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Public sector grants : an analysis of complexity in modern public administration

Georgelas, PJ 2015 , 'Public sector grants : an analysis of complexity in modern public administration', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This thesis explores the dependency between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and
government funding in the form of grants. It utilizes a case study approach and an interpretive
analysis of NGO operations based on a theoretical framework that operates at the intersection of
three literature domains: systems theory, community sector, and public administration. Because
of the gaps in our theoretical understanding of NGO operations, a parsimonious scaffolding built
by system dynamics will help illustrate the multiple frames which the stakeholders perceive they
operate under, the patterned behaviour inherent in the grants system, and the complexity issues
involved in such a system.
In the past three decades, the number ofNGOs has increased dramatically. Internationally
operating NGOs now number about 40,000 (Leverty, 2014: para. 5). As of 2009, Australia had
approximately 700,000 NGOs; in 2006/7, Australia's top 41,000 nonprofits employed 890,000
people or 8.6% of employed Australians according to Lyons (2009: 1-2). As of 2008, Russia had
about 277,000 ( although this figure is a decrease from a high of 650,000 in the early years of
President Putin's first term) according to Rodriguez (2008: para. 5). As of 2012, the United
States has an estimated 1.5 million NGOs operating in that country (U.S. Department of State
Fact Sheet, 2012: 2). As of2009 (the last year NGOs were accounted for there), India had
around 3.3 million, which is "one NGO for less than 400 Indians" according to Shukla (2010:
para. 1). Although NGOs have a variety of fundraising sources (e.g., canvassing/face-to-face
solicitation, media advertisement, mail-outs, membership, merchandise sales, online donations,
special events, private funding through investments and corporate grants, grants from trusts and foundations, etc.), it is government funding through grants that in general is their major source of
considerable funds.
Prior research into NGOs has been rather limited and has generally focused on their legal status,
societal role, and funding sources, and to a lesser extent on the applicability of some
organisational theories in a nonprofit environment. However, it is the contention of this research
effort that these organizations and the systems they are imbedded in have evolved into such
complex entities that existing theoretical models which tend to view these entities under a single
paradigmatic lens are no longer sufficient. These models lack explanatory power in their ability
to explain not only the workings of the entities but also the unintended consequences of their
This study attempts to investigate these unintended consequences brought about by complexity
and to highlight them through a systems theory framework as a result of exploratory case study
research. This investigation is framed by the following overarching research question:
Research Topic: How do government grant recipients in Tasmania
manage the complexity of the public sector grants system?
and the following specific research questions:
Research Question One: Are there any system archetypes noticeable in
the public sector grants system?
Research Question Two: Is the complexity of the public sector grants
system increasing, and if so, why?
This study was primarily informed by systems theory and utilized various theories surrounding
the issue of complexity to illustrate key issues and themes. NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software program, was used to undertake an analysis of interviews with key NGO personnel
regarding their perspectives on funding and operations. This study identifies several "systems
archetypes" of unintended consequences in the Tasmanian public sector grants system due to the
zero-sum nature of government grants funding and attempts to display them in a systems model.
This study's findings call for a synthesis of the existing literature and the use of a multiple
theoretical lens to cast further light into the complex problem of public policy allocations and the
wider issue of social well-being. It also points out adjunct areas ripe for future research which
include: resource allocation under scarce conditions, complex problems and multi-optimal
decision making, interactional complexity and system "fragility," funding management in
relation to organisational complexity, the social management of public attention in regard to
complex problems, and social well-being.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Georgelas, PJ
Keywords: Complexity, Exploratory qualitative instrumental case study, Government grants, System dynamics, System theory archetypes, Third sector, Social well being, Unintended consequences
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2015 the author

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