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In follow-up to our last post about the potential for a psychoanalytic human science built on mixed methods, I highlight two articles about collaboration. In a recent article in the American Review of Public Administration, Amirkhanyan, Kim, Lambright (2012) use data collected in a longitudinal survey to explore the determinants of strong collaborative contracting relationships. In contrast, Prins (2006) uses an action research approach, sitting “on the boundary” as a participant observer, to study an emerging collaborative.

Amirkhanyan et al. focus their research on “contract characteristics, contractor characteristics, and environmental factors” viewing these variables as important determinants of the strength of collaborative contracting relationships. Three main findings emerge from this study. First, that contract specificity is positively associated with strong collaborative relationships. Second, that contractor self-ratings of their services as high quality was also associated with stronger collaborative relationships. Third, internal management capacity was associated with strong collaborative relationships. The authors make it clear that their study sheds light on the end products of collaborative contracting relationships, not their processes.

Prins uses a psychoanalytic framework based on assumptions about the unconscious dimension behavior, the co-constructed nature of reality, and the anxiety provoking characteristics of collaborative work. The study also assumes that “collaboration is an emergent process” (Gray, 1989). Prins finds three themes in the collaborative being studied. First, the ambiguity that is necessarily part of developing collaborative relationships results in defensive responses, single-loop processes, and a diversion from the primary task (of developing the collaboration). Second, the ability of collaborative structures and processes to contain the anxieties of participants and provide a transitional space for exploration of ideas is crucial for maintaining integration in the process of developing a collaborative. Finally, a sense of failure or inadequacy on the part of collaborative members can derail the process and hinder the progress of the collaborative.

Taken together these studies provide greater insight into collaborative processes than either study alone. We could view contract specificity as a container for the anxieties within the collaborative, providing clear role specifications and reducing ambiguity. Internal management capacity may reflect leadership that is able to effectively contain the anxieties of organizational members and foster a transitional space that where reduced defensiveness allows for more open and creative collaboration across organizational boundaries. Finally, contractors perception of their organization’s services as high quality may indicate good enough containment of anxieties around personal and professional failure, along with an organizational environment that affirms and supports the personal and work-related identities of organizational members.

Examination of these two studies reflects not only the potential for mixed methods research to support and extend psychoanalytic theories of organizations, but also the benefit of epistemological pluralism for understanding the intersections within and between public and private organizations.


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