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Support Networks of the Elderly as Organisations: An Exploratory Study on the Contribution of Organisation Theory to the Understanding and Design of Mixed Support Networks of Non-Institutionalised Elderly Persons

Reuler, A.A.H.E. van (2010) Support Networks of the Elderly as Organisations: An Exploratory Study on the Contribution of Organisation Theory to the Understanding and Design of Mixed Support Networks of Non-Institutionalised Elderly Persons.

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Abstract:The aim of the research described in this thesis is to determine which contribution to the understanding and improvement of mixed - that means consisting of formal as well as informal supporters - support networks of non-institutionalised elderly can be made by organisation theory as applied in the field of Industrial Engineering & Management. To gain insight in this issue, an explorative research project has been carried out. The backgrounds of this research question are elaborated in Chapter 1. It is argued that the research question is societal relevant as well as academically interesting. The societal value of the research project is that, if it turns out to be possible to study and design mixed support networks of the non-institutionalised elderly using the tools from the field of Industrial Engineering & Management, we may aim at increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the support supplied by these mixed networks. The academic contribution of the research project described in this thesis is formed by the conceptualisation of mixed support networks of elderly people as organisation. Literature research has shown that such an approach has not been applied before. Besides this, some definitions of the term organisation are described in Chapter 1. These definitions show that their contents need not impede the conceptualisation of support networks as organisations. In the second chapter, the research design for this project is elaborated. It is explained why a multiple case study of two mixed support networks of non-institutionalised elderly is a suitable research strategy for this exploratory research project. Moreover, the criteria for case selection were elaborated in Chapter 2. The choice has been made to select the two cases according to the same criteria to enable analytical generalisation of the outcomes of the case analyses in principle. The data used in this research project were collected through interviews with elderly persons and several - informal as well as formal - members of their support network. Additionally, the methods for within-case data analysis - mainly on the basis of an analytical framework - and cross-case comparison - primarily the use of ‘word tables’ - are described. The framework for the description and analysis of the two cases is developed in Chapter 3. The case description is carried out using several predefined items to ensure that the two case descriptions are as comparable as possible. These descriptions are combined with two methods that provide a more graphical representation (the ‘network images’ and the ‘task tables’). The reasons to opt for Mintzberg’s typology on organisational structures as a framework for the analysis of the support networks as organisation are elaborated in Section 3.3. The following were among the criteria which led to that choice: the model uses a wide definition of the phenomenon organisation, the model incorporates a wide range of organisational characteristics, the model is widely acknowledged in the field, and the model received favourable feedback from Mintzberg’s colleagues in organisation theory. Mintzberg’s typology on the structure of organisations is constructed from five building stones: basic parts of the organisation, coordinating mechanisms, systems of flows, design parameters, and contingency factors. According to Mintzberg, these building stones cluster in a rather predictable way in seven configurations: the entrepreneurial organisation, the machine organisation, the professional organisation, the diversified organisation, the innovative organisation, the missionary organisation, and the political organisation. A summary of the framework for case analysis is presented in Section 3.5. The final section of Chapter 3 is dedicated to some reflective notes on the position of the research project described in this thesis within the field of Industrial Engineering & Management. It is argued that the research project, despite the fact that it does not aim to solve an actual problem, can be positioned within the ‘engineering approach’ advocated in this field. The description and analysis of the case studies is presented in the Chapters 4, 5 and 6. The within-case analyses are included in the Chapters 4 and 5, while the cross-case comparison is the topic of Chapter 6. On the basis of this comparison, it is concluded that the two cases were convergent and that a replication of the research outcomes of the first case is, thus, realised. Subsequently, the research question - by then somewhat redefined (see Section 3.4) - is answered at three levels. It is argued that Mintzberg’s typology provides a valuable contribution to the description and analysis of mixed support networks of non-institutionalised elderly persons. This unconventional approach of the support networks proved to result in additional insights in the structure and functioning of these networks. Such aspects had not received sufficient attention in the research on mixed support networks that were already done. Designing support networks using Mintzberg’s typology on the structure of organisations as a tool is, however, not feasible. This can be explained by the fact that the logic of the hypothesis on the relationships between the organisational characteristics in the contingency factors proved not to hold for the support networks. As a consequence, Mintzberg’s typology on the structure of organisations cannot serve as a source of prescriptions regarding the structure of mixed support networks of the noninstitutionalised elderly. Overall, the mixed results of this exploratory research project justify a further development of the study of mixed support networks as organisations using models from the field of Industrial Engineering & Management. Several recommendations for further research with regard to the research design are made in Section 7.2. An example of these recommendations is to study cases in which the network members experience difficulties with the function of the network. Proposals for additions to Mintzberg’s typology as framework for case analysis are presented in Section 7.3. Moreover, it is argued that the fact that prescriptions for the design of mixed support networks cannot be derived from Mintzberg’s typology does not imply that we have to give up the aim of improving mixed support networks of the elderly through design activities. Suggestions on how these activities might be approached are presented (Sections 7.4 and 7.5). In brief, it can be stated that the exploratory research project described in this section allows us to conclude that the study of mixed support networks
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Industrial Engineering and Management MSc (60029)
Link to this item:http://purl.utwente.nl/essays/60719
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