Managing Virtual Public Organizations

Managing Virtual Public Organizations

Julianne Mahler (George Mason University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0318-9.ch004
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Abstract

The term virtual organization is used in the literature to describe a range of public and private online work settings from telecommuting in traditional organizations to sophisticated arrangements for project members in different institutions and multiple locations to share information and interact online on a joint undertaking. Though virtual governmental organizations are increasingly common, the management challenges they pose are only beginning to be studied. Here, an exploration of management process in these virtual settings begins by distinguishing among forms of virtual organizations based upon whether members represent single or multiple organizations and whether their contact is continuous or intermittent. While the literature on virtual organizations suggests that all virtual organizations will be decentralized and self-organizing, here, differences in the forms of virtual organization are expected to be associated with differences in management practices. Citizens are engaged by these new forms both as clients and as members, with a range of anticipated advantages. Primary and secondary case materials and published research on virtual organizations in the United States are used to answer questions about the use of information and communication technologies, the management of coordination, and leadership in two forms of virtual organizations. The differences found are not entirely as expected. Actual patterns of management are complex; both hierarchical and self-organizing managerial patterns can co-exist.
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Defining And Classifying Virtual Organizations

The virtual organization has been defined as “a geographically distributed organization whose members are bound by a long-term common interest or goal, and who communicate and coordinate their work through information technology (Ahuja and Carley, 1999, p.743). Common characteristics of all of the forms of virtual organization that fall under this definition are that members are separated by distance and time and interactions occur using a variety of communication and information technologies. These technologies may be as simple as telephone, email and fax, or they may rely on interactive, joint authoring techniques such as wikis. Alternatively, they may depend upon more sophisticated online meeting software that allow member to share desktop views or converse while viewing the same website. In some agencies teleconferencing and videoconferencing capacities permit members to hold webinars and collaborate in real time. Podcasts and Webcasts allow meeting events to be viewed later or archived for public access. As we see below, some communication in virtual organizations is carried out with highly specialized software systems designed to simulate laboratory collaboration conditions.

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