Opening the ‘black box’: Organisational adaptation and resistance to institutional isomorphism in a prime-led employment services programme
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AbstractThe UK’s Work Programme (2012-18) was a major employment services programme, inspired by new public management principles. A relatively small number of directly commissioned ‘prime providers’ were paid by the central Government largely according to the number of job-outcomes their service users achieved but were given a ‘black box’ to design their own services and subcontracting arrangements. Drawing on an empirical study of subcontracted service providers, and focusing on those from the third sector, the paper shows that within this prime-led commissioning model, subcontractors came under sustained pressure to adjust their operational practices. We draw on institutional isomorphism to show that isomorphic pressures were experienced because of both the design and implementation of the Work Programme. Although there were strong pressures pushing towards convergence, however, the different starting positions of subcontractors meant that these changes were not entirely deterministic and some attempts at resistance were observed amongst third sector providers. Their diverse institutional contexts, including positioning and wider interest in the field, shaped how they navigated and responded to isomorphic pressures, ultimately mitigating homogenisation. The paper contributes a more sophisticated understanding of the ways in which provider organisations experience, interpret and respond to structural pressures within an evolving quasi-market. The findings have implications for public service reform programmes featuring quasi-markets that are intended to encourage innovation and a diversity of provision, particularly when promoting mission-led, third sector organisations (TSOs).
CitationRees, J., Taylor, R. and Damm, C. (2022) Opening the ‘black box’: Organisational adaptation and resistance to institutional isomorphism in a prime-led employment services programme. Public Policy and Administration. https://doi.org/10.1177/09520767221118490
JournalPublic Policy and Administration
DescriptionThis is an accepted manuscript of an article published by SAGE on 17/08/2022, available online: https://doi.org/10.1177/09520767221118490 The accepted version of the publication may differ from the final published version.
Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/