Perceptions of legitimacy amongst members and non-members of a federated network: a case study of the New Zealand Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs NZ)
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Increased marketplace pressures have encouraged the strategic development of federated networks as a form of industry self-regulation. Globally, fitness industries have embraced self-regulation strategies over the last decade resulting in a proliferation industry-based registers that are supposed to facilitate legitimation and professionalism. Although some research has been undertaken in this area, most have observed fitness industry registers in relation to: political economic strategies, human resource management, and educational provision for the field. The perceptions of organisational managers, regarding affiliation or non-affiliation with a fitness industry register at the operational level, are decidedly absent in the literature. This research explores the perceivable legitimating benefits that can be incurred through associating with a voluntary federated network. In particular, it attempts to identify how a selection of managers perceives their respective centres with a fitness industry register. A case study approach was utilised that involved a selection of 12 Auckland, New Zealand fitness centre managers and two representatives from the New Zealand Register of Exercise Professional (REPs NZ) and Fitness New Zealand. Following an interpretive mode of inquiry, data collection encompassed 14 semi-structured interviews and fitness centre participants were characterised as: (a) affiliated or non-affiliated, and, (b) for-profit or non-profit. The personal perceptions of these individuals were recorded in relation to three distinct but interrelated perspectives. Namely, organisational, network, and industry level perceptions. Conclusions for each perspective were derived from a thematic analysis. Perceptions of the federated network as a whole were subsequently derived from the amalgamation of the aforementioned perspectives. Findings suggest that although participants are congruent with the concept of fitness industry regulation, perceptions of how it should be implemented are fragmented. There are also differences of opinions between the register and centre participants regarding REPs NZ promotion, its strategic direction, and its formal communication processes. Tensions between for-profit and non-profit affiliates appear absent and most multi-sector participants are generally isomorphic. Nonetheless, tensions appear to exist between affiliated and non-affiliated participants regarding instances of observed free-riding, industry exclusions, and the type governance that is in place. Interestingly, the actual benefits experienced by affiliates at the organisational level are perceived as minimal. Organisational legitimacy enhancement is identified by participants as the most desired benefit, which underpins affiliation motivations. The perceived limitations are similar among both affiliates and non-affiliates: increased administrative complexity and costs. Conclusions from this research identify that REPs NZ is still in a nascent stage of development. Research findings also lend further support that managers are both strategically and institutionally motivated to participate in a voluntary federation to acquire organisational legitimacy. Additionally, the fragmented perceptions of the field potentially stem from a lack of comprehension regarding the nature of REPs NZ and self-regulation. Nonetheless, adequate formal communication processes can contribute to reinforcing its institutional structure and comprehensiveness and therefore should be encouraged. Network legitimacy is also critical as it encourages field buy-in and REPs NZ dependencies which needs to include three critical components: network management legitimacy, affiliate legitimacy, and institutional structure. Future research on voluntary federations needs to identify what their affiliates perceive as important to build network legitimacy, and how this can be achieved that will provide substantive industry regulatory systems that is reciprocally beneficial for all its members.