Understanding Systemic Change: Conflicts in the public service development

Paula Rossi

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisCollection of Articles


Within the field of administrative sciences, this academic dissertation focuses on the crucial role of conflicts experienced in the development of public services and, through this, foregrounds the need to understand systemic change. Overall, the dissertation suggests a paradigm shift in public service research from a focus on cooperation and doing, inherent in intra- and inter-organizational approaches, to conflicts of institutional arrangements and being as a systemic approach and asks, how do conflicts increase understanding on systemic change in public services?

The dissertation utilizes a narrative approach to organizational complexity and
sensemaking. Here, complexity-thinking as a methodological tool posits new
directions, draws new connections and creates new understandings for public service research, particularly for revealing conflicts (micro-level) in service development initiatives (macro-level) and contributing to understanding the systemic change in public services (meso-level).

An overarching thesis and four peer-reviewed, published articles comprise the
dissertation. Two of the articles (sub-studies I and II) discusses the theoretical and methodological foundations for the concept of conflict and explore the role of conflicts in knowledge creation, development and change. The other two articles (sub-studies III and IV) are empirical, qualitative case studies focusing on two Finnish public service development initiatives, theoretically positing connections and understanding conflicts in public service development and change. The empirical articles rely methodologically on an interpretive, hermeneutic phenomenological approach to studying experiences and a case study approach as a research design.

The data consist of documents, observations and in-depth interviews and were
analysed utilizing a qualitative theory-guided content analysis. The theoretical framework, based on the sub-studies’ results, focuses on exploring the concept of conflicts as felt meanings and lived experiences of differences in institutional arrangements (as the different values, beliefs, aims and practices) people bring to multiple spheres of interaction. Importantly, narrative sensemaking of conflict experiences reveals issues of identity, emotions and power relations. As conflicts become, through institutionalization, necessities for knowledge creation, it is crucial to be critically reflexive towards these different, relational meanings of identities of self and others and the emotions that the experienced conflicts bring up as well as the power relations underlying the conflict experiences.

Further, through this reimagined concept of conflict, the synthesis focuses on
understanding public service development as a systemic change. The synthesis
suggests that in understanding public services’ changes, the narrative sensemaking of experienced conflicts draws attention to four underlying elements of systemic change, namely polyphony (foregrounding the multi-actor service ecosystems), locality (foregrounding the context and time), relationality (foregrounding the relational nature of institutionalization) and reflexivity (foregrounding the sensemaking of experiences as a basis for systemic change).
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTampere
PublisherTampere University
Number of pages74
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-1930-4
ISBN (Print)978-952-03-1929-8
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (articles)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028


  • conflicts
  • experiences
  • institutional arrangements
  • institutionalization
  • public services
  • service ecosystems
  • systemic change


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