Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Ralph C. Chandler

Second Advisor

Dr. David S. DeShon

Third Advisor

Dr. Donald L. Inman


A major challenge that faces most institutions is that of adapting to and managing change. The leadership of an organization is a key focal point for analyzing how change is accomplished.

This study examines both a theoretical and practical approach to the study of organizational and cultural change. The focus is a public agency and the actions and decision processes of the top leadership relating to organizational and cultural change during the period 1992 to 1995.

From the theoretical perspective, Karl Weick’s approach called sensemaking is examined and a model is created. Sensemaking is an activity that is an explanatory process and provides a method for comprehension of events, placement of items into frameworks, and constructing meaning. One of its key distinguishing characteristics is that it focuses on analyzing events retrospectively.

Interviews with 28 of the top leaders of the public agency provide a retrospective analysis by those individuals of the events surrounding the organizational and cultural change efforts undertaken. These interviews provide the basis for exploring the model of sensemaking. Additional explanatory framework for sensemaking is provided through the work of Alan Briskin and his concepts of the soul and its shadow side in individuals, and the impact this has in the workplace.

The interviewees were categorized into three groups, representing the top three layers of leadership within the public agency. The similarities and differences within and between these groups are explained relative to the sensemaking model, and conclusions drawn from these comparisons. The results highlight the importance of the interactions of top leadership in an organization and how those interactions impact organizational and cultural change efforts.

The importance of this research is that it creates a model from Weick’s theory of sensemaking and then provides a practical exploration o f the model through a study of a major public agency over a 4-year period.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access