The present study arose out of my own interest in examining the interaction of groups and systems in organizational life in changing circumstances, in conjunction with a need expressed by the organizations themselves (the Rural Community Councils and the Rural Department of the National Council for Voluntary Organizations) for an independent researcher-consultant to examine the issues of stress and, subsequently, support and training for RCC staff and volunteers. The research focusses on four Rural Community Councils, which are described as "independent, voluntary organizations", but which, particularly in the last twenty years, have become increasingly dependent on government funding (particularly through the Development Commission) and in the last ten years, with increasing demands for a more professional approach, have employed professional staff. This study involves, therefore, not merely an examination of the developing functions of the Rural Community Councils with respect to clients (and their ability to meet changing needs), but also how these functions have been influenced by political and economic factors, particularly with respect to dependence and hence power, and their position on the boundary between the public and voluntary sectors. This thesis aims to examine the various influences on organizational life, particularly with respect to stress and conflict created by the imbalances within and between interacting systems which have differing needs, tasks and degrees of power and influence. It is divided into five parts which comprise, in all, thirteen chapters. Part One, comprising three chapters, provides a background to the study, including a look at the development of the research itself, its aims, stated expectations and brief biographical sketches of the organizations in the study. In the third chapter, I present an overview of the literature and theory which I have found of relevance to this research, particularly in relation to the way that the key concepts which I use have been used by writers on Organization and related disciplines. In Part Two, I examine the environmental context - the external factors impinging on the development of the rural community councils and the other bodies in the sphere of the study. The external factors do not have only a spatial dimension - the interaction with other organizations and systems - but also a temporal one, wherein one can only understand aspects of current RCC life through an awareness of history and histories. In order to bring these two dimensions together, I have examined the interaction of RCCs with their external environments developmentally, beginning with pre-history (looking at the roles of public and voluntary sectors in the provision of social welfare in pre-twentieth century Britain), leading onto the inception of the National Council for Social Service (later the NCVO) and the Rural Community Councils and their developments - and declines - up to the early 1970's when environmental factors began to change markedly. It is this aspect of balance and imbalance in looking at each system in the study - individual, small group, organization or organizational network - which provides the key concept for an exploration of stress, which relates to both growth and breakdown. Part Three explores the current lives and interactions of the organizations in the study, including an examination of the environmental changes in the last ten years and its effects on organizational structures and functions. In Part Four, I focus on the internal structure and functions of the Rural Community Councils. The central part of this section is a working paper which was written for the NCVO and the RCCs in the study. It was written as an overview of the issues as I saw them from my own observations and as the staffs of the RCCs, the Rural Department and the Development Commission saw them as discussed in my interviews in the respective organizations. This was intended to provide a discussion point for the sharing of how the issues were seen and hence to be worked through. The chapters on either side of the working paper include discussion of interaction, feedback and follow-up. In the concluding section I return to a consideration of the key issues of interdependence and professionalism and their implications for organizations (and the individuals in them) which describe themselves as independent and voluntary. The issues raised about interacting systems in organizational life have wider application than for merely the bodies in this study.
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