Accounts of institutional change developed from structuration theory (Barley and Tolbert, 1997; Greenwood et al., 2002) are compared with an account developed from Foucauldian theory (Hasselbladh and Kallinikos, 2000). They are considered in the con- text of a project that was intended to pioneer a new, integrated approach to child and family support services in a deprived area in the North of England. It was undertaken at a time when the British government was pursuing an ambitious programme of reform across the public sector. The project challenged entrenched practices in the statutory agencies (social services, health, education and the police) and also those within inde- pendent, voluntary organizations providing services to children and families in the area. None of the theories of institutional change considered here anticipated the muddles, misunderstandings, false starts and loose ends that were a feature of the case. While both structuration theory and Foucauldian theory stress the significance of the internalization of new ideas, problems in this case developed because of the difficulties participants had in externalizing new approaches into new practices. This overlooked aspect of institu- tional change is conceptualized as a ‘contested ascent’ from the abstract to the concrete.
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