Ethical dilemmas in professional practice in anthropology
Policy - environment - development
Rapid organisational analysis
This page provides a briefing on what to consider when undertaking a rapid organizational analysis. The briefing was prepared by Dr Stella Mascarenhas-Keyes. Below is an activity about organizational analysis. You will need to read through the briefing paper and then through all the documents in one of the worked examples. Alternatively you could do an organizational analysis of your own research context.
This task will take approximately three hours to complete fully. First read through the briefing paper below and then choose one of the worked examples (or your own research). You might find it helpful to print out this activity so it is to hand as you work through other documents.
- Decide on the scope of your 'organisation' - where does it start and end.
- Work through the checklist in the briefing document below (points 1 to 11). Write down your findings as you go along. Think in terms of presenting your findings to your supervisor or a group of fellow researchers.
- If you are able, present your findings to someone! Alternatively you could submit your summary by emailing admin(at)theasa.org and see it added to a collection of student analyses.
- Ask the 'so what' question. How does what you have done aid your understanding of the context of your research? Does it highlight areas of tension of which you should be particularly aware? To whom do you owe allegiance/ do you need to keep informed?
- List the moral/ethical relationships. What kind of obligation is there? Who is more important on your list and why?
Often the answers to these questions are not straightforward and depend on the circumstances. However, doing this exercise should put you in a far better position to anticipate dilemmas you may find yourself facing.
Definition: What is an organisation?
Organisations are the groups of individuals bound by some common purpose to achieve objectives. They include: political bodies (e.g. political parties), economic bodies (e.g. trade unions, firms), social bodies (e.g. churches, clubs), educational bodies (schools, universities).
In order to do a rapid organisational analysis to help familiarise you with the way specific organisations work, the following checklist may be useful. Some of the information can be gleaned from the organisations' literature: such as publicity leaflets, Annual Report and Accounts and other publications. Other information, particularly on the actual processes in operation, require tactful interviews of key informants, both within and outside the organisation.
1. Type of organisation
Is it, for instance, an international/local NGO (non-governmental organisation); a government department, commercial company?
2. Organisational structure
It is a good idea to draw a plan of the organisation. This may already exist in any publicity booklet. It will give you some idea of the complexity of the organisation, and, for instance whether there are specialist departments dealing with different activities. Role and task differentiation vary considerably between organisations.
3. Management Structure
This tells you how the organisation is managed - for instance, if it has a hierarchical or flat management structure. Various management styles exist: some organisations operate in an autocratic manner with individuals at the top of the hierarchy having decision-making powers; others have various forms of participatory management; and still others, such as collectives, work on a consensus model.
4. Funding and Accounting Systems
A glance at the organisation's annual accounts will indicate the size of its budget and the allocation of funds for different activities. It may also indicate the number of people involved in various financial tasks.
5. Human Resources
The number of people working for the organisation, in either a paid or unpaid capacity, gives an indication of its size. Furthermore, job titles give a clue to how human resources are deployed in the organisation. However, beware of common titles, such as 'manager' which may be used to refer to responsibility for the management of a complexity of tasks, which are not necessarily comparable between and within organisations.
6. Communication systems
What is the role of paper and oral communications? Is there an expectation that everything will be in writing? Is personal ../../../../contact.htm and oral communication, at both individual and group level, more common? It is important to be aware of the way in which communication works; how people expect to be addressed; their preference for oral/written communication; their expectation about enquiries about family, and other personal matters etc.
7. Key Individuals
The key individuals may be the ones named in the organisation's literature. Alternatively, some people may be mere figureheads, and the power brokers not formally identified. It is also important to remember the gatekeepers, such as secretaries, who play an important role in facilitating or inhibiting access to those in positions of power.
Power is distributed in organisations in various ways and may emanate from:
a) position: people in senior posts usually have more power.
b) resources: the magnitude of resources under a person's control contributes to power.
c) gender: styles of managing are often given gender labels - those attributed male metaphors may have more power, whether or not they are men or women.
d) race/ethnicity: non-white ethnic/racial minorities generally have less power. Expatriate white researchers/consultants, for example, often have or behave as if they have, or are perceived to have, more power.
e) personality: people with charisma often have more power.
The above points in the check list will give you some idea of the formal structure. However, organisation structure is the outcome of compromises and balances between conflicting but perhaps equally valid considerations. It is important that you try to understand those processes and work within them.
Circumstances change fast and you need to be aware of the internal and external political and economic climate which will influence your task. It is important to understand the interests, perspectives and the constraints under which staff work. Problems may be masked by individual personalities and styles of management. Try to analyse the situation. No organisation is a monolith, however much this may be portrayed in its literature. Different and conflicting values may co-exist and the balance between these is probably constantly shifting.
Power struggles, evident in confrontations and conflict, are inevitable in organisations. Awareness of this, and the knock-on effect outside the organisation, are useful, for instance, when you have to make judgements about whether, and to whom, you should suggest recommendations for action.
10. Inter-organisational politics
Multiple organisations exist in the ethnographic field. It is also important to consider inter-organisational politics and to seek a variety of perspectives on this. This may help to determine which organisations are likely to favour or resist your goals.
11. Line management
It is important to know which officer is responsible for your project, and build up a shared understanding with that person. Also discover who he reports to and where in the line of management actual decisions are made - get to know the person who really makes the decisions.
Find out which section he is in, what the strengths and weaknesses of that section are. Is it under threat? Where does your project fit into the politics between the decision maker and your section and other sections?
Identify the key players and keep in touch with them. Meet them to discuss their ideas for the project - it will have a history of accumulated agendas, only some of which will appear on the project description and terms of reference. The expectations for the project may lie in the submerged part of that iceberg.
Don't think you have reached agreement and go away and then come back with the research results. Keep meeting them to share the progress of the research, carry them with you as your ideas develop so that there are no surprises at the end and the officers can meanwhile have been laying the paths for the reception of the research when it is completed. If at all possible, talk the research results right through with the people whose support is needed to get the report accepted and acted upon. Do this orally and informally before they see anything of the final report on paper. Then the paper version confirms their expectations and they are ready to act on it. Never give an official or a politician a shock; never give them the written report before first talking it through. They need to be familiar with the ideas before they see them written down. More than this, you need to test out orally what wordings are acceptable so as to get across what you want to say in language which will not set up resistances.
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