Strategic agenda building and change in the water industry
An investigation into the trajectory of river water quality as a strategic issue for the water industry was conducted within two water organisations. This research traced the profile of this issue on the agenda of the water authorities over twenty years and within the industry over a century. The aim was to gain insights into processes of strategic agenda building and organisational development and change, linking process to performance in the achievement of river quality. A contextualist theory of method was adopted in a comparative case study approach which sought to assess the performance of the two organisations in attaining improvements in river water quality during the time frame. The contextualist methodology necessitated examining the agenda building process from multiple levels and over time. To this end extensive archive research and 40 interviews were conducted.The influence of the wider social environment and the sector in the long term were found to be important in the formation of sector and organisational ideology which conditioned organisational developments. A structurationist approach demonstrated the key social structures and their properties implicated in the formation of organisational ideology and its change, as the water authorities were privatised. A process model of strategic agenda building was developed and extended, based on an earlier model by Dutton (1988). This emphasised the influence of multiple contexts, the role of organisational ideology, issue related activities and the actions of sponsors as important additions to the original model. Further, the use of structuration theory, underpinned by a Realist perspective, outlined a conception of agency based on the causal powers granted by the necessary relations of the organisational structure or ideology, and that agency was granted by organisational members' access to alternative structural systems outside the organisational context. This research concluded that the links between structure, process and performance are implicated in incremental and transformational change, and that the properties of structure were instrumental in the propensity for adaption and change. Finally, organisational processes should accurately reflect the rules of the system for change to work.