Does organizational adaptation really matter? How mission change affects the survival of US federal independent agencies

A. Boin, P. Kofman, Jeroen Kuilman, S. Kuiper, Arjen van Witteloostuijn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Public administration scholars tend to take for granted that organizational adaptation is important. This common notion that public organizations must adapt to stay alive has not been put to the test in the field of public administration, however. Intriguingly, organization ecologists find that adaptation does not matter and might even be counterproductive for individual organizations. They argue that the absence of adaptation—which they refer to as structural inertia—actually enhances the likelihood of survival. But organization ecologists focus mostly on nonpublic organizations. This prompts the question whether adaptation in public organizations really matters. In this article, we test these contrasting claims (while controlling for design features) on a population of U.S. federal independent public agencies (n = 142). Our findings suggest a subtle narrative. We conclude that proactive adaptation increases termination hazards. But inertia does not seem to significantly enhance survival chances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-686
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number4
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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