In the news...

2014-07-07 12:27

COMPOSITE conference "Good Leaderships in Times of Change – Empirical Findings and Suggestions for Police Leaders" by Kate Horton

COMPOSITE's final conference on "Good Leaderships in Times of Change – Empirical Findings and Suggestions for Police Leaders" on 12 and 13 June 2014 in Rotterdam (the Netherlands)

Read more …

2014-07-03 13:45

"Police is regain control by using twitter and Co."

COMPOSITE researcher were interviewed about their research on "police & social media".

Read more …

Large EU grant for a comparative study of organisational change in police

2010-09-24 08:15

Organisational change is still more art than science, argues Gabriele Jacobs, Associate Professor in human resource management and organisational behaviour. There is no unified theory of organisational change, while in practice organisational change projects tend to fail. According to Jacobs, ‘up to 70 per cent of change endeavours, such as mergers and acquisitions, don’t fulfil their goals or are completely unsuccessful.’


To address this lacuna in organisational change theory, the European Union has awarded her a 6.6 million euro grant. The funding is for Jacobs’ Comparative Police Studies in the EU (COMPOSITE) project, in which she is collaborating with her colleagues from universities, business schools, police academies, technical research institutions and a consultancy. Together they will be conducting a comparative study of organisational change in police forces in as many as ten different countries.

In addition to Erasmus University, participants include 14 other research institutions, as well as 25 police forces. Taking the contributions from these partners into account, the total budget of the COMPOSITE project adds up to a staggering 8.9 million euro.

For Jacobs to win the grant was against the odds. Under the ‘security’ theme of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, she had to compete against a large number of technical projects, like the development of new surveillance cameras. Against competition of this kind, ‘it’s very rare to be talking about concepts, ideas, and identities instead of products. This is the first time that a business school has won such a project.’


Towards a unified theory of organisational change

In their report, the evaluation committee awarded the COMPOSITE project maximum points for ‘academic excellence’.

Jacobs also emphases the project’s theoretical focus: ‘We aim to develop an integrative organisational change theory, from input to output. With it, we intend to map whole organisational change processes.’


COMPOSITE’s research design is built on Jacobs’ previous work on organisational change and policing. In these studies, she found that organisational ecology offered a good theoretical basis for studying organisational change. ‘It provides a framework that allows us to integrate a couple of theoretical perspectives,’ explains Jacobs. ‘I was looking for a framework that has a macro perspective but also allows for a micro perspective, from a psychological background.’


Organisational ecologists indicate that the organisational identity is an important feature of organisations. This identity cannot be tied to the actual properties of an organisation, but stakeholders inside and outside the organisation do count on codes that, for them, define the organisation. Organisational change disrupts these codes, and can therefore lead to resistance among internal and external audiences.


Organisational change in police

Still, at first sight, organisational ecology might not seem an obvious framework by which to study organisational change in the police. ‘Organisational ecology focuses on mortality hazards and market exits. When organisations violate too many of their core codes, they violate their organisational identity and lose their legitimacy. As a consequence, these organisations will exit from the market. But for the police this is not possible.’

Jacobs and her colleagues extend the theory to an internal perspective on organisations. ‘We apply the ecology perspective, which is a macro perspective, to an organisation. What kind of ideas can survive in the internal market of the organisation? Which ideas will be kicked out? Which ideas will be accepted by different audiences – police officers, public, media, and politicians?’


tl_files/fM_k0005/bilder/News/200_politie.png‘For police, it is not the case that employees will leave the organisation, because there is a very limited market for them. We assume that a loss of legitimacy would show in different ways - that people feel that the organisation is not “my police any more.”' Symptoms of exhaustion would then be for officers to report in sick more frequently, or to become less productive in general.


An example is the current trend of introducing market methods in police organisations. The corresponding focus on efficiency and budgets is incompatible with police officers’ more romantic perceptions of their organisation’s identity and mission.

In a recent interview with Jacobs, the chief controller at the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Police Department said that officers see their job as arresting criminals and helping those in need. Ultimately, they are even prepared to risk their lives in the line of duty.

‘Thus, on the one hand, you have the notion of fighting for the good, giving your life, and on the other hand, you have people talking about money and efficiency. And police officers feel that these two ideas really don’t go together. This is the big cultural clash that, we think, police officers find difficult to accept,’ says Jacobs.

‘Of course, from a certain perspective, it makes sense to talk about the budget and the performance of police. But we cannot easily transfer market methods from profit to non-profit. This is also one of the questions to address in our project: to what extent can we use tools from business schools and implement them within police forces? Where is it possible, and where is it not possible?’

To what extent might findings from COMPOSITE be applied outside public organisations? ‘Change processes as such have some basic dynamics and mechanisms, regardless of the type of organisation,’ argues Jacobs. But of course ‘we also need to specify whether conditions apply only to public organisations or to private organisations as well.’


Crossing boundaries

In COMPOSITE, organisational change will be studied in ten countries: Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Such cross-country comparisons are essential for building a robust theory of organisational change. ‘The precise nature of the role of organisational culture and identity can only be seen if we can control for the impact of national, regional, ethnic and religious features of organisations,’ says Jacobs. But ethnic and cultural elements of organisations are still incorporated in the theory. They come into play when audiences formulate their views of the organisation and their roles within it.

Apart from national boundaries, the COMPOSITE project also crosses the boundary between theory and practice. ‘We designed the whole programme in such a way that there is a constant interaction between theory and practice. In the consortium, we have academics and academic institutions, and we also have police academies. That this really works at high levels seems to be very special.’

COMPOSITE also has a multidisciplinary character. This is imperative for Jacobs: ‘I feel I can only really understand a phenomenon when I bring different disciplines and perspectives together.’ The research team that is going to conduct the fieldwork consists of three psychologists: Jacobs herself and two postdoctoral researchers: Saskia Bayerl, previously at Delft University of Technology, and Kate Horton from Sheffield University. The core theoretical group consists of Jacobs plus sociologist and organisational ecologist László Pólos, political scientist and vice-dean of a German police academy Jochen Christe-Zeyse, and economist and organisational change theorist Arjen van Witteloostuijn. Finally, the theoretical framework will incorporate additional expertise from Erasmus University: leadership theories from organisational psychologist Daan van Knippenberg and theories on organisational identity from marketing expert Johan van Rekom.

When conducting the fieldwork, the research team will combine qualitative and quantitative methods. On the one hand, questionnaires will be an important tool for gathering data. On the other, qualitative methods like document analysis, interviews and internships at local police forces will give the team more insights into the day-to-day experience of police officers.

A final boundary Jacobs will attempt to cross is that between research and the public. In the COMPOSITE project, she will explore the possibility of communicating research findings through photography. ‘We will be exploring different ways of making science more accessible’, says Jacobs. When the research team conducts fieldwork, they will be accompanied by two photographers who are to capture the impact of cultural and organisational identities on change in photos. Selected photos will be exhibited during the project, made available to the media, and published in a book.


Gabriele Jacobs is an Associate Professor in the department of human resource management and organisational behaviour of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. She is the Project Coordinator of the COMPOSITE project .

A related past publication by Jacobs and Jochen Christe-Zeyse, Anne Keegan and László Pólos is Reactions to organizational identity threats in times of change: Illustrations from the German police , which appeared in Corporate Management Review , vol. 11, no. 3, in 2008.

Support from staff at ERIM, especially Roel van de Berg, was crucial in applying for the research grant. COMPOSITE appreciates their persistent, high quality support.

Go back