Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Nursing, Midwifery & Indigenous Health


This exploratory case study is situated in a not-for-profit learning organisation. Learning organisations have been put forward as "an organisation that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future” (Senge 1990, p. 14). Although learning organisations have been discussed extensively in the literature, there has been little empirical evidence that unequivocally demonstrates their actual existence.

The research question for this study was: To what extent do concepts of learning organisations exist and to what extent are such concepts operationalised at the NFPO.

The aims of this study were to explore:

• If the concepts of learning organisations existed in a large not-for-profit organisation.

• How the concepts of learning organisations were operationalised in a large not-for-profit organisation.

• To provide the not-for-profit organisations with unique insights concerning its current status as a learning organisation.

• To provide the not-for-profit organisation with recommendations to assist it in continuing to build a learning organisation.

The study encompasses a modified version of Yin’s (2009) Case Study Method, to guide the study. Strauss and Corbin’s (1990) work in the analysis; an abductive or systematic combining approach was incorporated into the research design (Blaikie 1993) and Mc Murray et al’s (2004) work on interpreting qualitative data. Case Study Method can be conducted in a variety of ways. This study uses exploratory case study design in order to obtain rich, in-depth information about the concepts being studied in order to highlight the nature of learning organisations.

The purposive sampling consists of ten of the not-for-profit organisation’s senior managers and ten of the organisation’s frontline staff who had been employed for at least 12 months in one of the not-for-profit’s operational units located across the state of NSW, Australia. Twenty in-depth interviews were conducted over a twelve month period. The organisation’s documents were also scrutinised for information which alluded to the concepts of learning organisations. Analysis was conducted concurrently and the computer software application N-Vivo was used to manage the data.

The study was aided by the development of a conceptual framework based upon the most cited concepts of learning organisations and in particular the work of Senge (1990) and Slater and Narver (1995).

The finding showed that the participants were au fait with the concepts of learning organisations represented in the conceptual framework of learning organisations developed for this study. The extent, to which the concepts existed and were operationalised, was, from the participant’s perspectives, and from the documentation scrutinised, less than would be expected from an organisation which purported to be a learning organisation. The major themes which emerged from this study included the concepts of a) leadership, b) organisational culture and c) trust and trusting. Although lesser themes concerning the other concepts were identified they were less clear or to some extent absent.

A revised conceptual framework was developed from the findings. Unlike others, this conceptual framework focuses upon the organisation’s culture as being a powerful determinant of an organisation’s capacity to become a learning organisation. A series of recommendations based upon the insights concerning the not-for-profit organisation are provided to assist the organisation to be a learning organisation.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.