Closing the Shop on Sheltered Work: Case Studies of Organizational Change

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Closing the Shop on Sheltered Work: Case Studies of Organizational Change

Qualitative research methods were used to examine the process of change from sheltered work to supported work models in three rehabilitation agencies. Of particular interest was the relative strength of "content" and "systemic" variables. Fundamental changes were found to have occured within each agency, led primarily by one or two key individuals with a strong commitment to an ideology of community-based services. Two distinct stages in the change process emerged. Economic pressure played a dominant role during the initiation phase at two of the agencies. The use of tactics for dealing with resistance and for ensuring permanence and stability was evident during the second, formalization phase.

The growing interest in supported employment has been accompanied by the belief that considerable change is necessary in the way traditional vocational organizations conduct their activities (McLoughlin, Garner & Callahan, 1987; Pumpian, West & Shephard, 1987; Whitehead, 1987). These changes may involve the types of individuals served, the sources of financial support received, the level of vocational integration sought, and/or the type of assessment, training and placement techniques employed.

Despite the complexity and growth of existing service changes little attention has been paid within vocational rehabilitation literature to the process of change. Whitehead (1987) has pointed out that a shift in service orientation towards supported employment poses complex and difficult challenges, including the possibility of personnel displacement similar to that experienced by institutional staff during the group home movement. Crimando, Riggar, and Bordieri (1988) have advocated increased attention to the management of change by rehabilitation administrators. One reason for the neglect of organizational change as an issue of concern may be that the changes are still relatively new and sporadic. A second reason may be that rehabilitation personnel are trained in and focused on a clinical, person change orientation rather that a systemic or organizational orientation (Stubbins & Albee, 1984).

The view that appears to underlie most discussions of change within rehabilitation is What might be called "content-centered". Change from an older service orientation to a newer service orientation is assumed to be a fairly straightforward process of adoption of new technologies by decision-makers, once the advantages of the new orientation have been clearly and rationally demonstrated. The discussion of organizational change by Paine, Bellamy, and Wilcox (1984) exemplifies such a content-centered perspective. They view the process of change as one of successfully marketing or franchising proven program models, and they specifically caution against attending to the change Process. These authors argue that (a) theories of change have not proven to be very helpful, and (b) immersion in process details deflects the attention of change agents away from a more productive emphasis on the content of change itself.

Content-centeredness also can be found in the field of special education where change to a more integrated, community-focused curriculum for students with disabilities has been increasingly emphasized. Wershing, Gaylord-Ross, and Gaylord-Ross (1986) have outlined what they call a "process model" of change. However, despite its name, the only change process described is the process of convincing "helpful administrators" of the rationale for change, and then collaboratively implementing the new service structure. Empirical studies of integrated school programs have not supported a content-centered view. For example, Biklen (1985] and Meyer and Kishi (1985) have described numerous factors at work in successful change that are unrelated to program content itself.

In contrast with rehabilitation and special education, a comparatively large body of literature on change has been developed within other human service disciplines, most notably those related to social welfare. …