Sub-theme 56: Practices of Inter-Organizational Collaboration: Designed or Emerging?

Kristina Lauche
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Hans Berends
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Anne-Laure Fayard
Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Call for Papers


Inter-organizational collaboration in alliances and networks is becoming increasingly prevalent. While previous research has largely focused on structural features, antecedents or consequences of inter-organizational collaboration, the focus of this sub-theme is on the actual practices of inter-organizational collaboration. Related to the EGOS theme of 'Design!?', our interest is in how inter-organizational practices come into being and change, partly as the result of conscious design efforts and partly emerging from interactions between actors and serendipitous events. A promising direction to study the interaction between design and emergence is to re-conceptualize them as a duality instead of a mutually exclusive opposition.

Inter-organizational collaboration is becoming increasingly prevalent. Organizations collaborate in activities including joint product development, the setting of technological standards, the pooling of resources and expertise, supply chain coordination, buyer-supplier integration, and joint service delivery. Such collaborative activities involve the integration of practices across boundaries (Bechky, 2003), which is even more challenging in the case of temporary and highly dynamic inter-organizational collaboration (De Rond & Bouchikhi, 2004).

So far, research has largely focused on structural features, antecedents and consequences of inter-organizational collaboration. As an innovative approach, we suggest building upon the 'turn to practice' in organization studies. Practice studies have become an established stream of research in the EGOS community, but have so far been largely grounded within one organization.

This sub-theme focuses on the generation and evolution of inter-organizational practices. The setting is socially complex and layered: Inter-organizational boundaries may coincide with differences in understanding and doing that challenge cross-boundary integration (Carlile, 2002). Moreover, there may not be a clear division of labour or central point of control, requiring actors to negotiate what it is that they are doing (Engeström et al., 1999).

We see two perspectives on the generation of inter-organizational practices. On the one hand, these are perceived as the result of conscious design efforts, exemplified by approaches such as business process engineering (e.g. Dhanaraj & Parkhe, 2006). Such a design perspective is associated with goal directedness, future orientation, and planning. On the other hand, practices can also be described as emerging in communities, from path dependent interactions between actors, artefacts, and serendipitous events, therefore rejecting the idea of practices as being malleable (e.g. Levina & Vaast, 2005).

A promising direction to study the interaction between design and emergence is to re-conceptualize them as a duality instead of a mutually exclusive opposition. A duality consists of opposing poles that are also mutually dependent and mutually enabling (Farjoun, 2010). Such an approach could build on the conceptualization of routines as generative systems (Pentland & Feldman, 2008) and the concept of design for emergence (Garud et al., 2006). Such 'both/and' perspectives prevent getting stuck in either/or approaches.

We invite scholars from different disciplinary background to discuss the development of inter-organizational practices from a design perspective, an emergence perspective, or a combination of them. Contributions could come from studies on innovation and product development, but also research on other types of alliances, networks and supply chains – as long as they address actual processes and practices. We invite both theoretical and empirical papers. We encourage process research approaches, as these are particularly appropriate for investigating the dynamics of practices and practicing within and between organizations.

Questions and themes that may be addressed in this sub-theme include, but are not limited to:

  • Which actors are involved in the generation of practices, and how does that affect design and emergence?
  • The effects of the relational context (e.g., power, dependency and trust between partners) on the design and emergence of inter-organizational practices
  • The need for design in order to initiate collaboration versus the impossibility to anticipate how practices will evolve
  • The duality of design and emergence, e.g. design for emergence and the emergence of design through practices
  • How do the relative importance of design and emergence, and their interaction, depend on types of practices and their scope?
  • What limits of design are unveiled by inter-organizational coordination?
  • What role do artefacts play in the design and emergence of inter-organizational practices?


Bechky, B.A. (2003): "Sharing meaning across occupational communities: The transformation of understanding on a production floor." Organization Science, 14 (3), 312–330
Carlile, P.R. (2002): "A pragmatic view of knowledge and boundaries: Boundary objects in new product development." Organization Science, 13, 442–455
De Rond, M. & H. Bouchikhi (2004): "On the dialectics of strategic alliances." Organization Science, 15, 56–69
Dhanaraj, C. & A. Parkhe (2006): "Orchestrating innovation networks." Academy of Management Review, 31 (3), 659–669
Engeström, Y., R. Engeström & T. Vähääho (1999): "When the center does not hold: The importance of knotworking." In: S. Chaiken, M. Hedegaard & U.J. Jensen (eds.): Activity theory and social practice: Cultural historical approaches. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 345–374
Farjoun, M. (2010): "Beyond dualism: stability and change as a duality." Academy of Management Review, 35, 202–225
Garud, R., A. Kumaraswamy & V. Sambamurthy (2006): "Emergent by design: performance and transformation at Infosys Technologies." Organization Science, 17, 277–286
Levina, N. & E. Vaast (2005): "The emergence of boundary spanning competence in practice: implications for implementation and use of information systems." MIS Quarterly, 29, 335–363
Pentland, B.T. & M.S. Feldman (2008): "Designing routines: On the folly of designing artifacts, while hoping for patterns of action." Information and Organization, 18, 235–250


Kristina Lauche Kristina Lauche is the chair of Organizational Development and Design at Radboud University Nijmegen and professor of Organization Studies of Innovation at Delft University of Technology. Her research addresses coordination practices across boundaries, technology appropriation, and innovating as upward influencing processes by which innovators shape organizational strategy. She draws on practice approaches and Activity Theory to study how materiality and social interactions mediate agency in organizations. She holds an MSc in work & organizational psychology from the Free University Berlin and a PhD from Potsdam University and has previously worked at Munich, ETH Zurich and Aberdeen.
Hans Berends Hans Berends is assistant professor in the Innovation, Technology Entrepreneurship and Marketing group at Eindhoven University of Technology. His current research interests concern process dynamics of innovation, inter-organizational collaboration, and organizational learning. His work has been published in leading journals including Organization Science, Organization Studies, Human Relations, Journal of Product Innovation Management, and Design Studies. Hans holds an MSc in Industrial Engineering & Management Science from Eindhoven University of Technology, an MA in Philosophy from Tilburg University, and a PhD in organization studies from Eindhoven University of Technology.
Anne-Laure Fayard Anne-Laure Fayard is Assistant Professor of Management at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Prior to moving to New York, she was a faculty member at INSEAD, both in Singapore and in Fontainebleau. Her research interests involve organizational communication (including discourse analysis, discursive practices and technology-mediated communication), sociomaterial practices (including the affordances of material artefacts and the influence of space) and interdisciplinary collaboration (with a particular focus on design practices). Her work has been published in leading journals such as Organization Studies, the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Information System Journal and The European Management Journal. She holds a BA and an MA in Philosophy from Paris - La Sorbonne, an MA in Cognitive Science from Ecole Polytechnique (Paris) and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from the Ecole des Hautes-Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).