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 positioned to deliver services from their operation center out to the region and the masses. Often, these institutions, their leaders and their corporate management models protect and maintain their existence without any regard for those 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 centers in larger urban environments. They sustain their operation by drawing people to their facilities under the myth that they will be better served if they move to these centers. The professionals who work with 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 communities to supply the resources required for their existence challenges their traditional model.

The real costs of developing and sustaining centralized, concrete environments have never been incorporated into the balance sheets of the institutions. These real costs the costs to the environment, the costs of destroying forests and the earth to extract natural resources for creating man-made environments where people are "taken care of" so a few individuals can become rich and powerful. The artificial comforts that some experience as a result of these environments should 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 significant research to reflect the real exchanges that occur between the different sectors of society.

Once these real costs variables are included in any true management system, institutions and governments will need to look outside their "glass bubbles" work with others to find truly sustainable and equitable solutions. 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 have been struggling to survive.

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

This transformation will benefit the institution by creating new opportunities and relationships. But it will also probably require some short-term pain to establish 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 people and environments in remote and rural communities 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 require that they remain in place.

Institutions located in most small urban centers are an integral and historical part of their environment. Over the years they have contributed jobs and significant investment in the communities where they are located. By their very nature, they will continue to exist; the question becomes, however, will they be able to make the necessary adjustments for successfully accommodating these real operational costs within their own environments?

This type of change, with its associated challenges and opportunities, 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 at 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 both within and outside the organization.

“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 note, 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 leadership with unique opportunities to adjust their goals and priorities. Providing appropriate reward structures for those within and outside of the institution 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 should 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 the opportunity to become engaged in these transformative efforts.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Social institutions often deliver services from their operational center out to people in distant regions. In some cases these institutions protect and maintain their existence without regard for those they were intended to serve. This results in exploitation and destruction of the environment and communities. Institutions should develop new sustainable relationships; establish transformative change; and create flexible management models.

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