The rise of the phoenix: methodological innovation as a discourse of renewal
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- Wastell, D., McMaster, T. & Kawalek, P. J Inf Technol (2007) 22: 59. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jit.2000086
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The imperatives on contemporary organizations to adapt to an increasingly uncertain and turbulent environment are intense. The pace of change is at least as great in the public as the private sector, with technology being integral to the UK government's modernization agenda. Resilience refers to the ability of individuals and organizations to cope with change through a continuous process of renewal. Much research on resilience is uncritical, normative and written from a detached perspective that emphasizes the agency of senior management. In contrast, this paper provides an ethnographically based account of resilience at the middle level of a large, public sector bureaucracy. Finding itself under increasing pressure to move away from its traditional, technically oriented role, the IS function sought to reinvent itself as a strategic driver of business transformation. The development of a business process reengineering methodology was seen as the key to operationalizing this new role. Although innovation in IS methodology can be problematic, here it was brought off successfully. This was attributed to several factors, including the adoption of a participative action research approach and the commitment of IS management. Above all, the sense of crisis prevailing at the outset of the initiative was decisive. Crises present a major challenge to organizational sense-making; here, a resilient ‘discourse of renewal’ was kindled with the impending threat interpreted positively as a proactive opportunity to develop the new strategic identity. The paper concludes with some critical reflections on the limits of managerial agency and the notion of resilience as a designable capacity.