Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Education, Business & Science

First Advisor

Dr. Maria Northcote

Second Advisor

Dr. Merle Cozens


130103 Higher Education, 130313 Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators, 150311 Organisational Behaviour, 150312 Organisational Planning and Management, 200209 Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies, 200210 Pacific Cultural Studies


Successfully making sense of redeveloping a teacher education program according to unfamiliar and exacting requirements is important for quality education in Fiji and the Pacific Islands where this study took place.

Critical sensemaking theory and literature have highlighted how formative contexts impact the way in which people make sense of change in business organisations. The purpose of this study was to generate a holistic explanation of how components of the formative context impacted the way in which participants made sense of a curriculum change in a higher education institution. Much previous research about sensemaking in business organisations has reported on macro level contextual factors, whilst also acknowledging the impact of individuals’ cognition and identity. The possible impacts of such meso/group level contextual factors as group culture, and such micro/individual level factors as emotion, ethnic culture and spirituality, have yet to be fully investigated from a sensemaking perspective.

This study employed a qualitative and naturalistic ethnomethodological case study approach. It was conducted at a Christian faith-based higher education institution in Fiji. Data were gathered from three rounds of semi-structured interviews with the six multicultural teacher educators who redeveloped the program. Journal entries made by the researcher-participant, which recorded reflections on sensemaking interactions throughout the study, were used to triangulate interview data. Data were analysed using a constructivist grounded theory method. Conceptualised a priori categories (the contextual factors) and themes (macro, meso and micro organisation levels) were confirmed or otherwise by coding, while deeper codes and the existence of categories not previously conceptualised emerged from the data.

A major finding of this study was a new definition of a formative context as an open system of three levels – macro, meso and micro – each of which comprises several contextual factors. Findings also illustrated how meso level contextual factors, and particularly micro level contextual factors, had a much greater impact on sensemaking than macro level factors. The contextual factors were multi-faceted, subject to change, and highly connected in their capacity to impact sensemaking in negative and positive ways. Significantly, emotions and attitudes emerged as crucial to enabling or hindering sensemaking, while ethnic culture, group culture, spirituality and English not being most participants’ first language, all emerged as important contextual factors impacting participants’ sensemaking processes. Furthermore, the success of the program redevelopment was acknowledged by an authoritative source external to the institution.

The major outcome of this study was a holistic formative context framework. This framework contributes to sensemaking theory a utilitarian and adaptable means of generating a holistic explanation of a sensemaking event that may be relevant to both business organisations and educational institutions. Future applications of this framework to other contexts may add knowledge to sensemaking theory and literature, particularly in multicultural contexts.


Used by permission: the author.

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