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Contingency Theory of Organization for School

Contingency Theory of Organization for School


Contingency theory

Contingency theory, like open system theory, is concerned with the relationship between an organization and its environment. To the extent that significant changes 35School Development take place in the environment, this can entail changes in the organization's 'response'. Contingency theoreticians are eclectics - that is, in a given situation they choose solutions based on different theories. There is no one way to organize one's life that is superior to every other in every situation. So too with organizations. The way in which they are built up, the way in which management acts, depends first and foremost on the situation.

An example of this theory is the work that two Scottish scientists, Burns and Stalker, published at the beginning of the 1960s (Burns and Stalker 1961). They found that organizations could be categorized as 'mechanistic' and 'organic', respectively. As shown in Figure 2.1, mechanistic organizations are represented in relatively stable societies. They are complex, with a clear-cut hierarchy where rights and duties are strictly defined. Their tasks are specialized, few have any overall control, power is concentrated at the top, and communication, as a rule, is vertical. These are all features we recognize from Weber's bureaucratic model.

Figure 2.1 Two forms of organizations (according to Burns and Stalker)

Organic organizations usually arise in situations in which there are rapid environmental changes. As a rule, they are relatively small and simple in structure. In organizations of this kind, the goals of individuals are largely accommodated. Power and influence are shared maximally (which leads to a common sense of responsibility for solutions), and communication (both horizontal and vertical) is encouraged. It is thought to be natural that one person can carry out more than one task, there is often an overlapping of roles, and all do their part to make sure that everyone views the organization from an overall perspective.

Burns and Stalker find that an organization's size and the degree of change in the environment are the factors that can explain the justification of the two different organizational forms. In another context, I have pointed out that an organization's tasks also, to a certain extent, determine the form of organization (Dalin 1973). In research and development organizations there will be a greater tendency, for example, toward 'organic forms' than, say, in military units.

Much of the development we see today in organizational development in the schools has 'organic ideals'. This can be seen in such notions as 'the Creativity of the School' (1975) and 'Changing the School Culture' (Dalin and Rolff 1993). hi this con nection it is important to pose questions such as the following: Are the schools autonomous? To what extent are they bound by the goals and ordinances of society?  Who 'owns' the schools? Is the school a 'simple' organization in the Burns and Stalker sense of the term? In other words, is it possible for the school itself to reflect the demands of its environment, and - perhaps even more important - can it choose which demands it will take into account?

The latter is a question of values, as well as a question of politics. Most people would claim that it is not up to the individual school in any society to decide which demands it will relate to: this is decided by the political authorities. In other words, the schools are limited in their freedom. But this does not provide a satisfactory answer to the question that 'contingency theoreticians' are asking. For them, school authorities are but one of the groups that influence the schools and that schools must take into account. If they do not, they will run foul of their environment. Most curricula are so loosely defined that schools can interpret them rather freely. I would suggest that, in many ways, the schools have greater freedom than most other organizations, because they are not dependent on the quality of their results. A firm in the so-called free economy is most likely just as bound in relation to its environment as the schools are, because the market will determine its chances of survival.

Precisely because schools in many ways are so unbound and needn't fear the reprisals of their environment to any large extent, and because management and teachers have power over pupils, a great responsibility - politically, academically, and morally - rests on the adults in school life.

Socio-technical theory

I group this under the structural perspective, even though this placement is not a perfect one. Socio-technical theory derives some of its concepts from system theory; but, as its name implies, this theory also has its roots in the humanistic theory (see below). Representatives of socio-technical theory are Trist and Rice.

Rice developed an open socio-technical theory in which he sought to combine elements from open system theory and humanistic theory (Rice 1963). Rice assumed that every organization has a primary task that it must perform in order to survive. At the same time, to succeed in this, it is crucial that the organization be in a position to offer its members meaningful work. But the members' need for meaningful work must not be allowed to pre-empt the organization's primary task. Thus it becomes a manager's task to create equilibrium in the system, so that both task and human needs are safeguarded. For this to happen, the manager must also be able to 'negotiate' with his environment so that the organization receives the resources it needs for the processes required to produce what that environment expects.

Contingency Theory of Organization for School
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