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The New Zealand Medical Journal

 Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 20-January-2012, Vol 125 No 1348

[full text] [PDF]

‘The way things are around here’: organisational culture is a concept missing from New Zealand healthcare policy, development, implementation, and research
Shane L Scahill


Internationally, healthcare sectors are coming under increasing pressure to perform and to be accountable for the use of public funds. In order to deliver on stakeholder expectation, transformation will need to occur across all levels of the health system. Outside of health care it has been recognised for some time that organisational culture (OC) can have a significant influence on performance and that it is a mediator for change. The health sector has been slow to adopt organisational theory and specifically the benefits of understanding OC and impacts on performance. During a visit to health research units in the United Kingdom (UK) I realised the stark differences in the practice of health reform and its evaluation.

OC is a firmly established concept within policy development, implementation and research in the UK. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for New Zealand. There has been unrelenting reform and structural redesign, particularly of the primary healthcare sector under multiple governments over the past 20 to 30 years. However, there has been an underwhelming focus on the human aspects of organisational change. This seems set to continue and the aim of this viewpoint is to introduce the concept of OC and outline why New Zealand policy reformists and health services researchers should be thinking explicitly about OC. Culture is not solely the domain of the organisational scientist and current understandings of the influence of OC on performance are outlined in this commentary. Potential benefits of thinking about culture are argued and a proposed research agenda is presented.

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