Looking beyond Formal Organization: How Public Managers Organize Voluntary Work by Adapting to Deviance

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This article suggests a system‐theoretical re‐reading of formal membership and inclusion within three public organizations that operate under the umbrella of a single municipality and incorporate volunteers into their welfare activities. While volunteers are a treasured resource in public organizations, those organizations face challenges when seeking to address volunteers with their formal structures. This article explores these issues in a Danish municipality in three different organizational settings that use volunteers to support children, the elderly, and city planning. It adds to research on voluntary work by illustrating a set of strategies for organizing volunteers that are radically different from the more controlling strategies that have previously been studied. These alternative strategies include postponing decisions, leading by coincidences, informal organization, and tolerating disruptive behaviour. Based on these findings, this article suggests new forms of inclusion and organizational deviance that can both enhance the flexibility of the organizational system and risk destabilizing its structures.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSystems Research and Behavioral Science
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)467-481
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 27 April 2020


  • Membership
  • Organizational deviance
  • Systems theory
  • Voluntary work
  • Welfare management

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