How Do Public Organizations Learn? Bridging Cultural and Structural Perspectives


Donald P. Moynihan is an associate professor and Romnes Fellow in the La Follette School of Public Affairs, University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research examines the application of organization theory to public management issues such as administrative reform, performance management, and employee behavior. His book The Dynamics of Performance Management won the 2009 Academy of Management award for best public and nonprofi t book.

Noel Landuyt is a research associate and lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin in the Center for Social Work Research. He is also the director of the Institute for Organizational Excellence.


How do public organizations learn? The organizational learning literature suggests distinct cultural and structural routes to learning. However, such categorizations oversimplify. Leaders seeking to foster learning should recognize that most relevant organizational variables combine structural and cultural aspects, which are mutually dependent on one another. The strongest influences are the existence of work groups that are purpose driven and incorporate the views of all members, including dissenting views. Such learning forums can be fostered through formal requirements, but they need appropriate cultural characteristics to succeed. Mission orientation, decision authority, information systems, and resource adequacy are also positively related to improved organizational learning.