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In many European countries the borders between the realms of state, market and society were never strict and impenetrable. This led to a long and rich history of hybrid organizations in public service delivery.

Definition

In many European countries the borders between the realms of state, market and society were never strict and impenetrable, but always rather fuzzy, porous as well as shifting over time, adjusting to societal and political preferences, necessities but also fads and fashions. This led to a long and rich tradition of using hybrid organizational forms mixing public, private and societal elements in the provision of what we have now come to see as ‘public services’.

Many schools, hospitals and housing associations were for example established at the turn of the 19th century not by the state but at the initiative of (groups of) socially concerned citizens and / or religious or ideological groups. Also many public utilities were originally established not by the state but by private initiative of entrepreneurs. There also were private, commercial enterprises that had sovereignty and behaved like states, such as the Dutch East India Company or VOC. And due to the managerialism of the 1980s and 1990s, many public organizations have begun to behave in a more business-like way and to also offer goods and services on the market place.

Despite this long history and, arguably, success story of hybrid organizations in public service provision, we still know surprisingly little about the effects of hybridity. This is due to the narrow dichotomous perspective with which they often are approached. In this perspective, organizations can either be part of the market, or the state or of society but not simultaneously of two or all of them. But in reality there are (and always have been) many complex interrelations between public administration, business and society.

Approaching hybridity by using a dichotomous perspective makes them look as unusual or even perverse forms and has given fuel to debates whether they should not be banned all together. Because of this one-sided debate we still only know very little about what a hybrid organization precisely is, on which dimensions it can be a mixture of public, private and societal elements and what hybridity’s effects really are in practice. To answer these questions, a multi-dimensional model of hybrid organizations is needed.

See below for more information on the multidimensional model I developed in my PhD thesis. It is especially aimed at understanding public/private hybrids but can also be used to examine other sorts of hybrid organizations.

You can read more about this definition of hybridity in my book.