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Local infrastructure organisations

and chargeable services: a typology

of legitimacy narratives
Voluntary Sector and Volunteering
Research Conference 2014

Dawn Elliott, Sheffield Hallam University

For more information on this paper or if you wish to quote the paper, please email as there may be a more up to date version of the paper available.
1 Introduction
The institutional environment in which local infrastructure organisations (LIOs) operate is
currently shifting from an old narrative towards a new narrative, driven both by the post-
recession climate and the introduction of the coalition government in 2010.
The old institutional environment, favoured principles including centralised funding of LIOs, an
assumed value of support services, and consistent provision of local infrastructure services across
the UK. Shifts towards a new environment are more critical in approach: the value of local
infrastructure services must be proven rather than assumed; efficiency and effectiveness of
services are given prominence; and it is understood that some LIOs might fail (Rochester, 2012).
A shift towards chargeable support services is visible here, driven by market forces of demand
and supply.
This paper uses institutional theory (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983) to
explore how actors seek to legitimise or prevent shifts into new institutional environments.
Data captured from a multi-sited ethnography is used as the basis for presenting a typology of
actors and their respective legitimacy narratives, within a changing institutional environment.
The model also presents the ways in which each group of actors uses rhetorical strategies to
promotes their legitimacy world-view, and the dominant value set underpinning those narratives.
The aforementioned model is the culmination of a multi-sited ethnography (Marcus, 1995),
undertaken at four different LIO sites during a six month period, with six weeks spent working
full time at each site, on a project relating to chargeable support services.
Despite the original focus of the ethnography on chargeable support services, the inductive
approach to the data highlighted more broadly applicable findings: the model relates to ways in
which groups of actors operating within an established institutional environment respond to
distinct shifts in said environment; how their dominant value set frames their worldview
regarding the legitimacy of changes; and rhetorical strategies they use to promote their world-
view surrounding the legitimacy of said changes. Whilst these findings are applicable to LIO
moves into chargeable support services, they can be applied more broadly within the voluntary
sector during a time of hyperactive policy change and shifting institutional boundaries.
2 Legitimacy at the actor level
Much attention has been given in the institutional literature to the notion of legitimacy (Parsons,
1960; Maurer, 1971; Weber, 1978; Meyer and Scott, 1983a) as a concept that anchors the
normative and cognitive forces that constrain, construct, and empower organizational actors
(Suchman, 1995, p571). The definition adopted within this study builds on Maurers (1971,
p361) definition:

the process whereby an organization justifies to a peer or superordinate system its right
to exist.
This study highlights that legitimacy can extend beyond the justification of the existence of an
organisation, into justification of actions, direction or strategy. Consequently the author builds
on Maurer by defining legitimacy as:
the process whereby an organisation justifies to a peer or superordinate system its right
to exist, act, or follow a particular strategic direction.
The focus on legitimacy frequently occurs at a macro level, with limited attention currently
directed towards the micro level at which actors contribute to the understandings and
enactment of institutional narratives. Calls for a micro-level focus on legitimacy have been made,
with particular consideration of ideas surrounding how institutional change occurs, and actor
processes underpinning those changes. The assumption here is that groups of actors collectively
can become institutions. Powell and Colyvas (2008, p276-277) argue that:
We need a richer understanding of how individuals sustain or locate themselves in social
relations and interpret their context. How do organisational participants maintain or
transform the institutions that guide their daily practice? ...The development of micro-
level explanations will give more depth to accounts of macro-level events and
Battilana et al. (2009, p66) take a similar stance, commenting that:
The demand for institutional change is increasing among organization members and
citizens the world over. Efforts to change them, however, face institutions strong power
of inertia. Recognizing that institutional change is a complex process involving different
types of forces and agents, we argue that it is our responsibility as scholars to explain not
only how institutions influence actors behaviour, but also how these actors might, in turn,
influence, and possibly change, institutions.
Attempts have been made to address this problem: Lok (2010) uses the idea of institutional
logics (Friedland and Alford, 1991) as applied to identity projects, linking systems of thinking
and institutional values with groups of actors and their identities. Heinsz and Zelner (2005)
address the socialisation of actors as a key factor in emerging institutions, and Geels (2004)
argues for the distinction between institutions, their systems, and the actors within them, whilst
Philips et al. (2004) consider actor identity within institutions by highlighting conflicting
discourses within institutions.
Suddaby and Greenwood (2005) propose a model of rhetorical strategies which actors use to
promote their preferred world-view within institutions. These five rhetorical strategies are
namely an ontological strategy, addressing existential questions of what can and cannot exist; a
historical strategy, focusing on institutional history and tradition; a teleological strategy, related to
divine purpose or final cause; a cosmological strategy, emphasising forces beyond the actors
directly concerned, and finally a value-based strategy which focuses on beliefs and principles. The

model proposed by the author builds on Suddaby and Greenwoods idea of rhetorical strategies,
but goes further by applying rhetorical strategies specifically to groupings of actors and their
respective narratives, along with their legitimacy worldviews.

3 Methodology
An ethnographic approach was taken, to secure similar benefits to those highlighted by Fine,
Morrill and Surianarain (2009):
1. The elaboration of informal relations;
2. View of organisations as systems of meaning;
3. Understanding of organisations and their environments;
4. A focus on the drivers of organisational change;
5. An insight into power, politics and control.
Two initial scoping interviews were undertaken with national stakeholders, which highlighted a
complex and multi-faceted research problem. Given the potential complexities of research into
chargeable support services, an ethnographic approach offered the most depth in capturing
complex debates such as competition versus collaboration.
The ethnography was multi-sited (Marcus, 1995), which allowed the author to follow the story
across organisations within a single institutional environment. Taking place at four sites over a
six month period, six weeks were spent by the researcher at each LIO, working full time in order
to fully become immersed into the LIOs daily routines. Sites were selected from a list of
potential LIOs compiled using internet-based research, mapping all LIOs operating within areas
easily accessible to the researcher. Forty one LIOs were contacted, five responded and four were
taken up the fifth not progressing due to changes in its structure meaning it had become so
small it would be difficult to study ethnographically.
Contacts made were using a letter sent both to the chair of trustees and to the chief officer,
offering six weeks of voluntary time to work on a project for the LIO. These projects varied
between LIOs, but were all tied to charging: for example, one LIO chose a scoping project to
examine whether charging for services would be possible; another which had already started
charging sought an evaluation of what could be improved.
The data captured included interview transcripts; records of meetings; photographs; email
records; formal documents such as strategic plans and funding bids, and the authors daily
research diaries. These were analysed inductively, using NVivo10 as the data management
package, and template analysis (Kent, 2000; King et al., 2003) as the analytical approach.
Participants were given a research participation information sheet a month prior to
commencement, explaining the study and highlighting the possibility of opting out. This
information was re-circulated at the commencement on each site, to give each participant
further reassurance that they could opt out at any time. Additionally, all data was anonymised at

source to protect sensitivities surrounding both actors and sites. The anonymised LIOs have
been named Parsley CVS; Sage CVS; Rosemary CVS and Thyme CVS.
4 Towards a model of actor legitimacy
The resulting model is presented in Table 1, and elaborated upon in the text that follows. The
first two columns label each particular type of actor or group of actors and identify their
dominant value set. The third likely to say column demonstrates these dominant value sets in
practice, and is taken from typical phrases arising in the data for each actor type. Their legitimacy
frames follow directly from this: each actor type uses their dominant value set to frame their
considerations of whether choices, behaviours or actions are indeed legitimate. As demonstrated
when progressing across the model below, each actor grouping uses their specific legitimacy
world-view to promote their own narrative or negate dissenting narratives. In the coming
together of the differing rhetorical strategies that narratives from groups of actors conflict, and
the dominant narratives go on to legitimise or de-legitimise specific actions, behaviours or
directions; in this case, charging for support services. The final column therefore applies the ideas
of dominant value sets, legitimacy type and rhetorical strategies back to LIOs chargeable services
debates from which the model originated, by exemplifying the attitudes of each actor type
towards charging for support services.

Table 1: A typology of actor legitimacy narratives
Actor typology Dominant value set Likely to say Type of legitimacy Rhetorical strategy Typical approach to
The authoritarian Internal norms and
Weve always done
it this way
Historical, internal
culture and values
Authority; security Doesnt want to
charge; extremely
vocal about the threat
of change that
charging poses.
The resistor Strong moral values I dont think this is
fair or right
Moral Historical; shared
Doesnt want to
charge and tries to
find ways to avoid
doing so. If pushed,
would choose
charging at a low level
and not making any
The contentious
Legal frameworks and
Check the contract
before we do
Regulative Legal threat Will charge, but
doesnt want to
charge for
membership due to
constitutional issues
with doing so; would
prefer charges for
additional services
such as writing

funding bids
The quiet dissenter Perceived authority Well, Im not really
sure, but if you say
Political Shared values Goes along with
charging but whispers
about their worries
that it wont work.
Favours charging
models that arent
radical e.g. small
membership charge
The strategist Sticking to a plan;
strategic frameworks
and documents
This is / isnt in the
strategic plan, so we
can / cant do it
Strategic Historical; authority Approach to charging
determined by
whatever is written in
strategic plan
charging preference is
in line with whatever is
The submissive Moves away from
conflicting logics;
Lets work this out
Unanimity Shared values Doesnt have much of
an opinion on
charging, just wants to
get on with it
The pragmatist Things being seen to
run smoothly
We need to make
sure we have the right
systems and skills in
place before we
commit to anything
Technical Readiness Charging approach
based on what is
realistic and achievable
often this is through
a combination model
of membership
charges plus additional
charges where
The team player Preserving
relationships within
Lets check with our
partners what they
think before
Stakeholder Shared values Favours charging but
only based on consent
from external
partners; charging
preference is highly
influenced by partners
and is therefore
variable depending on
the type of partners
The reputation
External institutional
perceptions of
We cant be seen to
be doing that
Normative Resources Charging approach
based on being
consistent with
reputation actors in
LIOs viewed as more
business-like might be
more inclined to take
a consultancy
approach, while actors
in LIOs that are
rooted in community
development might
take a membership
fees approach

The survivor Fight for survival We have no other
Survival-based Time; security Will justify any level of
charging based on
need for survival. As
such, advocates for
high earning charging
programmes such as
The opportunist Taking new
opportunities as they
arise; filling gaps;
gradual change
Were in the right
place at the right time
we should take
Opportunistic Time Favours charging but
takes opportunities as
they present
themselves for
example, would
charge for a funding
application if someone
was willing to pay;
would move into a
new market if they
spotted a gap
The leader Leading the sector /
We want to be the
first to move, so that
we can lead the
Pioneering Outside forces;
Favoured charging
model is based on
leading the way
before other
therefore favours
more radical charging
schemes such as
The progressive Progress;
Change brings
Innovative Knowledge
Favours income
generation by
entering new markets
or working with new
audiences in favour
of major change

4.1 The authoritarian
The authoritarian was evidenced in actors such as Doreen, the CEO of Parsley CVS, and Kirk, the
deputy CEO of Parsley CVS. Evidence from the study shows this actor type typically occupying
senior management or high profile board roles. The authoritarians value set is strongly rooted in
internal culture and organisational history: deviations for an organisational value set that has
evolved over time are perceived as illegitimate. The authoritarian uses this shared history to
frame considerations of legitimacy but uses their power and influence to exert authority over any
change, often with direct references to job security, or through close management of dissenters.
This is exemplified below:

Id been here about six months, [and we had] lots of partners all sitting round the table
and there was a... strategy about where to go if youve got debt problems, and I thought
yeah we could do that, itd be a 20,000 project and we could earn say 5,000, we could
pay everybody for the bits that they did, and everyone would be a winner. Doreen was
on holiday and... you have to act or its too late. I took some initiative and I put a bid
together, and when she came back she hit the roof, absolutely hit the roof. I was lucky to
stay in my job. She said that we shouldnt have been taking on a leadership role in the
sector and that I had no right to make those types of decisions about how the organisation
should go because the organisation had values and these werent it... I was then on report
for six months and I had to copy every single email to Doreen because she did not trust
me to do anything.
Karl, Marketing Manager, Parsley CVS
4.2 The resistor
The resistor has a worldview which is vehemently opposed to change and as such, opposed to
charging. This opposition is crafted through a dominant value set based on morality. Both
Oliver, CEO of Rosemary CVS, and Christopher, funding advisor at Parsley CVS, demonstrated
this actor type strongly: their strong moral compass guided their views on legitimacy. This group
are likely to refer to rose-tinted ideas surrounding the way things used to be as a historical
reference point for negating shifts towards new environments that they deem illegitimate; whilst
coupling this historical aspect with value-based rhetorical strategies. Here, the ideologically
driven character of the resistor is illustrated, along with a reference to history:
Its important to remember that, that in amongst all of this protecting our own backs, are
the groups that really need our help. We cant forget about them, we cant go all out
there charging in looking for profit, because its not right. I know that times have changed
and I know we live in this capitalist world now where the voluntary sector deliver public
services, and where were expected to be professional, but I got into this sector in the late
seventies or maybe early eighties, and it was so different then, you did it because you cared
about the people... We cant forget them in amongst all of this selfish drive for self-
preservation, just to keep the cash rolling in. We cant forget our principles.
Oliver, CEO, Rosemary CVS

4.3 The contentious objector
The contentious objector is best demonstrated by Faye, the funding advisor at Rosemary CVS,
who in the midst of discussions about charging for services would frequently refer back to the
constitution, question whether decisions should be run by members at the AGM, and consider
any legal implications. Legislative compliance dominates the value set for this actor, and in turn
frames legitimacy considerations. It follows that this actor uses the threat associated with non-
compliance as a way of negating differing narratives. This is demonstrated below:
Most of these people are members and if theyre members we cant give them a bill, because
we need to take it to the AGM and ask for their agreement, but because its a membership
organisation they wont agree.
Faye, funding advisor, Rosemary CVS
4.4 The quiet dissenter
The quiet dissenter does not agree with the institutional change, but accepts authority and
hence will go along with change if necessary: the acceptance of authority drives their dominant
value set. Legitimacy is therefore framed in political terms: if an action keeps the internal political
balance in check, it is legitimate. Whilst the quiet dissenter may not publicly disagree with an
authority figure, their rhetorical strategy will express dissatisfaction in quiet corners through
gossip and undermining. This is exemplified by Debbie, the development worker at Sage CVS:
I dont like any of this, this charging business. But what can you do? You cant really
change it. Roberta thinks its important, Kelly thinks its important, as if theyre going to sit
up and listen when I say thanks but no thanks... You just put up and shut up.
Debbie, development worker, Sage CVS
4.5 The strategist
The strategist is more neutral in their approach to institutional change than the aforementioned
actor types. Their dominant value set is strategic, and hence their specific position is dependent

upon what is outlined in any strategic plan: legitimacy is therefore viewed in terms of congruence
with pre-agreed strategy. Their preferred rhetorical strategy is based on the need to not revisit
historical discussions, whereby if something has been discussed the decision should be adhered
to. The strategist often occupies senior management roles and therefore combines this
historically focused rhetoric with authoritarian rhetoric.
The role of the strategist is best exemplified by Neville, the Chair of the Thyme CVS:
Lets be frank. Charging isnt in the strategic plan. And if it isnt in the strategic plan then
we dont do it.... So I suppose then I ask, what are the circumstances under which we
would charge? And there are already two circumstances under which the organisation will
be directly involved with charging, but both of those are in the strategic plan.
Neville, Chair of Board, Thyme CVS
4.6 The submissive
The submissive, much like the strategist, is value neutral, but with that approach being derived
from a different dominant value set: the submissive becomes value neutral resulting from their
desire to neutralise conflict. Their view of legitimate action is based upon the action which gains
unanimous support, and this is promoted through rhetorical strategies highlighting shared values,
as emphasised by Roz of Thyme CVS:
I dont want us to make things difficult but I dont think theres much value in considering
taking this step right now given how difficult theyve made partnership working on it... We
need to do this in unison or not at all.
Roz, Administrator, Thyme CVS
4.7 The pragmatist
The pragmatist has a dominant value set that prioritises systems, structures, and capabilities.
Opinions on charging are often framed in terms of readiness to change, as opposed to debates
surrounding the appropriateness of the change. This leads to a legitimacy framing based on

technical issues, and rhetorical strategies that play out based on readiness. Denise, the
administrator at Parsley CVS exemplifies this:
I dont really care about charging one way or the other to be honest with you. Im not
paid enough to care about it! But I do want to make sure things go smoothly with it, and
at the moment thats not happening. Its not happening because we started doing things
before we were ready, so we have this...system and we paid about seven grand for it or
something... but despite having all these fancy systems in place, people are coming in and
saying to me, can you invoice me, and I cant invoice them because none of us know how
to use the system.
Denise, Administrator, Parsley CVS
4.8 The team player
The team player places a high value on stakeholders and partnerships, and preserving
relationships as such. Their dominant value set is therefore a stakeholder-driven one, and is likely
to take a consultative approach, as highlighted by Kelly, the CEO of Sage CVS:
I think the best thing for you to do is to go out and talk with some of the people this is
going to affect most. We know we want to do it but how would it be received? We need
to talk to funders, our partners, the councillors, groups... We cant really move until weve
consulted with them, as its the community were here for.
Kelly, CEO, Sage CVS
This consultative approach provides a basis for a rhetorical strategy based on shared values, but
with those shared values coming from the institutional environment as much as from within the
4.9 The reputation conscious
The reputation conscious actor is exemplified by both Tania, a development worker at Thyme
CVS, and Elaine, a development worker at Parsley CVS. The dominant drivers in this actors value

set are pressures placed by external perceptions. These normative pressures often led to ideas of
what was and was not acceptable to be seen to do, hence using a normative frame to legitimacy
considerations. In turn, rhetorical strategies employed focus on the denial of resources if seen
not to comply with expectations:
And here I am, peddling a leaflet thats asking people to pay me for funding advice, but
its a leaflet created in Microsoft b***** paint or something, so how will anyone take us
seriously? People wont buy our services, and funders will think were being
unprofessional so theyll deny us funding too, which is why we shouldnt be doing this.
Elaine, Development worker, Parsley CVS
4.10 The survivor
Survival at all costs is what drives this actor group, and frames their dominant value set: in turn,
their considerations surrounding legitimacy is that action is justified if it will guarantee survival.
Teresa, the development worker at Parsley CVS is typical of the survivor, along with Cora, the
chair of Rosemary CVS. In the example below, Cora uses typical rhetorical strategies of both time
and job security to frame her arguments promoting survival-based legitimacy:
Its about asking what do we want? We want to survive as a CVS. We want to sustain
the employment of key people... I dont know what we can do about it, the worlds
changing around us and were being forced to change with it to survive.
Cora, Chair of trustees, Rosemary CVS
4.11 The opportunist
The opportunist holds a dominant value set that endorses taking opportunities as they arise, and
filling gaps where they present themselves. This is perhaps best illustrated by Konnie, the deputy
CEO of Thyme CVS, whose pursuit of chargeable services saw her pioneering moves to charge
public sector agents such as police and crime commissioners, who sought information on the
voluntary sector from Thyme CVS. In this role, actors frame legitimacy through time-limited
opportunities, and perceive that taking any new opportunity is legitimate in its own right. As
such, rhetorical strategies framing these arguments include highlighting the time-sensitive
element of each opportunity:

Why do I want to charge [public sector bodies] for [information]? Because if they dont
pay us for it then theyll have to find it themselves. And once theyve learned how to do it
themselves, theyll do it again. So we need to show them we can give them that service
before the window of opportunity closes and we lose out on potential income.
Konnie, Deputy CEO, Thyme CVS
4.12 The leader
This actor grouping is underpinned by a dominant value set of leading a sector or industry,
typified by the comments below from Bill, the development manager at Sage CVS:
So, the thing about going first is, we should do the segmentation. We should pick two or
three key segments, which we know are going to be big growers and we should target
those, specifically to increase our membership... And effectively what you are doing is
replacing your Council funding with your three big segments. That will... send out the right
message, because the other problem with not going first is that the first movers, who can
spot the right part of the market and get in there first, will dominate the market. And
everyone else will get Theyve got no chance.
Bill, Development manager, Sage CVS
The values inherent in wanting to lead the sector into something new result in a legitimacy frame
that views pioneering activity as legitimate in its own right. This is backed by a rhetorical strategy
that highlights the impact on resources of not leading the change, along with the impact
externally within the institutional environment.
4.13 The progressive
The progressive is highly innovative and driven to move forward. Progress is central to their
dominant value set, underpinned by a view of innovative legitimacy which views innovation and
entrepreneurship as legitimate actions. Karl, the marketing manager at Parsley CVS, was perhaps
the strongest innovator within the study. His comments below highlight a rhetorical strategy that
highlights the furthering of knowledge as a justification for change.

But we need a new brand if were going to do something. If youre going to do
something differently, make it new, make it different, make it sound different, look
different. Were coming at it from no great detail, weve not thought about it, and its
probably not going to work. But whats happening is really interesting. But you cant just
sit back, theres a certain sort of cynicism saying its not going to work you can only win
if you go and try and make things happen, and even if it doesnt happen youll have
learned something.
Karl, Marketing manager, Parsley CVS
5 Conclusions
This paper presents a brief overview of a typology of actor narratives with respect to legitimacy in
a shifting institutional environment, with the dominant value sets underpinning these legitimacy
frameworks and the rhetorical strategies employed by actors to promote their worldview of
legitimacy. The model identifies thirteen different actor types, accounting for those actors
vehemently opposed to conforming to the expectations of a shifting institutional environment,
and those in strongly in favour of institutional change.
Further research may include identifying the extent to which these actor types exist in static
institutional environments as opposed to shifting environments, and also may involve identifying
the processes by which these conflicting narratives permeate into institutions, and into action: in
particular, how one or two of these narratives become the dominant narratives within an
organisation would prove useful in further research.

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