Beware! There are Hybrids everywhere

Ornigazations are didevid into pulibic and pravite ornigasations. Pulibic ornigasations priotiriize ovarell sericuity and oredr, ainimg to cetar for the ndees of the  cizetens  by prodiving svireces fudned by tatixation. Pravite entersepris stvire to maixmise prifot by ofrifeng godos and svireces in contidions of mraket comtipetion. Ohter ornigasations are not relavent in gaol-orineted actoin.

If you were able to decipher the preceding text, comprehension relies on our brains processing words as complete entities rather than individual letters. Essentially, the correct starting and ending letters of a word provide sufficient elements for meaningful interpretation. The content of the text relates to the prevalent division between the government action and entrepreneurial business, making it challenging to grasp phenomena that fall in between.

In practice, the strict demarcation between the public and private sphere has been supported by economic statistics. For instance, the global classification of system of national accounts is built on the division of public and private activities, and thus, only recently there have been advancement to appreciate the economic significance of activity located between public agencies and private enterprises and that of civil engagement. The inadequacies of classification systems may reflect the entrenched mindset that the public and private sectors as separate realms of existence. This perspective complicates the perception of cross-societal actions and easily leads to problems in valuation of non-standard practices.

Simply put, atypical organisations form a diverse set of hybrids, characterized by joint ownership, parallel and possibly conflicting objectives, varied financing arrangements, and diverse forms of social and economic control. State-owned enterprises, municipal corporations, social enterprises, public-private partnerships, and the changing role of professions are some examples of manifestations of hybridity. The features of hybridity can both complicate and facilitate management, yielding both positive and negative outcomes. In terms of results, they require consideration of both public and private value generation the latter being much more difficult to evaluate.

However, by examining hybrids through the lens of current situations and with the emphasis on organisations poses two problems. On the one hand, hybrids are examined without historical development, devoid of a past. On the other hand, they are often studied without adequate understanding of the context of the society.

From a historical point of view, the claim that private companies used to handle most public services before the growth of the state is sensible but imprecise. Insight from history informs that early forms of companies ‘societas publicanorum’ during the Roman Republics, evolved to provide services exclusively for the public sector before the beginning of the Common Era. These 'publicans' did not serve customers in a pub; rather, they performed vital tasks for the state, such as tax collection, public construction, and provisioning the army.

From this perspective, one could equally argue that hybridity has always been an essential characteristic of society's evolving division of labour.

In the context of society, hybridity is not solely an attribute of organisations. The prevailing norms of reciprocity and the level of generalized trust determine the extent to which private enterprises and civil initiatives can regulate their joint actions. In this way, good governance and the rule of law underpin generalized trust. Shifting towards forms of regulation, where hard state regulations like laws and directives give way to soft regulation, such as economic incentives and information guidance, can generate co-regulation practices aimed to satisfy both common good and business interests. In other words, carrots and sermons can foster cooperation that is challenging to achieve with just a stick.

Yet, in other circumstances hybrid arrangements can equally relate to societal situations where generalized trust is low, and norms of reciprocity do not extend beyond one's immediate community. Clientelism, political nepotism, and outright corruption are examples of practices where public authority and society are integrated but these practices concurrently create parasitic dependencies between public authorities and business operations, often leading to poor outcomes.

Besides exposing the dark side of hybridity, this also signifies that the whole of societies represents different levels of hybridity. Moreover, situating hybrids within a broader societal framework helps us understand that very similar forms of hybridity may operate in vastly different circumstances serving for variety of societal objectives.

To conclude, typographical errors might exist for a reason and the remarkable human ability to give proper meaning for ambiguous expressions includes seeds for serious misunderstandings. In this way hybrids are often delegated into improper categories and their actions are assessed only in negative terms as empty politics with lack of proper democratic control or lousy business with inadequate drive for proper profit generation.

I’m looking forward to our conversations and insights about hybridity at the upcoming IRSPM conference!

Jan-Erik Johanson

Chair of the local scientific committee for IRSPM 2024 Tampere edition, Professor

Jan-Erik Johanson

Faculty of Management and Business Tampere University, Finland