Sub-theme 26: Organizing Healthcare Innovation: Building Bridges and Dismantling Barricades

Sue M. Newell
Bentley University, USA, and Warwick Business School, UK
Maxine Robertson
School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, UK
Jacky Swan
Warwick Business School, Warwick University, UK

Call for Papers

Healthcare costs in the developed world are growing, driven by aging populations and advances in medical science that extend life, but often using expensive therapy regimes. Moreover, massive global health inequalities could be reduced if innovative ways could be found to reduce the costs and provide access to fairly standard treatments. Healthcare is therefore a global issue and potentially there are huge benefits if innovation (in terms of products, services and processes) could provide access to new or improved treatments at lower costs, across national and international borders. However, research has demonstrated that this rarely happens in practice with innovation failure often explained in terms of the failure to bridge boundaries between occupations, institutions and powerful actors as well as across both local and global borders.

This suggests that we need a new approach to theorizing the organization of healthcare innovation. To date theory and practice has considered that the major challenge is dealing with the problems of organizing the movement of ideas from science into clinical practice (often referred to as addressing or 'bridging' the translational gap). However, this assumes a very linear innovation process and ignores the complexity that characterizes healthcare innovation. The challenge then is in understanding how the complex context of healthcare innovation (which involves public and private institutions, organizations and individual healthcare workers, separated by time and space) can be effectively organized. This is likely to involve not only bridging boundaries but also dis-mantling institutionalized barricades that exist at (inter)national and occupational levels in terms of regulatory regimes and professional norms, that serve to constrain healthcare innovation.

Healthcare innovation, then, is uncertain and emergent and involves processes that are not linear but rather are networked or interactive such that competitive and collaborative relationships are often blurred and coordination and control is hard to achieve through hierarchical means or through the possession and trading of resources alone. While we know something about these network structures, our theorizing around network dynamics and how emergence and uncertainty are (or are not) managed across the network is still nascent. Understanding how innovation unfolds in this context therefore remains an important challenge for organization theory; one which demands the bridging of world views across disciplines as diverse as political science, innovation studies, sociology of biomedicine/healthcare, medical informatics and organization theory as well as utilizing diverse research methods, to capture multiple levels of analysis.

This sub-theme thus invites papers that seek to explore and explain how innovation unfolds in healthcare. We recognize there is considerable breadth for contributing and theorizing here, and believe that bringing together researchers from different disciplines and perspectives can provide a rich environment for cross-fertilization that may stimulate interesting new insights that are theoretically and/or practically useful. Some potential areas of interest include:

  • What aspects of healthcare are unique and how do these influence (or get influenced by) healthcare innovation?
  • How do knowledge claims /innovations in healthcare become institutionalized in cross-boundary settings?
  • What is the role of communicative processes and discourse in enabling or impeding healthcare innovation?
  • How are local and global practices mutually constituted and re-constituted during healthcare innovation and how is such co-constitution influenced by power dynamics?
  • How can we understand and theorize the way governance structures and management practices promote (or impede) healthcare innovation?
  • How are status, identities and circuits of power entangled in the practices that co-constitute healthcare innovation?
  • How do policy initiatives aimed at innovation influence and get influenced by institutionalized practices?



Sue M. Newell is the Cammarata Professor of Management at Bentley University, USA, and PT Professor at Warwick Business School, UK. Her research interests focus on understanding innovation processes in a variety of contexts, including biomedical innovation and healthcare innovation.
Maxine Robertson is Professor of Innovation and Organization at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London. Her research interests include managing knowledge workers in innovation contexts and identifying enablers and barriers to innovation in the healthcare sector across national contexts.
Jacky Swan is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick and Director of the Innovation Knowledge and Organizational Networks (IKON) research centre. Her research interests are in linking innovation and networking to processes of creating and managing knowledge across different industry sectors and national contexts.