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Title page for ETD etd-05152014-103759


Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Mills, Anna Christina
Author's Email Address mills.achristina@gmail.com
URN etd-05152014-103759
Title The U.S. National Park Service: Organizational Adaptation in an Era of Complexity, Uncertainty, and Change
Degree Master of Science
Department Society and Conservation
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Dr. Wayne Freimund Committee Chair
Dr. Peter Landres Committee Member
Dr. Stephen McCool Committee Member
Keywords
  • Organizational Change
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Systems Thinking
  • Revisiting Leopold
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Systems Archetypes
Date of Defense 2014-05-09
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
Conservation agencies worldwide are facing rapid, volatile social and ecological change, which is especially problematic for bureaucratic, hierarchical conservation organizations that are designed to be stable and resistant to change. The current science and management paradigm based on Progressive era ideology is proving to be inadequate to deal with this change, and the need for a new paradigm that embraces complexity and uncertainty in our social ecological systems is emerging.

The National Park Service (NPS) is one of these organizations that has acknowledged the need to better adapt to a changing environment. An external science committee recommends in Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks (Revisiting Leopold) that the agency transform itself into one that recognizes relationships within social ecological systems at different scales, forms new partnerships, and accepts complexity, uncertainty, and dynamism as integral components of social ecological systems. However, organizational change is challenging due to structural and cultural factors and underlying assumptions that stymie organizational learning and adaptation.

The problem addressed in this thesis is that while Revisiting Leopold highlights the need for the organization to adopt a new ideology better suited to complex social ecological systems, the process of transforming this type of agency on an organizational level is difficult. To address this problem and better understand how managers perceive the ideas in Revisiting Leopold, twenty-three semi-structured interviews were conducted with managers across the NPS. In particular, this study evaluates the events, patterns, structures, cultures, and mental models at play within the organization. Several system archetypes and organizational learning disabilities emerged from the data that limit the ability of the organization to embrace a new management and scientific paradigm. This study also contributes to a greater understanding of the NPS as a system, which allows for the identification of leverage points that can be utilized if the NPS chooses to transform itself into this new paradigm.

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