Punctuated Equilibrium Theory: Methodological and Theoretical Extensions



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The purpose of this dissertation is to add to the understanding of budgetary processes and changes in public organizations. Work in this field has relied upon the theory of incrementalism and punctuated equilibrium theory as explanations of the budgetary process. In short, these theories state that budgetary changes will be mostly small (incremental), but also subject to overly large changes (punctuations).

Categorizations and conceptualizations of incremental and punctuated changes have varied much through the literature. This has led to much confusion over what is and is not incrementalism in budgetary studies. After a review of all the ways in which budgetary changes are characterized and measured throughout scholarly work, this dissertation contributes to the literature by describing four unique types of incrementalism that scholars have utilized in their work. It is the hope that scholars can adopt these terminologies to better communicate how they are conceptualizing incrementalism.

Leading explanations for incremental and punctuated patterns of change revolve around cognitive limitations and institutional friction-the organizational structure of decision-making. To advance the literature, this dissertation draws from public administration literature and theorizes about "non-institutional friction" that influences budgetary changes. Non-institutional frictions are factors aside from institutional structure than can affect budgetary decision-making. Furthermore, this dissertation extends punctuated equilibrium work to examine the consequences of punctuations and incremental changes on public organization performance.

Using data from hundreds of public organizations (Texas school districts) for over a fifteen year period, this dissertation finds support for non-institutional friction. In addition, results indicate that managers are able to keep relatively stable performance despite rapid (positive and negative) budgetary changes.