Does the organization matter? A multilevel analysis of organizational effects in homeless service innovations.

Author:Cronley, Courtney

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). The HMISs typically link multiple service providers through secure, central databases using encrypted Internet communication. Organizations store client records in the database and coordinate client care through real-time, shared access. As of 2006, 91% of homeless service provider communities in the United States reported that they were collecting client-level data in an HMIS (HUD, 2007). What is not clear, however, is the degree to which the staff members are actually using the system. Preliminary evaluations of HMIS use show that many staff members use the system sporadically (Cronley & Patterson, 2010) and organizations vacillate between high and low usage (Gutierrez & Friedman, 2005).


For organizations to use the HMIS more consistently, the organizational culture must support technology (Carrilio et al., 2003; Pasmore, Francis, Haldeman, & Shani, 1982; Racine, 2006; Trist & Bamforth, 1951). Organizational culture incorporates both structure (for example, size and levels of authority) and ideology (for example, openness to change). The collection of individuals in an organization creates norms, values, and expectations of the work environment that influence how individuals act (Deshpande & Webster, 1989; Homburg & Pflesser, 2000; Schein, 1992) and can be measured as the behavioral expectations reported by members of the organization (Glisson, 2002). Organizational culture includes three parts: (1) artifacts, (2) articulated values and beliefs, and (3) underlying assumptions (Schein, 1992). Artifacts include the physical representations of the workplace, such as policy and procedure manuals, office furniture, or uniforms. Articulated values and beliefs are those that are clearly defined by the organizational leadership and can be observed in the mission statement, brochures, or policy and procedure manuals. Finally, underlying assumptions are the values and beliefs that actually guide behavior in an organization. It is these values and beliefs, not the articulated ones, that guide behavioral expectations. At times, the two may even contradict each other. Thus, to understand organizational culture thoroughly, one must tap into the underlying assumptions.

Some studies have, however, suggested that culture is transmitted among employees more through behavioral expectations than through deeper assumptions (Ashkanasy, Broadfoot, & Falkus, 2000; Hofstede, 1998; Hofstede, Neuijen, Ohayv, & Sanders, 1990). Individuals can comply with behavioral expectations without internalizing the assumptions that contribute to those expectations. Alternatively, expectations can be determined by the demands that workers face on the job, regardless of the values of top management (Hemmelgam, Glisson, & Dukes, 2001).

There is debate about whether or not organizational culture can be measured quantitatively (Deshpande & Webster, 1989). This is because of uncertainty about whether to consult with staff members or supervisors and because culture can, at times, transcend, and even contradict, the artifacts and articulated values and beliefs of the work environment. The challenge is to capture the unspoken assumptions of the work place through questionnaires. Generally, measures of organizational culture such as the Organizational Culture Index (Cooke & Lafferty, 1989) assess behavioral norms and then classify organizations according to these responses. They do this by asking staff members questions that are designed to elicit information about how work is really done in the organization rather than what the leadership espouses as the official policies and procedures. Organizational classifications are drawn from theoretical understanding of organizational culture--for instance, authoritative versus flexible.

In a recent psychometric study of an instrument to measure aspects of organizational social context, the Organizational Social Context (OSC) Questionnaire, Glisson et al. (2008) used a second order factor analysis to identify three latent constructs of organizational culture-rigidity, proficiency, and resistance--among children's mental health providers. They defined rigidity as the degree of order and flexibility in work habits and procedures, proficiency as the degree to which staff members are expected to be knowledgeable about and capable of providing optimal services, and resistance as the degree to which the environment supports changes in work habits and procedures. For instance, rigid organizations may have strict...

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