The open-systems model depicts the various elements of a social organization; these elements include the external environment, the organizational divisions or departments, the individuals comprising those divisions, and the reciprocal influences between the various organizational elements and the external environment (Ashforth, 1985; Beer, 1980; Daft, 1992; Harrison, 1994; Katz and Kahn, 1978; Schneider and Reichers, 1983). The underlying assumptions of the open-systems model and its various elements are as follows (Harrison, 1994):

  1. External conditions influence the inputs into an organization, affect the reception of outputs from an organization’s activities, and directly affect an organization’s internal operations.

  2. All system elements and their subcomponent parts are interrelated and influence one another in a multidirectional fashion (rather than through simple linear relationships).

  3. Any element or part of an organization can be viewed as a system in and of itself.

  4. There is a feedback loop whereby the system outputs and outcomes are used as system inputs over time, with continual change occurring in the organization.

  5. Organizational structure and processes are in part determined by the external environment and are influenced by the dynamics between and among organizational members.

  6. An organization’s success depends on its ability to adapt to its environment, to tie individual members to their roles and responsibilities within the organization, to conduct its processes, and to manage its operations over time.


Figure 3-1 shows the application of the open-systems model to the research environment, which can include public and private institutions, such as research universities, medical schools, and independent research organizations. As noted above, any element or part of an organization can


(1988). For general references on moral development, see Kohlberg (1984), Rest (1983), and Rest et al. (1999). For general references on adult learning and educational practices, see Brookfield (1986), Cross (1981), and Knowles (1970). For general references on professional socialization, see Schein (1968), Siehl and Martin (1984), Van Maanen and Schein (1979), and Wanous (1980).

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