Studying An Institution
An excellent way to learn about a culture is to study a specific institution, whether a private, commercial, educational, charitable, or government enterprise. A sample of institutions in different fields are listed below; you may be able to identify still others in your community:
Agriculture: an animal farm; produce farm; banana, cocoa, or coffee plantation; an extension office; a retailer or wholesaler of agricultural supplies; distributor of meat or produce.
Arts: a theater company; community theater; an art gallery; a museum of art; an orchestra or some other professional music ensemble; art or textile coop.
Communications: a radio or TV station; newspaper plant; magazine publisher; movie theater.
Educational: a day-care center; nursery; kindergarten; primary school; middle school; high school; vocational school; private academy.
Government: an agency or department; a court; the office of a legislator or government official; any part of the military; any public works department or branch.
Health and Welfare: a hospital, clinic, home for the aged, drug rehabilitation center; physician's office, health education center; an AIDS clinic.
Manufacturing: an assembly plant; a manufacturing plant or factory; food or mineral processing plant.
Public Services: a library; recreational center; police station; public park.
Religion: a church; mosque; temple; monastery; convent; seminary; church run orphanage, coop, or recreation center or school.
Retailing: a department store, pharmacy; bookstore; newsstand; grocery store; restaurant; cafe; corner store; shoe store; office supply store; furniture store; etc.
It's best to choose an institution where someone you know is connected with it. You need the institution's cooperation for a study that may take several weeks. Once you begin, try to be as systematic as possible, recording your results in a notebook set up for this purpose. Expect to do both interviewing and observing. The topics and sample questions below can help you frame the issues you want to address, depending on the institution you choose.
PURPOSE: Why was the institution begun? What purposes does it serve?
OWNERSHIP: Who owns the institution? How did they get to be owners? Why do they want to own such an institution? What impact does their ownership have on the product or service?
CLIENTS: Who are the clients? How does the institution get clients? Does it have enough, too many, too few?
MANAGEMENT: Who runs the institution? How did this person get this position?
How is the institution organized for management purposes? Who reports to whom (request or draw an organizational chart)?
CAPITAL:How much money does the institution have? What are its annual RESOURCES: expenses? What reserves, debts does it have? What is its annual revenue, profit or loss?
RAW MATERIALS: What raw materials does it need? Where does it get them? How does it get them to the facility, store, or plant? What do they cost? What does transportation cost? Does it keep a large inventory? Where? How does the institution select its suppliers?
BUILDING, PLANT: Where is the institution housed? How much does this place cost.
OFFICE: to lease, or what did it cost to buy? Who maintains it? What does it cost for upkeep, for insurance? How was the location chosen?
EQUIPMENT: What equipment does the institution have? How was it obtained? How much did it cost? How is it kept in working order?
How much does it cost to maintain?
SUPPLIES: What supplies does the institution need to operate? What do these cost? What's the source? Do other suppliers exist? How is the decision made as to whom to buy from?
WORKERS: How many people work here? What qualifications do they need? How big is the payroll (weekly, monthly)? How did most of these people get their jobs? What benefits do they get? What do these benefits cost the institution per employee?
PROCEDURES: How do people learn what they have to do? Are procedures many or few? Who sets the procedures?
DISTRIBUTORS: How does the institution handle distribution? What are the costs? How does it select a distributor?
LICENSES & PERMITS: Does this institution need official approval to operate? How is it obtained? How much do these permits, etc. cost? How often do they have to be renewed? Who decides whether you get one or not and on what basis is this decision made?
COMPETITORS: Who are the competitors? What does the institution do to stay competitive or be ahead of the competition?