Organizational Reorientation and Learning in Israeli Local Government: The Role of Market Type Mechanisms

  • Nahum Ben-Elia
Part of the Policy Studies Organization Series book series (PSOS)


Despite great contextual changes and instability (e.g., financial constraints, rapid growth as a result of massive immigration, persistent social problems), local authorities in Israel have demonstrated remarkable decision making and management capabilities. They have shown a degree of decisiveness and entrepreneurship that can hardly be found in the Israeli public scene. The leading slogan of a recent national convention of newly elected members captures symbolically their present assertiveness: ‘Local government — Israel’s executive power’. Although obviously a product of advertising creativity, this self-adulatory catch-phrase expresses succinctly not only the general feeling of local incumbents but also the evolving institutional repositioning of local government vis-à-vis the central government. As argued elsewhere (Ben-Elia 1993) a process of ‘decentralization by default’ has been redefining central — local relations and the consequent division of labor. Faced with an increasingly complex reality of unrelenting needs and demands and resource limitations, national ministries have been displacing responsibilities to the local level through unplanned, mostly unilateral decisions. This reversal of a historical trend of etatism and centralism, has been compounded by a vacuum-feeling willingness in local government — i.e., taking upon itself tasks (such as local economic development) that nobody else seems to be in charge.1 These two trends (institutional repositioning and proactive local decision making) create a growing tension between traditional patterns of organization and performance and the demands of the new reality. Israeli local government faces the issue of organizational reorientation (Tushman and Romanelli 1985), that is the development of an optimum fit between the unfolding redefinition of its strategic goals and suitable organizational supporting systems. Such reorientation implies paradigmatic shifts (Argyris and Schon 1978; Hedberg 1984) including fundamental redefinitions of purpose (i.e., the organization’s mission or the appropriate domain of operations), organization (e.g., the distribution of power, the structure and control systems) and practice (i.e., appropriate criteria for evaluating organizational performance) (Hinings and Greenwood 1987). In the last decade a powerful factor thrusting organizational reorientation in the public sector has been the market-based paradigm. Encapsulated as ‘privatization’, this alternative paradigm has challenged prevalent conceptions of the public domain and its pattern of conduct (i.e., traditional modes of service production and delivery), even in countries that either lack or have escaped neo-conservative governments. The incorporation of market-type mechanisms (MTM) in the public sector is a process of great analytical interest for the analysis of organizational reorientations.2 The recent experience of Israeli local government with MTM allows us to explore the contextual and internal factors affecting its reorientation capabilities. This analysis stresses also the importance of organizational learning as a mechanism for organizational reorientation.3


Local Government Local Authority National Service Alternative Paradigm Institutional Repositioning 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Nahum Ben-Elia

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