Academic journal article Social Work Research

Does the Organization Matter? A Multilevel Analysis of Organizational Effects in Homeless Service Innovations

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Does the Organization Matter? A Multilevel Analysis of Organizational Effects in Homeless Service Innovations

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of organizational culture on staff members' use of management information systems (N= 142) within homeless service organizations (N= 24), using a multilevel model. The Organizational Social Context Questionnaire was used to measure organizational culture, defined by three sub-constructs: (1) proficiency, (2) rigidity, and (3) resistance. Results showed that organizational effects were moderated by gender, with male staff members reporting increased use of the technology in organizations with higher proficiency levels. Female staff members' use was not affected by organizational culture. The study also found substantial variability in organizational culture among homeless service providers. Some scored low on rigidity and resistance but high on proficiency, whereas others scored high on proficiency but low on rigidity and resistance. Overall, the sample showed higher proficiency, resistance, and rigidity compared with a national sample of children's mental providers. Implications of these findings are discussed for implementation and evaluation of new technologies in homeless services.

KEY WORDS: homeless services; multilevel modeling; organizational culture; technology


Approximately 1.6 million individuals sought homeless shelter services on any given night in the United States in 2008 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2009). In the 2009 fiscal year, U.S. Congress allocated $1.636 billion in Homeless Assistance Grants to HUD alone. Although the need to improve service effectiveness has long been recognized (HUD, 2009; North, Pollio, Perron, Eyrich, & Spitznagel, 2005; Wright, Rubin, & Devine, 1998), a dearth of research examining the organizations serving homeless individuals and families remains. The adoption of new technologies is critical to understanding the role of the organization. Many human service organizations are slow and resistant to adopt new technologies (Camlio, 2005; 2007; Fitch, 2005), yet the effectiveness of innovations is contingent upon how well organizations support their implementations (Glisson & Schoenwald, 2005). Moreover, organizational culture has been shown to influence technology implementation (Carrilio, Packard, & Clapp, 2003; Racine, 2006) and client outcomes (McCoy & Vila, 2002). The purpose of this study is to examine how organizational culture influences staff members' use of new technologies in homeless services to determine whether innovation dissemination is partly a function of organizational culture.


Research on homeless services typically focuses on clients and is derived from the premise that homeless persons face a unique constellation of problems (North et al., 2005), including co-occurring disabilities, limited social and familial connections, and a distrust of traditional social services (Wright et al., 1998). It is implied that these factors make it difficult for clients to access services. This assumption may be misleading, however. Studies of client utilization of services have shown that the availability of services, rather than client efforts to access the services, was a primary predictor of client utilization (North & Smith, 1993; Padgett, Struening, & Andrews, 1995). Homeless individuals have reported that pleasant staff members and surroundings are instrumental in helping them to remain in supportive housing (Padgett, Henwood, Abrams, & Davis, 2008). In addition, research has shown that organizational characteristics such as size and leadership affect care coordination (Calloway & Morrisey, 1998), service intensity (Sosin, 2001), and service use (North et al., 2005).

In 1999, HUD introduced a new technology, homeless service information systems (HMISs), that facilitates the migration from paper-based to electronic work systems and is designed to improve the efficiency of service delivery and effectiveness of homeless interventions (HUD, 2007). …

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