Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Health & Social Science

First Advisor

Dr. Richard Thorn

Second Advisor

Dr. Henry Lyons


Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) worldwide are investing increasing resources in strategic planning and self-study activities, in order to meet accountability and quality assurance requirements and to improve their performance. Despite this, little empirical research exists which can definitely answer the question as to whether these activities are effective in leading to improvements in institutional performance and organisational learning, let alone shed light on the reasons why.

This study investigated three strategic planning and three self study programs which were undertaken in one HEI in Ireland over an 8 year period from 1997 to 2006. The first research question determined whether these programs were effective in leading to improvements in institutional performance. The second research question shed light on the reasons why the programs were effective. The third research question sought to understand what the Institute learned as a result in engaging in these programs and investigated concepts around single and double loop organisational learning. The key findings were that the programs were effective to varying degrees in leading to improvements, with self study more effective than strategic planning. The engagement of academic staff, how the programs strengthened the steering core, their driving forces and the resources invested in process management were seen to be key factors in effectiveness. The programs fell some way short of leading to organisational learning however and deficiencies in their ability to build shared vision, promote team learning, question underlying assumptions and take a holistic perspective were identified.

A reality-oriented, post-positivist research philosophy was adopted which means the results can be viewed in terms of probable causal effects and in which the reader has discretion to draw his/her own conclusions on the basis of the evidence presented. A mixed mode approach was used by mixing hypo-deductive reasoning with primarily qualitative methods of inquiry. The main data sources used were documents (Institute publications, proceedings of Governing Body, Academic Council, senior management team, etc.) and interviews with n=17 informants. The informants included all of the senior management team of the Institute and approximately half of the wider management team. Triangulation of data sources was used wherever possible to minimise potential bias and substantiate results.

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