Transforming Institutions

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Brian Beaton
Keewaytinook Okimakanak

Traditional management models used to develop and sustain institutions and their services are often based on the corporate concept of centralized and very controlled operations. They are lead by people who are often chosen for their position only because they fit easily within the institution. Institutions become focused on their own survival rather than their original and evolving missions and visions. Institutions and organizations replicate themselves through their hiring practices and competitive practices, preventing diversity and hence, innovation. Institutions become resistant to change, maintaining the belief (at least implicitly) that "who they are now is who they should remain".


A distributed management and operational model for institutions is required to support and sustain remote and rural communities.
Establishing innovation as a way of doing business to engage remote and rural communities in all regions requires an appreciation where people are employed, where they are producing valued products as well as delivering services that are an important part of the social and economic fabric of the region.
In many cases, success in fulfilling the mission of an institution can actually mean the "death" or transformation of their organization. Institutions that have some specified lifespan to fulfill their mandate can either disappear or change to accommodate the next challenge that is identified from its work and services.


Most institutions are in place to deliver their services out from their operation centre to the region and the masses. Often, these institutions, their leaders and their corporate management models protect and maintain their existence without any respect for those that they were intended to serve. Their development and sustainability strategies are built and maintained on the basic values of greed and exploitation of the people and regions they claim to serve. The exploitation and destruction of the environment, the people and rural communities is the long term result of these types of efforts by institutions.

Regional hospitals, colleges and universities are three examples of institutions that sustain their operation centres in larger urban environments. They sustain their operation by drawing people to their facilities using the myth that they will be better served if they move to these centres. The professionals who work with their clients in these institutions create a level of dependency that people have grown to accept. These efforts protect their positions and create wealth for the institution while draining local and regional resources. The reality that these institutions and corporations depend on these communities to supply the resources required for their existence challenges the traditional model of these environments.

The real costs of developing and sustaining centralized, concrete environments have never been incorporated into the balance sheets of the institutions. These real costs need to include the costs to the environment, the costs of the destruction of the forests and the earth to access the natural resources to create these man-made environments where people are "taken care of" so a few individuals can become rich and powerful. The artificial comforts that some individuals experience as a result of these environments need to reflect these real costs of producing the food and water that sustain the lives of the people who work within these institutions; the energy they consume to have these comforts; as well as the poverty that others must experience so they can be comfortable within these artificial environments. The list of “real” costs is long and requires a lot of research to reflect the realities that exist within the exchanges that occur between the different sectors of society.

Once these ‘real costs’ are included in any true management system that reflect these different and ‘real cost’ variables, then institutions and governments will need to begin looking outside of their "glass bubbles" to find truly sustainable and equitable solutions working with others. Management and program developers will need to find creative strategies to accommodate, work with and sustain communities, cultures and environments that have always existed and been struggling to survive.

Being able to look outside of their comfortable worlds to support innovation and development with their neighbours requires a new set of values and priorities. These institutional values and priorities will be different from those presently in place and used to protect and sustain these artificial and temporary facilities and environments. Partnering with others, trusting other people, understanding others, respecting other environments, cultures and people are values that need to become part of the any modern institutional culture and environment.

Such a transformation will benefit the institution by creating new opportunities and relationships. But it will also probably require some short term pain to establish the long term gains. Finding creative ways to purchase and support services and products from other groups outside of the institution also requires finding creative ways to pay the real price for these products and services. Learning how to value and respect the people in remote and rural communities and their environment helps create these new opportunities and relationships.

Working with existing institutions and supporting their required change is a challenge. Starting over to create new institutions is only an option when there are opportunities and support for innovative groups and organizations that are able to overcome or counter the traditional institutional management model. But for most existing institutions, the entrenched infrastructure and investments created over the years requires that they remain in place.

Institutions located in most small urban centres are an integral and historical part of their environment. Over the years they contribute jobs and significant investments in their communities where they are located. By their very nature, they will continue to exist but the question becomes, will they be able to make the necessary adjustments required to successfully accommodate these ‘real’ operational costs within their own environments?

The type of change (along with the challenges and opportunities) being presented requires a transformation at all levels within existing institutions. This transformative work needs to be lead by innovative thinkers and new leaders who understand and respect the impact of their institution on the local, regional, national and international levels. The global village demands this type of relationship within institutions. As these new institutions evolve from within existing institutions or as new institutions are started, the required transformations are facilitated and supported by factors and forces that are within the organization and those that are outside of it.

“Leaders of older organizations often selected in the past are constrained by institutional routines, and may have resources that allow them to operate in counterproductive insulation from the environment. As leaders persist, they form bonds among themselves, develop common understandings of ‘how things work,’ and select others like themselves to lead. Access to internal organizational resources can insulate them, in the short run, from environmental change. For a time, these resources may even give them the power to shape that environment – but only for a time. Changes in organizational structure that reduce leaders’ accountability to or need to mobilize resources from constituents – or changes in deliberative processes that suppress dissent – can diminish strategic capacity, even as resources grow. The strategic capacity of an organization can thus grow over time if it adjusts its leadership team to reflect environmental change, multiplies deliberative venues, remains accountable to salient constituencies, and derives resources from them.” (Ganz, 2003)

As Ganz and others highlight there is a need for permeable organizations that are flexible, contain built in ‘reality checks’ and are able to accommodate and reward innovative thinking (Thomas, 2002, Tresser, 2002, Wortley, 2002, Michaelson, 2002, Brown, 2006 and Dutfield, 2006). Working with groups and constituents ‘outside’ of the institution provide the leadership with unique opportunities to adjust their goals and priorities. Providing appropriate reward structures for both the folks within the institution and those outside of it provides the opportunity for building new relationships and collaborative development. Being able to respond to these changes and opportunities in a timely and appropriate manner requires a special team comprised of partners in development.


Institutions need to begin to:
* develop innovative and sustainable relationships with remote and rural communities that are built upon the principles of trust, sharing, respect and strength to ensure an equitable and fair existence for all to support a sustainable, transformative institutional model.
* establish a transformative change within their environments to engage as well as effectively communicate and share with the region their products and resources. The resulting exchange becomes a model for cooperative and collaborative development across regions and elsewhere, as innovative strategies and creativity benefiting all become entrenched and commonplace in all relationships.
* Create flexible institutional management models that can adjust to the changing and evolving needs of people so everyone has theopportunity to become engaged in these transformative efforts.

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