This slightly revised model demonstrated excellent fit: NFI = .98, NNFI = 1.18, CFI = .94. PFI (.55) is somewhat low, but is deflated by the modest sample size.

The results with the feasibility measure (Figure 1) support four of the five predicted paths. Quality of working relationship has a strong negative path to organizational resistance, and the path from feasibility to quality of working relationship is positive. (One of the paths added to improve fit was the one from feasibility to organizational resistance, which indicates that quality of working relationships is not a complete mediator of the feasibility/organizational resistance linkage.) Two of the context variables (information processing capacity and resource availability) show direct paths to feasibility. Paralleling the results for control, three other paths were added: from experience to working relationship and to organizational resistance, and from information processing capacity to organizational resistance.


A dramatic interorganizational response (Community Mental Health Boards suing the Ohio Department of Mental Health) was conceptualized within an organizational resistance framework, and predicted using a model drawing on the strategic issue diagnosis and interorganizational relationship literatures. The results were consistent with the key linkages in our model: contextual factors affect the way Board decision makers frame the issue, which affects the quality of working relationship with ODMH, which, in turn, affects the extent of Board resistance to institutional pressure.

Our findings support the argument that the quality of working relationship plays a key role in interorganizational responses to strategic issues. Quality of relationship completely mediated the effects of control frame on resistance and partially mediated this effect for feasibility frame. The direct effect of feasibility on resistance suggests that if Boards felt they had feasible options for implementing the Act, they were somewhat able to resist pressure from ODMH, independent of effects due to the state of their working relationship.

We found support for the usefulness of contextual factors at the individual, group and organizational level for understanding resistance, which supports Thomas et al.'s (1994) model and extends it to interorganizational responses. Four of six predictions linking context to frames were supported, indicating that contextual factors work through interpretations. Work experience affected control, but not feasibility, and information processing capacity showed the opposite pattern. Resource adequacy was linked to both control and feasibility, perhaps because of the centrality of resource adequacy in the lawsuit. Modifications to improve the fit of the models also support the importance of context. In both models experience had direct effects on working relationship and resistance, and information processing capacity had a direct effect on resistance. This suggests that tests of the sensemaking model need to examine both the indirect (through interpretations) and direct effects of contextual factors on organizational response and outcomes.

This study has several strengths. Very few studies on strategic issue framing have examined a consequential, explicit organizational-level response, and even fewer have dealt with interorganizational responses. This study was strengthened by the inclusion of both subjective and objective measures. Two of the six measures were objective (i.e., work experience, organizational resistance), reducing the plausibility of shared method variance as an alternative explanation. Through happenstance, the data were gathered prospectively. Even though we did not anticipate the lawsuit, the timing of our survey was ideal: in advance of the litigation but not too far in advance. We were fortunate to be in a research setting where 53 organizations were considering litigation against a single institutional target. Finally, the results supported key portions of our a priori model, and the final model fit well despite a useable sample of 48 organizations.

The modest sample size was one of the limitations of the study, in that it reduced statistical power and forced us to include a limited number of variables in our model. Because the lawsuit was not anticipated, we were limited to using data gathered in a survey that was not designed to predict this specific response. Had we anticipated the litigation, we would have measured other variables relevant to organizational resistance and to the quality of working relationships.


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