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Success or failure? Making sense of outcomes in a public sector change project

Grete Hagebakken, Trude Høgvold Olsen, Elsa Solstad
Journal of Management & Organization pp 1-17; doi:10.1017/jmo.2020.19

Abstract: The most common method of assessing outcomes of change projects is to compare the final outcomes with predefined goals and conclude that the project has been a success, or more commonly, a failure. We question whether such simple conclusions pay due respect to complex processes. In this paper, we apply a sensemaking perspective to explore how and when outcomes of change projects are assessed. We report from a longitudinal case study of a project in the Norwegian public sector that was initiated to suggest and implement changes in response to major challenges in the health sector. We found outcome narratives in all project phases, including those not based on change objectives. The study contributes to the literature by suggesting that outcome narratives are continuously constructed throughout change projects and that competing outcome narratives can co-exist, be reinforced or be merged over time.
Keywords: outcomes / success / public / Failure / sector / Change Projects / outcome narratives

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