Longitudinal Ethnographic Studies

Longitudinal ethnographic studies can be an effective way of tracking the co-evolution of a phenomenon over a period of time. The approach includes observations of relevant participants as they engaged in related activities, and can be supported by in-depth interviews to untap interpretations, and organizational documentation.

Recommended Readings

Burgelman, R. (1991). Intraorganizational Ecology of Strategy making and organizational adaptation: Theory and Field Research. Organization Science, Vol. 2, pp. 239-262.

Burgelman tracks the development of strategic initiatives at Intel over a period of time. Using the mechanisms of variation, selection and retention Burgelman described the evolution of strategic initiatives through two key strategic processes, which he terms the induced and autonomous. While the induced strategic process put forward by Burgelman describes the evolution of initiatives based on existing organizational knowledge, competences and worldviews, the autonomous strategic process can result in a radical departure from prevailing norms and worldviews creatively disrupting the prevailing equilibrium. Balancing both processes allowed Intel on the one hand to develop existing competences within the induced strategic process, while at the same time allowing new competences to be developed outside existing practices.
Breslin, D., and Wood, G. (2016) Rule breaking in Social Care: the Case of a Small British Provider. Work, Employment & Society

In this longitudinal study the emergence of informal rules between care teams and clients is tracked over two years. As the legitimacy of these norms increased, care workers increasingly broke organisational and institutional rules. Against a backdrop of heightened scrutiny on abuses in home care, the study highlights the co-evolutionary process through which informal behaviors (and as a result rule breaking) emerge through interactions.
Breslin, D. (2010). Broadening the Management Team: An Evolutionary Approach. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research, 16(2), 130-148.

In this study the changing heuristics and habits of the management team at a growing small business in the porcelain industry is tracked over time. Organizational change is conceptualised through the mechanisms and variation-selection-retention, to show how a failure to assimilate the arrival of a new marketing manager, resulted in a failure of the company to adapt to changes in the external marketplace.

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