HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Emeritus


The influence of early events in the history of a country, a social phenomenon, or an organization on later developments has received significant attention in many social science disciplines. Often dubbed “path dependence,” this influence occurs when early events influence later outcomes even when the original events do not re-occur. “Path dependence,” however, has received little theoretical or empirical attention in public administration. This paper discusses how early events in an organization’s history can come to influence later outcomes. The paper then empirically tests for the presence of path dependence using data from Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships in England and Wales, a cross-organizational collaboration inside local government. We find that early choices by the leader of the collaboration about which activities to prioritize to create collaboration set in motion a path creating collaborations that were more -successful and less-successful, producing differences in crime results almost a decade later. The most-successful early priorities involved getting partner organizations to act in collaborative ways, rather than working to improve the attitudes of these organizations towards collaboration. We argue that path dependence should be examined in public administration research from a prospective, prescriptive point of view, to learn more about what early managerial actions can produce better later results.


Kelman, Steven, and Souman Hong. "This Could Be the Start of Something Big: Linking Early Managerial Choices with Subsequent Organizational Performance." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP13-042, October 2013.