Organizational culture and societal safety: Collaborating across boundaries
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSafety Science, 2017, 110, 89-99 10.1016/j.ssci.2017.12.029
We discuss how cultural boundaries between groups and organizations can affect societal safety. Societal safety is an issue that challenges institutional structures and requires coordination and collaboration among a diversity of groups and agencies toward an intangible goal. We examine three cases of collaboration problems and cultural stereotyping: (1) between sectors (two agencies with different responsibilities on a national level), (2) between regulatory levels (the approach to risk on a national level and practitioners in rural municipalities), and (3) between professional groups (operational police officers and more strategically-oriented personnel). We address culture as a phenomenon operating at the boundaries between organizations or groups of practitioners. By addressing the ways culture is actualized as a boundary phenomenon, we move beyond essentialist understandings of culture and elaborate a relational interactionist understanding, with implications for practice. Cultural differentiation is an important (but not the only) explanatory factor in problems of collaboration. Organizational and professional cultures are made relevant where there is friction among groups through processes of stereotyping. Societal safety is created in networks of professions, communities of practice and informal relationships that are infused with values, interests and power, making cultural boundary processes an important and priority topic for safety research. These are insights that are underplayed in research, policy and practice on societal safety. We conclude that the building of societal safety needs to be based more on meso-level organization development in addition to the traditional approaches of macro-level policy development.