The Appeal to Values in the Management of International Non-Governmental Organisations: Linking Ethics and Practice
This thesis deals with the way that values get taken up by managers and leaders in international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), organisations which already have a rich history of public appeals to values. By ”values‘ I take to mean those generalised and idealising statements, such as the aspiration to ”mutual respect‘, ”equity and justice‘ ”honesty and transparency‘ in dealings with others, which usually accompany the organisation‘s vision and mission statements. The thesis sets out the argument that modern management methods based on systems thinking have been imported largely uncritically into the INGO sector, and in situations where the future is uncertain, or where there is difficulty or conflict, managers often attempt to cover over this conflict or uncertainty with an appeal to values which pictures an idealised future or an imaginary unity. Further, the thesis attempts to explore this phenomenon and to uncover some of the ethical issues that arise in the process of an appeal to unity when I am engaged as a consultant in working with managers in the INGO-sector. The thesis considers how my own practice as a consultant has changed and developed as a consequence of considering these phenomena more intensely and acting on the conclusions from these reflections. The research was prompted by my feelings of being co-opted into a process that encouraged conformity in INGOs in a way that left me feeling uncomfortable. In exploration of this discomfort and as student in a faculty pursuing the conceptual development of professional practice I have drawn broadly on the phenomenological tradition of research as a way of better understanding what I was encountering and how to make better sense of it. The method underpinning this thesis uses narrative, and reflection on narrative with a community of enquirers, which has included both fellow students on the course, as well as a wider group of interested academics. I have used as my research material my own experience of working with INGOs as a consultant and have reflected on those occasions when the discussion of values is very much to the fore. It has also meant my locating the discussion of values in a wider discourse of philosophy, sociology and psychology and mounting a critique of the dominant paradigm for understanding values in current management and organisational change literature, which is often understood as a tool for management to bring about employee alignment. Instead, I have set out an emergent understanding of values as radically social phenomena arising in the daily interaction between engaged human beings. I argue that, because of our interdependence, we are obliged to renegotiate our value commitments on a daily basis as a way of working out how we can continue together. This has involved developing a different understanding of the relationship between self and other, and a more nuanced insight into the workings of groups and the relationships of power that arise between people. Engaging with values in INGOs as a consultant invited into conversations in INGOs has thus involved my paying attention to power relating between myself and others, and the dialectic between the good and the right. Reflecting on the ethical aspects of my own consultancy practice has involved an investigation into what we might mean by ethical practice, which is generally understood to be following a series of linear rules and paradigms. I have begun to develop in its stead a theory of consultancy practice based on concepts of mutual recognition and mutual adjustment that create more space for movement within the broader social processes that can severely constrain what it is and is not possible to say and do. This thesis contributes to knowledge in the field of the management of INGOs by being one of the first to offer a critique of accepted paradigms of management theory, particularly as it relates to the appeal to values as part of strategy formation. Moreover, the emergent and social theory of values that I develop as a foil to more orthodox understandings of the role of values in the management of INGOs is also unique. My arguments concerning the ethical practice of consultancy in the domain, underpinned by a dialectical engagement of self and other, are particularly relevant to the field in which I am involved where the encounter with difference is inevitable. In the literature on management of INGOs, where research on consultancy practice is still rather thin and orthodox, my argument for a different understanding of ethical practice offers a considerable divergence of approach. In pointing to the similarities between the pressures facing INGO and private sector organisations I have also called into question the uniqueness that many scholars claim for the current management practice in INGOs. My attempts to use narrative and reflection on narrative as a method that strives to articulate what a different practice might look like should also make a new contribution to the debate about method, and ways of discussing management practice, in international development.