Working Papers

A Minimalist Organization Functioning In A Turbulent Environment


An observational study of the Oakland Eligible Metropolitan Area (EMA) and its Ryan White Title I HIV health services planning council, officially known as the Alameda/Contra Costa HIV Planning Council, has been in progress since October 1992. This paper reports on the background, methodology, and several preliminary findings of this research. It is argued that a Title I planning council’s organizational form fits precisely the definition of a minimalist organization, and that the environment in which a planning council must function is turbulent. We identify several aspects of a planning council’s turbulent environment and the consequences for a planning council of a catastrophic loss of experienced and knowledgeable membership. We note that both internal and external environmental forces can seriously impair a planning council’s functioning as an organization, or even culminate in its dissolution or sudden collapse, to be followed by its swift replacement by a newly appointed successor planning council. Furthermore, the planning council replacement procedure that we identify, when adroitly performed, apparently can be completed without jeopardizing either the EMA’s Title I status and eligibility or the delivery of Title I-funded health and social services in the EMA. We conclude that the planning council replacement procedure is an example of environmental selection as hypothesized by theorists of the organizational ecology perspective. Several implications of these findings for practitioners are offered, as well as one warning.