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The restructuring of the Open Learning Agency: a predictive analysis Nielsen, Mark L.


This paper presents a case study and analysis of changes in the organizational structure of the Open Learning Agency (OLA) of British Columbia in 1992. Under the aegis of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Technology and Training, the Agency carries a five-fold mandate - in collaboration with universities, institutions, boards of school trustees and other agencies concerned with education, OLA is to: provide an educational credit bank for students; coordinate the development of open learning education; use open learning methods to provide educational programs and services; carry out research related to open learning education; and operate one or more broadcasting undertakings devoted primarily to the field of educational broadcasting. The central question of the paper is: How will OLA restructure to achieve its mandate and strategic direction? In particular, the paper examines the Agency's structure prior to reorganization, the internal and external forces acting upon it as seen through the eyes of its executive members and the key issues facing the organization, including the reasons which precipitated a review of the organizational structure in 1991. The structure prior to reorganization is analyzed and classified as an example of Mintzberg's (1989) innovative configuration. The paper also predicts an innovative configuration for the Agency's reorganized structure based upon Mintzberg's contingency and life cycle hypotheses. The reorganized structure (which came into effect May 1, 1992) is subsequently analyzed and agrees with the prediction. The method of investigation included interviews with executive members conducted approximately three months prior and three months after the reorganization, archival research and personal observation by the writer, an employee of the Agency. Mintzberg's (1983, 1989) conceptual framework of structural configurations provided a basis for analysis of the case study data. The paper concludes that the innovative configuration is an appropriate form for the organization in view of its mandate and strategic direction but notes that it is also a difficult configuration to sustain, subject to pressures for increasing bureaucratization and susceptible to internal and external politicization. The paper recommends that the Agency do its best to maintain the configuration by educating staff about its nature and resist pressures which might shape it into a more conventional, professional form. The paper further finds Mintzberg's framework descriptive and helpful in providing limited, broad understanding of the Agency, its issues and choices for change; however, factors which can have significant impact such as political pressure, personal idiosyncrasies of leaders and centralization of office sites make any detailed prescriptions for organizational change somewhat elusive.

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