Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Exploring Producers', Staff Members', and Board Members' Cognitive Frame on Decision Making in an Appalachian Organic Farming Venture

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

Exploring Producers', Staff Members', and Board Members' Cognitive Frame on Decision Making in an Appalachian Organic Farming Venture

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Sustainable development assistance organizations (SDAOs) aim to help producers of natural resource products move their goods and services to market. This article explores how the cognitive frames held by producers, staff, and board members in an agricultural SDAO in rural Appalachia influence organizational decision-making. This study explores identity, characterization, value, and membership frames. Data collected through semi-structured interviews with growers, staff, and board members reveal that the frames these stakeholders hold lead to the institutionalization of decision-making processes that allow organizational managers to make quick, consistent, and clear decisions while avoiding conflicts among members who hold competing frames. Simultaneously, these tacitly-supported practices are exclusionary, and they limit creativity and information exchange, as well as reducing transparency. Consequently, the SDAO may face organizational challenges due to limited problem-solving and adaptive management capabilities. Additionally, the prevailing nature of some members' frames may prevent other participants from changing their views of the SDAO, limiting the firm's flexibility to experiment with new management and organizational structures and resilience in the face of change.

The development of support linkages among producers of natural resourcebased products and sustainable development assistance organizations (SDAOs) is one common approach to rural sustainable development. Producers of sustainable goods include entrepreneurs who sell timber and non-timber forest products, agricultural produce, and arts and crafts, among other items. SDAOs are organizations such as government agencies, nonprofit firms, university centers and extension offices, and regional economic development commissions that offer sustainable producers help with internal functions such as developing business plans and proposals, researching and developing new products, and accounting, as well as with external functions such as obtaining start-up funds and marketing and distributing products. Generally speaking, SDAOs are designed to serve as intermediaries that link local producers to markets and that give producers business management services.

This analysis seeks to understand how sustainable producers that participate in one SDAO and the staffand board members that operate the organization "frame," or make sense of, the entity through which they interact, and how those frames influence decision making in the organization. Following a presentation of relevant stakeholders' frames regarding the SDAO, this research theorizes their implications for the sustainability of the organization itself and the SDAO-centered model of sustainability more broadly.

ANALYTIC FRAME THEORY

Analytic frame theory seeks to explain the ways that people make meaning from their environment. Frames help individuals define, describe, and place boundaries on their observations and interpretations of the world around them (Bateson 1972; Benford and Snow 2000; Gamson and Modigliani 1987; Goffman 1974; Snow and Benford 1988; Tversky and Kahneman 1981; Walton and Bailey 2005). Thus, frames are the result of cognitive actions that individuals use to help situate themselves in the times and places in which they are embedded (Goffman 1974). Gamson and Modigliani (1987:143) have described a frame as "a central organizing idea or story line that provides meaning." Subsequently, frames influence individuals' actions, decisions, and behaviors.

Previous researchers have identified several types of frames (Lewicki, Gray, and Elliot 2003; Walton and Bailey 2005). These forms are founded upon the different ways that individuals observe their environments and are significant influences in their understandings of the world and subsequent behaviors. This analysis focuses on four types of frames: value (Brewer and Gross 2005), identity (Lewicki, Gray, and Elliot 2003), characterization (Lewicki, Gray, and Elliot 2003), and membership (Masterson and Stamper 2003). …

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