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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The negotiation of meaning: an ethnography of planning in a non-governmental organization Cunningham-Dunlop, Catherine


The research problem that this study addresses is two-fold. First, the persistance of poverty gives rise to a real world concern for improving the effectiveness of international development efforts. To address the link between the alleviation of poverty, adult education, and a grass-roots approach, this study focuses on planning within an organization that offers adult education programs overseas, specifically a nongovernmental organization (NGO). An understanding of the dynamics of planning in such an NGO will help in articulating more effective approaches to planning practice in international development. The second aspect of the research problem is that the relationship between the planning process and the planning context seems not to have been fully explored in the literature on adult education program planning. There is a need for a more complete set of analytical tools that captures the complexities of planning and sheds light on the relationship between the planning context and the planning process. The purpose of this dissertation is to address the main theoretical question raised by the research problem: How do nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) plan so as to maintain themselves and be effective given the pressures on them? This theoretical question was investigated through a case study method, specifically ethnography. Ethnographic fieldwork, which included seventeen months of participant observation, twenty-five interviews, and document analysis, was carried out at an NGO, refered to here by the pseudonym of "Global Faith." The conceptual framework developed in this dissertation builds on the negotiation approach to planning. The first part of the conceptual framework links two strands of research: leadership theory and negotiation theory. Through this juxtaposition, I was able to examine the process of planning in a new light - as the negotiation of meaning. The second part of the framework shows how a deeper understanding of the context of planning is accomplished by applying a subjectivist, multi- perspective approach to analyzing cultures in organizations. This approach - which incorporates the integration perspective, the differentiation perspective, and the fragmentation perspective was used to see Global Faith cultures in three different ways. These same ways of viewing culture at Global Faith were matched with the varying interpretations held by staff members in order to characterize the cultural contexts for specific episodes of planning involving the negotiation of meaning. The findings show that by including the negotiation of meaning in planning activities, Global Faith is able to motivate staff and deal effectively with confusing requirements, conflicting expectations, and diverse demands that they face in their interactions with CIDA, general public donors, the Board of Directors, and overseas partner organizations. There is a recursive relationship between planning processes involving the negotiation of meaning and Global Faith cultures whereby the cultures are both precursors and products of negotiation of meaning episodes.

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