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Organizing Locally

How the New Decentralists Improve Education, Health Care, and Trade

Organizing Locally

How the New Decentralists Improve Education, Health Care, and Trade

We love the local. From the cherries we buy, to the grocer who sells them, to the school where our child unpacks them for lunch, we express resurgent faith in decentralizing the institutions and businesses that arrange our daily lives. But the fact is that huge, bureaucratic organizations often still shape the character of our jobs, schools, the groceries where we shop, and even the hospitals we entrust with our lives. So how, exactly, can we work small, when everything around us is so big, so global and standardized? In Organizing Locally, Bruce Fuller shows us, taking stock of America’s rekindled commitment to localism across an illuminating range of sectors, unearthing the crucial values and practices of decentralized firms that work.
Fuller first untangles the economic and cultural currents that have eroded the efficacy of—and our trust in—large institutions over the past half century. From there we meet intrepid leaders who have been doing things differently. Traveling from a charter school in San Francisco to a veterans service network in Iowa, from a Pennsylvania health-care firm to the Manhattan branch of a Swedish bank, he explores how creative managers have turned local staff loose to craft inventive practices, untethered from central rules and plain-vanilla routines. By holding their successes and failures up to the same analytical light, he vividly reveals the key cornerstones of social organization on which motivating and effective decentralization depends. Ultimately, he brings order and evidence to the often strident debates about who has the power—and on what scale—to structure how we work and live locally.

Written for managers, policy makers, and reform activists, Organizing Locally details the profound decentering of work and life inside firms, unfolding across postindustrial societies. Its fresh theoretical framework explains resurging faith in decentralized organizations and the ingredients that deliver vibrant meaning and efficacy for residents inside. Ultimately, it is a synthesizing study, a courageous and radical new way of conceiving of American vitality, creativity, and ambition. 


“After eras dominated by economics-talk, it is refreshing to dip into a vision in which culture and social psychology play central roles. This is in some ways a call to arms, but it is not as didactic or gloomy as those to which we’ve become accustomed. It stirs the pot of what have become somewhat stale debates, and by incorporating such a broad range of cases extends its relevance far and wide.”

Jeffrey Henig, Teachers College, Columbia University

“This is an enormously ambitious study, essentially taking on all organizational change of the past half century. Fuller places the move toward decentralized organizations into a thought-provoking portrait of success and failure of those trying to improve on the well-being of society.  Moreover, while these societal institutions continue to evolve, he provides a map for understanding the continuing process.”

Eric A. Hanushek, author of Endangering Prosperity

“It is fairly easy to point out what is not working in medicine and why. But if I was given the opportunity to change some of it, would I lean towards more or less local control? Would I hire health educators, promoters, or patient navigators to improve the support and services for the families I care for? How would I rethink patient centeredness in the delivery of care? Fuller tackles complex questions such as these across a range of sectors, providing an approach that would help many businesses, institutions, networks, and systems grapple with the pressures to meet client needs and save costs.”

Alma Guerrero, David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

1 The Drive to Decentralize—After Markets and Hierarchies Disappoint
2 How Decentralized Organizations Work
with Danfeng Soto-Vigil Koon
3 Organizing Health Care from the Ground Up
with Mary Berg
4 International Banking Goes Local—Swedish Organizing in New York
5 The Four R’s—A School Where Relationships Come First
with Lynette Parker
6 The Limits of Localism—Lifting Vets in Iowa
7 Learning from the New Decentralists—Cornerstones of Local Organizing
Methods Appendix

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