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Journal of Public Management & Social Policy

Abstract

Organizational learning has attracted both scholars and practitioners for decades, but the public sector has rarely been the focus for empirical investigation. We conducted a summative evaluation of the Social Security Act Title IV-E program to take stock of organizational learning in local level public sector service organizations in Virginia. We chose this case for scholarly investigation because it affords an opportunity to uniquely contribute to discovering learning constraints in public sector organizations. We used mixed methods to collect quantitative data on the monthly penetration rate (ratio of federal to state funding) from 2001 to 2006 and qualitative data generated from in-depth interviews of seven informants and a focus group. The quantitative analysis could not detect evidence of the learning that should have been institutionalized in the Local Department of Social Services. The qualitative analysis revealed that complex organizational structure, distorted economic incentive system, and rapid staff turnover are some factors inhibiting learning and retention of knowledge in this public sector organization. Generalizing from these results, these findings can contribute to both theory and practice in the public sector by enriching the understanding of public sector organizations’ learning constraints.

 

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