Sub-Plenary 1-2

From Studying the Established to Shaping the Institutions of the Future


Thursday, July 6, 2023, 16:00–17:30 CEST

Campus Ingegneria | Via Marengo 2 | 09123 Cagliari
Building D, floor 0, room: Magna

Chairs & Presenters:
Giuseppe Delmestri, WU – Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria
Anna Grandori, Bocconi University, Italy

Santi Furnari, City, University of London, United Kingdom
Daniel Nyberg, Newcastle Business School & University of Sydney, Australia
Juliane Reinecke, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Marc Schneiberg, Reed College, USA

Fitting with the overall Colloquium theme “Organizing for the Good Life: Between Legacy and Imagination”, this sub-plenary explores the tension between ‘legacy and imagination’ as a tension between ‘institutionalization’ and ‘design’.

In classic institutionalist works, institutions are commonly intended as what is established, accepted as legitimate, even taken for granted. Institutional scholars have studied change of institutions as either an emergent and incremental process, or as mainly punctuated and revolutionary. In most cases, the process is conceived as highly path dependent, although favored by ‘institutional entrepreneurship’ or ‘institutional work’. Only in rare cases, a more imaginative stance has been taken, considering the possibility of analyzing ‘untaken paths’ (Schneiberg, 2007), learning from institutional collapses (De Cock et al., 2021), ‘institutional bricolage’ (Delmestri, 2007) and other types of ‘disciplined imagination’ (Gümüsay & Reinecke, 2022) as an inspiration for shaping the institutions of the future.
Organization design models may also help, especially the (not so frequent) generative models of design (e.g., Hatchuel et al., 2011; Grandori & Furnari, 2008; Soda & Furnari, 2012) in reasoning on ‘unbuilt’ but possible organizational and institutional devices and forms. Hence, as basic inputs for discussion we think at presentations centered on ‘untaken paths’ in institutionalist perspectives; and on ‘unbuilt organizations’ in organization design perspectives; plus empirical presentations on experiences in actually shaping future institutions and organizations and/or contributions on suitable methods for doing so in an empirically grounded way: for example, case studies on outlier arrangements; field quasi-experiments or pilot experiences; reports on existing but unrealized project; studies on institutional failures, lost paths, and leveraging on counterfactual history for hypothesizing future paths.

There are three ‘takeaways’:

  1. Institutions can be (and often have to be) designed.

  2. Organizational design models can provide useful complementary inputs for institutional design.

  3. New solutions can be devised analyzing forgotten pasts, past collapses and normative inquiries of the possible.

  • Giuseppe Delmestri, Anna Grandori & Santi Furnari:
    The term ‘institution’ has become synonym of what is established and accepted as legitimate, but ‘instituere’ actually means ‘to establish’ into legitimate being. The presentation develops this ‘statuere’ side of institutions, which not only inherently requires design (i.e., ‘imagining the world as it might be’); but also design for the distinctive desirable traits of institutions, as responsiveness to legitimate claims and rights, equitable transparency and justice.

  • Juliane Reinecke:
    Rather than extrapolating to future states of the world from our present, what we also need is research guiding normative conceptions of the future. For this, we need to move beyond scenarios and introduce new methodological approaches such as ‘speculative rigor’ and ‘disciplined imagination’ to theorize what does not (yet) exist.

  • Marc Schneiberg:
    Institutional paths ignored or deliberately displaced can provide citizens, communities and local economies with substantial unanticipated benefits in meeting an uncertain future defined partly by those projects’ failures. Drawing on Chen & Tan Chen (2021) about “organizational imaginaries”, we consider the possibilities contained in often dismissed and sometimes abandoned systems of local, collective, cooperative and public enterprise for withstanding recessions, fostering autonomy and self- sufficiency, and assembling new development paths.

  • Daniel Nyberg:
    Institutions produce truths of what is and what can be – they protect legacies and inform particular imaginations. New institutions and non-linear futures demand challenging dominant institutions and their narrow pasts. In this presentation, we are going to discuss three strategies for constructing futures: making the present strange, promoting alternative pasts, and performing imagined futures.


Chen, K.K., & Tan Chen, V. (2021): “’What If’ and ‘If Only’ Futures Beyond Conventional Capitalism and Bureaucracy: Imagining Collectivist and Democratic Possibilities for Organizing.” In: K.K. Chen & V. Tan Chen (eds.): Organizational Imaginaries. Tempering Capitalism and Tending to Communities through Cooperatives and Collectivist Democracy. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 1–28.
De Cock, C., Nyberg, D., & Wright, C. (2021): “Disrupting climate change futures: Conceptual tools for lost histories.” Organization, 28 (3), 468–482.
Delmestri, G. (2007): “Change management tra bricolage istituzionale e generazione progettuale.” In: F. Butera & G. Rebora (eds.): Il change management nelle imprese e nelle pubbliche amministrazioni. Atti del workshop di Castellanza, 5–6 giugno 2006. Rome: Aracne Editrice.
DiMaggio, P.J., & Powell, W.W. (1983): “The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields.” American Sociological Review, 48 (2), 147–160.
Grandori, A., & Furnari, S. (2008): “A Chemistry of Organization: Combinatory Analysis and Design.” Organization Studies, 29 (3), 459–485.
Gümüsay, A.A., & Reinecke, J. (2022): “Researching for Desirable Futures: From Real Utopias to Imagining Alternatives.” Journal of Management Studies, 59 (1), Special Issue on ‘Grand Societal Challenges and Responsible Innovation, 236–242.
Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., Reich, Y., & Weil, B. (2011): A Systematic Approach of Design Theories Using Generativeness and Robustness. Paper presented at the International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED11) at the Technical University of Denmark, Copenhagen, August 15–18, 2011.
Scheinberg, M. (2007): “What’s on the path? Path dependence, organizational diversity and the problem of institutional change in the US economy, 1900–1950.” Socio-Economic Review, 5 (1), 47–80.
Soda, G., & Furnari, S. (2012):” Exploring the topology of the plausible: Fs/QCA counterfactual analysis and the plausible fit of unobserved organizational configurations.” Strategic Organization, 10 (3), 285–296.

Giuseppe Delmestri is Chair of Change Management at WU Vienna, Austria; member of the Competence Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility (STaR – WU Vienna); Vice-Chair of EGOS; Executive Board member of ASSIOA, and faculty member of VHB-ProDok. Giuseppe studies processes of categorization and evaluation.
Santi Furnari is Professor of Strategy at Bayes Business School, City, University of London, United Kingdom. He is Rep-at-Large of the Organization and Management Theory division of the Academy of Management and incoming Senior Editor of Organization Studies. Santi studies how new fields and practices emerge at the intersection of institutional fields as well as configurational theories and methods in social sciences.
Anna Grandori is Professor of Business Organization at Bocconi University, Italy; entrant Editor-in-Chief of European Management Review, EGOS Honorary Member since 2021, and EURAM Fellow. Her recent research interests include renewing the theory of the firm and networks, democratizing firm governance, and developing models for decision-making and design under high uncertainty and risk.
Daniel Nyberg is Professor of Management at the University of Newcastle Business School, Australia, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney. His research explores responses to climate change in projects on the transition to a low carbon economy, the politics of adaptation, and how corporate political activities influence democratic processes.
Juliane Reinecke is Professor of Management Studies at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on mechanisms for achieving sustainable futures in organizations and in global value chains, such as through multi-stakeholder governance, collective action and prefigurative social movements.
Marc Schneiberg is the John C. Pock Professor of Sociology at Reed College in Portland, USA. His interests focus mainly on the development of regulation, industry associations and enterprise alternatives to for-profit corporations within American capitalism.