chapter  6
23 Pages

Interest group ‘careers’ (II): group adaptation and change over time

Introduction: the ubiquity of adaptive change Having established in the previous chapter that the key task of formation can be conceptualized as establishing a firm group identity and design, this chapter focuses upon the subsequent set of questions: Can groups adapt and change form over their careers (what are the sources of constraint and enablement)? What types of change are there (and which are most disruptive)? These strike me as important empirical and conceptual questions to the study of group maintenance, but ones that have attracted relatively little dedicated attention in the group literature. This chapter addresses this gap with an explicit focus on developing an approach to describe and calibrate change in group organizational form. The aim is to encourage debate by exploring ways we might use concepts like organizational form to get a handle on the dynamic of group evolution. It presents a framework for describing organizational form, and levels of change in group form. This discussion is supported by illustrative examples from predominantly UK group cases. The jump off point for this chapter, much like its predecessor, is that the literature on interest group ‘mobilization’ and ‘maintenance’ underplays the above set of questions about group organization (see Chapter 2). The lack of dedicated attention to organizational change and adaptation is all the more apparent given the fact that empirical case studies regularly observe it. For example, UK studies routinely observe groups shifting from an outsider to an insider political strategy over their careers (see Jordan and Halpin 2003). In some cases, discussion is of seemingly bold and overwhelming change within groups. Minkoff (1999) shows how women’s advocacy groups adapted differently, changing their overall purpose; some reverted to protest, some engaged in service provision while others shifted towards advocacy. According to Clemens and Minkoff (2004, 165) the Consumer Union, in the US, started life as a radical organization actively seeking to regulate corporate behaviour but transformed into a more conservative scientific organization. The Australian Conservation Foundation illustrates the reverse scenario, whereby a sedate scientific group transformed into a mass-membership campaigning body (Warhurst 1994). As Nownes and Cigler (1995, 397) noted some time ago with respect to survival, ‘there is no one

road to group success’: the question then is what roads are chosen, why, and what are the implications? More systematic evidence of change comes from a recent survey conducted of Scottish interest groups active in government public consultations since 1999. To examine the nature of the changes that organizations might make to enhance their survival prospects, the respondents were presented with a list of ten strategies and asked to indicate which, if any, had been undertaken by their organization within the last five years (see Table 6.1). The most frequently used strategies, cited by over half of the groups in each case, were broadening the range of issues upon which the organization focuses (54.6 per cent), and enhancing the opportunities for their members to participate in the organization’s work (53.9 per cent). Almost half of the groups have changed the tactics they have been using to influence public policy (46.3 per cent) and/or have changed the services they offer (46.1 per cent). Almost onethird (32.4 per cent) have broadened the constituency they seek to represent; while a quarter (25.8 per cent) have explored mergers with like-minded organizations. Smaller proportions have added local branches to their organizational structure (13.4 per cent), narrowed the range of issues they focus on (11.1 per cent), or have changed their name (10.4 per cent). Only five (1.1 per cent) of the 469 organizations have narrowed the constituency they seek to represent. Some further circumstantial support for this claim that many groups – even those that survive – manifest some type of organizational change can be found in US data on voluntary organizations. Data from several editions of the Encyclopedia of Associations shows that, of the groups entered in the 1970 edition that remain in the 2005 edition, a large minority of groups manifest some change (Table 6.2). Change here is defined very crudely as including name change, amalgamation or a merger: although the vast majority were simply name changes.