The iatrogenic effect of evaluation in performative organizational climates

Goodman, H 2005, The iatrogenic effect of evaluation in performative organizational climates, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), SET Research Office, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The iatrogenic effect of evaluation in performative organizational climates
Author(s) Goodman, H
Year 2005
Abstract This research arises from an insider account of a poor outcome of an evaluation effort within a public sector project in a Department despite its reputation for innovation and strength in program evaluation. It argues that in performative organizational climates, evaluation becomes shaped as a social defence against anxiety, and in so doing, contributes to three unintended side effects: a distorted account of a project; a diminution of, and hence harm to, work relationships; and a negative impact on the work tasks themselves. The thesis documents these perverse effects and the multiple factors that contribute to them
Using a heuristic device of a compass model, I have called the North-South axis the ‘performative axis’ and the East-West axis the ‘relational axis’. The North of the performative axis is driven by dominant Government aspirations and policies, including competition for public sector funds, and a project dominated work environment which fuels rapid turnover of issues, people and relationships. In the South these influences become part of Departmental practices, and what coexists with the rapid turnover of projects is their mandatory evaluation. To the East are located the staff in their one to one or group relationships with the program clients in neighbourhoods and communities, and to the West, the program client is located within a family group, community, and business. The work at the relational level between staff and program clients requires interdependence which becomes strained when the North-South performative axis dominates, with impacts at the project level, at the level of the Evaluation Unit within the Department, and also at the level of the Senior Executive level.
Systems psychodynamic literature has been the most productive of insight for me in coming to a greater understanding of the loss of intelligence and transparency experienced in the performative organizational climate. A key element in the Object Relations theory which provides the analytic framework for the development of the thesis is the prevalence of anxiety. It is inherent in our makeup and in the organizations in which we work, and when both our individual and system properties combine under certain conditions, the systemic defence against anxiety which can be built up operates to diminish our social relatedness, lessen our capacity to see things as wholes, decrease our tolerance for strong feelings, make uncertainty and ambivalence difficult to manage, and strip away our natural empathy.
The thesis makes two suggestions for evaluation practice to address the issues raised in this thesis. One suggestion is to encourage a stronger dialogue on responsibility, rather than only on accountability. The second suggestion is for work places to strengthen their learning spaces as “holding environments”, while individuals themselves, in inter-relationship with each other, work out what needs to be done. The thesis argues for both more research on evaluation theory and practice, and more collaboration alongside practitioners in the tasks of meeting of program and societal goals.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre SET Research Office
Keyword(s) evaluation
evaluation utilization
organizational defences
insider research
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Created: Fri, 26 Nov 2010, 16:02:29 EST
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