Organizational Populations: Conceptualizing a Sublevel of the Ecological Level of Organizational Analysis

Organizational Populations

The population of organizations is one of three distinct sublevels within the ecological level of organizational analysis.  It essentially identifies groups of organizations that are similar in some aspect.  W. Richard Scott and Gerald F. Davis in Organizations and Organizing: Rational, Natural, and Open System Perspectives equate organizational populations to biological species, arguing that in both cases “the most relevant occupants of the environment are other actors of the same kind” (Scott and Davis, 116).  These similar organizations compete most directly for limited resources, thus being the primary source of competition.  However, due to their similarities, these organizations may also occasionally associate and cooperate in order to protect their mutual interests, as well as look to one another for guidance on proper protocol.  Each organizational population is distinct and can be described based on various features that are unique to that population.

When viewing organizations from the level of organizational populations, emphasis is on analyzing “an aggregate of organizations exhibiting a similar form,…varying strategies of competition, and…the selective effects of changes in environments” (Scott and Davis, 117).  The group, or population, of organizations is the focal point, as opposed to the individual organization or the connections among organizations.  Those factors that alter the general composition, size, etc. of the population are what are studied.  Such things include availability of material resources, manners of competing for the available resources, and changes in environmental conditions.

Note: This is an example of a concept written as part of an assignment for a Bucknell University Organizational Theory class based on the book Organizations and Organizing.  Throughout the semester, examples of concepts will be posted by students.  Be sure to check out EJ’s post on natural system concepts if you missed it!


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