficiency comes from internal and external pressures of the environment. For example, government agencies, other organizations, and elites in the environment exert enormous amounts of pressure in various ways that force organizations to conform to particular legitimized models of efficiency (or inefficiency). Traditionally, there are two main streams of institutional theory; old and new or neo-institutionalism. Classic or old institutionalism is a theoretical paradigm that focuses on roles, structures, processes, and norms of organizations; or the internal environment of the organization. New institutionalism switches the focus to the interaction of the organization with others in the field, or the external environment or a blend of interactions from both the internal and external environments. While there are many differences between old and new (or neo) institutionalism, both approaches agree that institutionalization constrains organizational rationality, but it is the sources of the constraints on which these approaches differ (DiMaggio and Powell, 2001). Old and new institutionalists “identify different sources of constraint, with the older emphasizing the vesting of interests within the organization as a result of political trade-offs and alliances (similar to the rational school) and the new stressing the relationship between stability and legitimacy and the power of common understandings that are seldom explicitly articulated” (12). The next section further explores the old and new schools of institutionalism as well as the differences between the two schools. In addition, Schmidt’s (2008, 2010) and Scott’s (1987) typologies for institutionalism are explored which includes the discussion of a new stream called discursive institutionalism. Discursive institutionalism might represent a post modern institutionalism as aspects such as

10 discourse, structuration, and cognitive processes, often associated with the post modern school, are explored. Finally, the institutional isomorphism framework in which this study is posited is outlined.

Old Institutionalism:

The old or classic institutional framework has many similarities to the rational school including a strong focus on material, specifically economic, interests. Prior to the 1970s most work on organizations and their environments involved the inter- workings of the internal environment including Gulick and Taylor’s work in the rational, scientific management framework and the rational choice decision-making lens of March and Olsen (1984) and Cyert & March (1963). Institutional theory, at its most traditional, suggests that the behavior and actions of people within an organization are often shaped and influenced by informal institutions including patterns, coalitions, cliques, and elements of recruitment or promotion (Aldrich, 1999). Such authors such as Parsons (1956), Selznick (1949, 1957), and Berger and Luckman (1967) are considered influential in establishing the traditional, or old, institutional stream from a sociological perspective. This framework focuses on social construction and institutional norms and values (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991). Parsons (1951) describes a system of regulatory norms and rules that govern action in terms of conformity to the common value system of society. Aldrich summarizes Parsons’ work as both solidifying the concept of institutional rules influencing behavior and identifying “supra-organizational societal norms as the context within which authority and inter-organizational contracts are carried out” (1979, 15)

11 On the resource dependency side, Selznick (1949) illustrated the phenomenon of organizational change in his study of the Tennessee Valley Authority where he found that “environmental factors play a crucial role in the institutionalization processes; …values, goals and procedures become strongly established, not necessarily because managers choose them as the most efficient means of production, but in large as a result of environmental influences and exchanges” (256). In this study, Selznick (1949) explains that formal organizations are shaped by forces separate from the organizationally stated structure and goals of the group. Each person in the organization functions as a "whole,” with actions and alliances separate from the formal organization (251). The organization also is affected by the environment; it is an “adaptive social structure,” facing problems independent of its creation (259). Selznick states that informal structures and communication lines develop from the actions of individuals to "control the conditions of their existence” and that this informal system is "indispensable" for the formal control and delegation structure of the organization (259). The tensions and dilemmas caused by structural constraints also are highlighted in this study. In his second study, Selznick (1957) addresses the concept of organizational commitments that are enforced by several aspects including organizational imperatives, the social character of the personnel, institutionalization, the social and cultural environment, and centers of interest generated in the course of action. New institutionalists such as DiMaggio and Powell (1984) and Zucker (1983) have picked up on the theme of organizational commitments first explored in Selznick’s work.

12 New or Neo-Institutionalism:

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, when John Meyer (1977) and W. Richard Scott (1987) published papers on the “effects of culture, ritual, ceremony, and higher-level structures on organizations” the institutional framework in organizational studies became divided along two lines; a focus on the internal environment of organizations (old institutionalism) and a focus on the external environment organizations or a combination of both thereof (new institutionalism). The emergence of the transaction cost framework in the late 1970s spearheaded by Pfeffer and Selznick, (1978, 2003) and Williamson’s (1975) seminal work on transaction costs also shifted the focus to external aspects of the organizational environment; areas such as resource dependency, networks, and power structures (Selznick and Pfeffer, 1978, Williamson, 1975 and Tullock, 1977, later 1997 & 1998) and myth and ceremony (Meyer and Rowan, 1977). Streams of new institutionalism are many and can be found in such areas as new institutional economics (North, 1981; Posner, 1981 and Schotter, 1981), positive theory of institutions (Shepsle, 1986; Williamson, 1975 and Ostrom, 1986), and sociological approaches to institutions including organization theory (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Scott, 1983; DiMaggio & Powell, 1984) (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991). New institutionalism in organization theory “tends to focus on a broad but finite slice of sociology’s institutional cornucopia; organizational structures and processes that are industry-wide, national or international scope” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1984, 9). New institutionalism also has roots in phenomenology. DiMaggio and Powell (1991) note that while the phenomenological foundation of institutional theory is not

13 widely discussed it is implicit in new institutional works like Meyer and Rowan’s treatment of “accounts,” in their emphasis on the role of the “logic of confidence” in sustaining an illusion of intersubjectivity within schools, and in their definition of “institutionalized rules” as “classifications built into society as reciprocated typifications or interpretations” (21-22). Meyer and Rowan (1977) develop the social construction side of the new institutional framework in their description of the myths and ceremonies that are created by organizations to maintain legitimacy and power in their environment. The authors argue that formal structures reflect myths of institutional environments. According to DiMaggio and Powell (1991) this work lays out many of the central components of new institutionalism in sociology. According to Meyer and Rowan (1977), "organizations are driven to incorporate the practices and procedures defined by prevailing rationalized concepts of organizational work institutionalized in society" (343). Institutional practices, including professions, programs, and technologies, function as myths and organizations adopt them ceremonially. Conformity to outside institutional rules can impact organizational efficiency and control over technical systems, so organizations often will develop buffering strategies to reduce conflict between institutional rules and operations. For example, myths of best practices often are based on the supposition that they are rationally effective which may induce legal mandate status. Although mandated based on rational assumptions of efficiency, these best practices may not be seen by an individual organization as efficient which may result in the

14 development of internal organizational strategies aimed to buffer against, or resist the implementation of the prevailing external environmental strategy, or best practice. Another important aspect of Meyer and Rowan’s (1977) is the discussion of organizational legitimacy. "Organizations that incorporate societally legitimated rationalized elements in their formal structures maximize their legitimacy and increase their resources and survival capabilities" (355). The authors argue that the more an organization's structure is derived from institutionalized myths, the more it shows elaborate displays of confidence, satisfaction, and good faith, internally and externally. Organizations become isomorphic with their institutional environment to maintain legitimacy. Organizational dependence on external institutions reduces uncertainty by establishing legitimacy, and therefore, theoretically organizational legitimacy ensures survival. For example, the myths of job titles, occupations, and organizational charts are "vocabularies of structure;” by using “vocabulary of structure” myths are legitimized (357). Theoretically, an organization’s failure to incorporate external, legitimized myths is seen as irrational and negligent. Levy (2006) states that a good portion of literature in the new institutional school attempts to explain the growing and “startling homogeneity of organizational forms and practices” (Levy, 2006, 143). This focus on homogeneity and persistence has been criticized often as it fails to acknowledge that institutional arrangements can “change in character and potency over time” and can, themselves, act as powerful agents of change (Dacin, Goodstein & Scott, 2002). This focus on organizational homogeneity (or institutional isomorphism) is the keystone of DiMaggio and Powell’s 1984 study.

15 According to Di Maggio and Powell (1984), while “organizations are becoming more homogeneous, and bureaucracy remains the common organizational form,” change is less driven by rational pressures such as “competition or efficiency than it is by structural pressures applied by the state and profession” (147). When the structure of an organizational field changes it emerges from “the activities of a diverse set of organizations” and ends in a process of homogenization into the established, legitimized form (147). The activities of the diverse set of organizations represent the multiple streams of institutional influence described by W. Richard Scott (1987). Once diverse streams of organizational activities are incorporated into an overriding policy, they become legitimized by state and professional structures and associations and become a model for new entrants and existing entities in the organizational field, a model toward which new entrants and existing entities will seek to imitate (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). Theoretically, at this point, a trend toward homogenization rather than variance presents itself in the organizational field. More recent neo-institutional studies have sought to address the criticism of a focus on homogeneity by “acknowledging both variation and change” and diversity derived from “exogenous sources and perceptions, interpretations and enactments of institutional logics by actors who give meaning and life to institutions” (Dacin, Goodstein & Scott, 2002, 47). Specifically, Dacin, Goodstein and Scott (2002) note three main areas in which neo-institutional studies address institutional change 1) studies about “primary sources or drivers of institutional change” 2) studies about “factors that influence how organizations respond to organizational change (by

16 resistance or legitimization)” and 3) studies about “the process of institutional change, in particular deinstitutionalization and the emergence of new forms” (45).

Old Institutionalism versus New Institutionalism:

According to March and Olsen (1984) while scholars recognize a shift in the institutional framework, that many of the ideas are not “entirely new” but rather an acknowledgement “there was indeed and ‘old institutionalism’” and it would “probably be more accurate to describe recent thinking (new institutionalism) as blending elements of an old institutionalism into the non-institutionalist styles of recent theories of politics” (738). This section outlines some of the differences and similarities between the old and new streams. Old institutionalism tends to focus on individual actor actions and how these actions are socially constructed through stories and myths or how these actions become structurated (Giddens, 1984) while theories of the new institutional school extend the social construction theme to the organizational level and considers how organizational behavior becomes so similar (DiMaggio & Powell, 1984) and recursive in nature (Giddens, 1984; Mizruchi and Fein, 1999). Another fundamental difference between the two institutionalisms (old and new) is the conceptualization of the environment. Old institutionalism describes organizations that are “embedded in local communities, to which they are tied by multiple loyalties of personnel and by inter- organizational treaties (co-optation) hammered out in face-to-face interaction” while new institutionalism focuses on “non-local environments, either organizational sectors

17 or fields roughly coterminous with the boundaries of industries, professions, or national societies” (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991, 13). In addition, because “institutionalization was a process in which constraining relations with local constituencies evolved over time, older institutionalists regarded organizations as both the units that were institutionalized and the key loci of the process” and by contrast new institutionalists view institutionalization as occurring at the sectoral or societal levels, and, consequently, inter-organizational in nature (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991, 14). Finally, although both the old and new institutional streams “reject a view of organizational behavior as merely the sum of individual actions, they do so on quite different grounds” (14). Old institutionalism has more to do with a moral frame of reference that guides normative values associated with professionalism (Zucker, 1983). New institutionalism focuses on “normative obligations” and “taken-for-granted scripts, rules and classifications” as the substance of institutions (Meyer and Rowan, 1977). There are areas in which the new and old approaches are similar which include: a skepticism toward rational-actor models of organization, a common view that institutionalization is a state-dependent process that makes organizations less instrumentally rational by limiting options they can pursue, an “emphasis on the relationship between organizations and their environment, a promise to reveal aspects of reality that are inconsistent with organizations’ formal accounts” and an emphasis on the role of culture in shaping organizational reality (DiMaggio & Powell, 1991, 12). In addition, both streams of thought maintain a strong emphasis on similarity in social action that is not a result of “competition or an objective requirement of

18 efficiency but rather as a result of organizations’ quests to attain legitimacy within their larger environments” due in part to the organizations’ reliance on resources (various types including financial, intangible, and professional) from these environments (Mizruchi and Fein, 1999, 656).

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Abstract: In this study, DiMaggio and Powell's (1983) institutional model of isomorphic change is hypothesized to explain the changes witnessed in educational organizations with regard to the acceptance, implementation and institutionalization of distance learning. In order to show the power of institutional theory in explaining organizational change over time, a comparative qualitative case study methodology is utilized. Document analysis and interviews are used to explore the utility of this isomorphic change model. Each research question seeks to explore different influences of institutional isomorphism, coercive, normative, and mimetic. DiMaggio and Powell (1983) suggest organizations converge on similar practices and behaviors and appear similar to like organizations over time. The appearance of change toward homogeneity is explored through the isomorphic change theory which indentifies three forces, coercive, normative and mimetic, influential in determining how adopted behaviors and practices become isomorphically accepted by the organizational field. Coercive isomorphism stems from political influence and organizational legitimacy, often conveyed through laws, regulations, and accreditation processes (or outside agency requirements); normative isomorphism is associated with professional values; and mimetic isomorphism is copying or mimicking behaviors that is a result of organizational response to uncertainty. By examining the organizational field for the presence of these forces and measuring the extent of these forces at various points in time one is able to explain convergence on regularized practices and institutionalized behaviors, or how an organizational field becomes institutionalized, around a particular idea or practice. The coercive, mimetic, and normative forces present in the field dictate institutionalization and theoretically produce an environment that induces organizational conformity, or homogeneity, through pressure to appear legitimate, competition, mandates associated with funding, and influential professional group and network values.