Directing rural cooperatives in uncertain environments

Wells, Betty
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Data were gathered as a part of an applied research project addressing problems of board decision making and cooperative autonomy in an environment increasingly dominated by external forces. The research focused on perceptions of uncertainty by directors of rural cooperatives, sources of uncertainty, and organizational strategies for coping with uncertainty. Boards were viewed as informal boundary spanning units. The decision making and resource dependence perspectives were the source of most hypotheses. A third perspective, population ecology, was introduced as a means of interpreting cooperative literature and improving future theory and empirical research on cooperatives;Two measures of uncertainty were used. Data supported an initial assumption that the most salient sources of uncertainty--government regulations and legislation, national economic conditions, transportation and energy shortages--are largely beyond the control of the local organization. Relationships between the measures of uncertainty and measures of linkages, traditionalism, and cooperative competition and size were examined. Both uncertainty measures were positively associated with director organizational linkages, but negatively, and more weakly, associated with traditionalism;Relationships were also examined between three measures of organizational linkages (board linkages, cooperative external linkages, and cooperative organizational linkages) and six organizational variables: annual dollar volume of business, number of members, age of cooperative, size of cooperative, tenure of manager, and number of competitors. The strongest correlations were obtained between the number of cooperative organizational linkages and tenure of cooperative manager;Moderate support was found for both the decision making and resource dependence perspectives. Tentative strategies were suggested for coping with uncertainty. First, directors should engage in boundary spanning activities such as organizational memberships and director training programs. Second, cooperatives should establish organizational linkages. Finally, directors should be aware of the necessity of carefully considering manager selection and evaluation and of the implications of a traditional ideology for cooperative survival.