Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 439–464 | Cite as

Artifacts as authoritative actors in educational reform

Routines, institutional pressures, and legitimacy in student data systems
  • Virginie März
  • Geert Kelchtermans
  • Karen Vermeir


Educational reforms are often translated in and implemented through artifacts. Although research has frequently treated artifacts as merely functional, more recent work acknowledges the complex relationship between material artifacts and human/organizational behavior. This article aims at disentangling this relationship in order to deepen our understanding of the role of artifacts within processes of educational change. In particular, we study the implementation of a data-transfer instrument developed to stimulate care continuity between primary and secondary schools. In order to understand an artifact’s authority and to unravel its role in processes of innovation, we turned to organizational routines and neo-institutional theory. Drawing on data from an artifact analysis and semi-structured interviews, this article reports how this artifact not only transfers data, but also changed the discursive interactions (routines) in the school team around care. From an institutional perspective, implementing the artifact can be viewed as an answer to institutional forces that are pressurizing organizations to conform to particular ideas of what care and care continuity should ideally look like. The use of the artifact contributed to the schools’ organizational legitimacy by serving their symbolic needs and it enabled them to position themselves towards stakeholders, parents and other schools as a truly legitimate school.


Educational change Primary–secondary transition Artifact Organizational routines Neo-institutional theory Case studies 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Groupe Interdisciplinaire de Recherche sur la Socialisationl’Education et la Formation (Girsef)- Université Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.Center for Educational Innovation and the Development of Teacher and SchoolKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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