Managing in the Face of Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The Problems of Interpretation and Coordination in Juvenile Justice Organizations

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Managing in the Face of Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The Problems of Interpretation and Coordination in Juvenile Justice Organizations

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Title: Managing in the Face of Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The Problems of Interpretation and Coordination in Juvenile Justice Organizations
Author: Wakeham, Joshua
Citation: Wakeham, Joshua. 2012. Managing in the Face of Ambiguity and Uncertainty: The Problems of Interpretation and Coordination in Juvenile Justice Organizations. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Drawing on field work at three different juvenile justice organizations, this dissertation explores the joint problems of interpretation and coordination in the face of problems marked by moral ambiguity and practical uncertainty. The author draws on array of research from a wide array of social and cognitive sciences to examine the relationship between knowledge and cognition, on the one hand, and coordination of action, on the other. Based on this work, the author proposes a more expansive, multidimensional model of cognition made up of four interconnected dimensions: conceptual, practical, emotional, and coordinating. This model allows us to better understand how people may coordinate their actions with others despite a lack of shared conceptual understanding of the problem at hand. The author then presents separate case studies of the three organizations, exploring these themes in further detail. In the case of the juvenile delinquent treatment center, Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth, the author examines how formal organizational processes and standards help coordinate the practices of the administration and clinical staff, on the one hand, and the teachers and child care workers, on the other, despite their fundamentally different understandings the boys’ problems and how to deal with them. In the second case, on the sentencing process at a State’s Department of Juvenile Justice, the author details how the formal, ritualized nature of the sentencing meetings allows for various professionals to express conflicting rationales for a given sentence simultaneously. In the third case, the author explores how the introduction of formalized practices, standards, and measures helps overcome the practical confusions, emotional conflicts, and differences in conceptual understanding between street workers and case managers that nearly derailed the efforts of the pilot gang intervention program, StreetSafe Boston. Taken together, these three case studies suggest that the strength of an organization’s formal bureaucratic features comes in part from the fact that they facilitate coordination without the need to resolve conflicts and contradictions in substantive interpretations, which may be a troubling but necessary accomplishment in the face of a problem rife with moral ambiguity and practical uncertainty.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9823971
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