Diekmann - Organizational Learning in Municipalities and Universities – Empirical Studies of Public Sector Organizations’ Use of Online-Participation

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About the Ph.D. project

The cumulative Ph.D. project of Kathrin Diekmann is focused on investigating how municipalities and universities internally learn to implement and use online-participation processes.

Background information on the Ph.D. Project

Work on this project was started in April 2016, the Ph.D. thesis will approximately be submitted in 06/2019. The advisory team includes Prof. Dr. Stefan Süß (Business Adminstration, main advisor), Assistant Professor Dr. Jost Sieweke (business administration), Prof. Dr. Katrin Möltgen-Sicking (public administration) and Jürgen Behrendt (City of Cologne).

Topic of the Ph.D. Project

The implementation and use of online-participation processes represent a challenge for public sector organizations, especially municipalities and universities. The process’ characteristics (flexible, public) significantly differ from those of public sector organizations (fixes structures and rules, internal closeness towards the organization’s environment). For the implementation and use of online-participation processes employees within municipalities and universities have to learn how to deal with these new requirements. For a successful learning process employees‘ open-mindedness towards new contents and willingness to change working routines are necessary. But, several studies focusing on learning and change processes in the public sector have shown an employees’ sceptical attitude towards changing routines, structures and working tasks. This represents obstacles and difficulties for a learning process and thereby might impede the implementation and use of online-participation processes. Against this background it is the aim to examine organizational learning in municipalities and universities for the implementation and use of online-participation processes.

(Previous) Results of the Ph.D. Project

The first study (with Malte Steinbach and Prof. Dr. Stefan Süß) focuses on the organizational structures of a university and the structures of two online-participation processes to renew dissertations- and habilitations regulations that were used within a faculty. The aim is to point out the effects from the online-participation processes on the organizational structures of the faculty. The results suggest a conflict between elected decision-makers (faculty board) and the participatory approach to renew the regulations. The decision-makers defend their decision-making authority vehemently and argue that (online-) participation is not suitable for such formal decision-making processes.

The second study focuses on required competencies within municipalities to use internet-based participatory budgets as a wide spread format of online-participation processes in Germany. The results show that especially process- and time-management, financial and juridical knowledge but also attitudes like empathy, innovativeness, open-mindedness and persuasiveness play an important role for the use of internet-based participatory budgets. Interestingly, formal qualifications, e.g. school/university graduation only play a subordinate role to deal with tasks that occur while working on an online-participation process.

The data for both studies were collected via semi-structured interviews and analyzed with the qualitative content analysis.