Organisational culture as the panacea for joined-up working : the rhetoric and reality gap

  • Fiona Buick

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    During the early 2000s,concern with the increasing complexity of public policy challenges and fragmentation of the public sector led to an emphasis on greater joined-up working in the Australian Public Service. It was argued that joined-up solutions were the only way to adequately address increasingly complex public policy challenges and enduring “wicked problems”. At the core of this agenda was an emphasis on managing organisational culture to elicit the attitudes and behaviours that would underpin effective joined-up working. This thesis examines the impact of organisational culture on this way of working through an in-depth study of the practice of joining-up in the Australian Public Service. Experimentation with joined-up working in the Australian Public Service echoed experience in other Anglo-Saxon countries, such as Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In these countries, the trend towards greater joined-up working reflected attempts to enhance cooperation, coordination and collaboration across boundaries primarily through the development of an organisational culture that would support, model and enable joined-up working. Practitioner rhetoric relied on specific assumptions about culture which deviated substantially from the scholarly literature and resulted in overly simplistic notions of how organisational culture could enable effective joined-up working. Ultimately, these assumptions resulted in a considerable scholar-practitioner gap that presented tensions and contradictions for operationalising the joined-up agenda. This thesis explores this gap through an examination of the impact of organisational culture on joined-up working; a relationship that has not yet been investigated in-depth. The exploratory nature of the research led to the adoption of a qualitative research methodology with the utilisation of semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions to collect a range of experiences throughout four cases that represented different types of joined-up working. The data was analysed inductively in order to assess the role and importance of organisational culture in the delivery of joined-up outcomes. This study found that organisational culture was not the central explanation for the ability, or otherwise, of public servants to engage in joined-up working; whilst it was both an enabler and a barrier in some situations, it was a peripheral issue and supportive to joined-up working in others. The key finding of this study is that it is the dynamic interplay between organisational culture and common purpose that is critical to understanding the antecedents of joined-up working. The thesis discusses this interplay and explains how the two factors work together in a complementary manner to enhance the likelihood of effective joined-up working. These findings challenge the conventional thinking about organisational culture in the public service, present major rhetoric and reality gaps, and aid practitioner understanding regarding how they can facilitate joined-up working without fundamentally changing structures, systems or cultures. In doing so, this thesis makes a significant contribution to both the public management and organisational culture fields by addressing a gap in the extant literature by bringing together two separate constructs in the context of joined-up working and by presenting empirical evidence of the impact of organisational culture on this way of working.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDeborah Blackman (Supervisor), John Halligan (Supervisor) & Janine O'FLYNN (Supervisor)

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