Examining Reflexive Institutional Work in Charity Outcome Measurement Practices
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The purpose of this study is to examine the reflexive instituional work of charity actors in two New Zealand case study charities’ outcome measurement (OM) practices. The paper employs recent developments in neo-institutional sociology - institutional work, and policy-practice and means-ends decoupling - as theoretical lens to examine how charity actors develop reflexive awareness of identity accountability and cope with challenges in their OM practices. The empirical evidence includes semi-structured interviews and document analysis with twenty-three internal stakeholders (staff members, managers, and board members) of the studied charities, and seven external stakeholders (volunteers, and evaluators) who are involved in the charities’ OM practices, to understand their perceptions of experience of OM practices. The findings reveal that both charities’ actors develop reflexive awareness of identity accountability by employing a variety of OM mechanisms, and create and maintain OM norms and practices. However, they also face a number of practical challenges and struggle to balance their upward accountability to funders and identity accountability to organizational mission. Both policy-practice and means-ends decoupling are used as means to cope with these challenges, but an unintended consequence is produced from intended reflexive institutional work of one studied charity’s actors.