Sub-theme 19: Strategizing for Grand Challenges

Katharina Dittrich
The University of Warwick Business School, United Kingdom
Paula Jarzabkowski
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Jane K. Lê
WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, Germany

Call for Papers

Strategy-as-practice (SAP) researchers view strategy as a social activity; in other words, strategy is considered as something that members of an organization do (Jarzabkowski, 2003; Whittington, 2006). As such, the focus of research in this area has been on the micro-activities and interactions of actors in and around the organization, both in terms of what actors do in practice and how they accomplish it. However, in recent years SAP scholars have increasingly espoused the desire to move beyond the micro in order to address macro issues (Whittington & Seidl, 2014; Vaara & Whittington, 2012). Broadening the scope to industry and societal issues has generated an emerging body of work on strategizing beyond organizational boundaries and/or within constellations of organizations (e.g. Cloutier & Couture, 2017; Jarzabkowski & Bednarek, 2018; Seidl & Werle, 2018; Smets et al., 2015).
Today organizations face a variety of societal challenges that go beyond any single organization, yet these are a critical part of the strategic landscape. Indeed, managing the implications of such issues is increasingly a strategic issue for many firms. Examples of such challenges include food, water and energy security; climate change; fake news and Trumpism; political instability and terrorism; disaster and environmental resilience; poverty and inequality; financial markets and regulation; digitalization and big data; demographic changes, health issues, and epidemics; etc. These types of issues are often described as ‘big issues’ or ‘grand challenges’ (Ferraro et al., 2015; George et al., 2016), meta problems (Hardy, 2008; Seidl & Werle, 2018), and wicked problems (George et al., 2012; Scherer & Palazzo, 2011).
What these issues share is that they are multidimensional (e.g., involving social, economic, environmental, and technological aspects), that they span across organizations, industries and societal sectors (e.g., government, civil society and business) and that they are “caught in causal webs of interlinking variables [...] that complicate both their diagnosis and prognosis” (Reinecke & Ansari, 2016, p. 299). The sheer magnitude and scope of these issues mean that organizations often seek inter-organizational collaboration in various ways and include a variety of actors in their strategizing activities. While societal issues are becoming key to strategy and strategizing activities, we still know relatively little about how organizations and their members take strategic action in dealing with these issues, or the implications of their actions upon either the organization or the issue itself (for a few exceptions, see Seidl & Werle, 2018; Wright & Nyberg, 2016).
We use this sub-theme to explore the contributions that practice-based approaches can make to understanding how organizations strategize for grand challenges. Possible topics include but are not restricted to:

  • How do organizations and their managers share and generate new strategic practices to address grand challenges?

  • How do organizations and their managers work strategically to address grand challenges?

  • How do organizations and their managers work across organizations to enable inter-organizational strategizing for grand challenges?

  • How does inter-organizational strategizing for grand challenges link to intra-organizational strategizing?

  • How do people and organizations assign strategic importance to such issues?

  • What are the implications of the magnitude and scope of these issues for strategizing?

  • What are potential problems and implications of broader strategizing processes?

  • How do market and non-market strategies of companies link?

  • What methodological innovations enable practice-based research on grand challenges? What can be gained from using these methods?

These topics are indicative only. We also welcome papers on other strategizing topics, and are open to conceptual, empirical and methodological papers. For more information on the practice perspective on strategizing, please see


  • Cloutier, C., & Couture, F. (2017): Social-Symbolic Work of Meta-Organizations and the Transformation of Institutional Fields. Paper presented at the 9th International Process Symposium (PROS), Kos, Greece, June 24, 2017.
  • Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. (2015): “Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited.” Organization Studies, 36 (3), 363–390.
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016): “Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • George, G., McGahan, A.M., & Prabhu, J. (2012): “Innovation for Inclusive Growth: Towards a Theoretical Framework and a Research Agenda.” Journal of Management Studies, 49 (4), 661–683.
  • Hardy, C. (2008): “Critical perspectives on collaboration.” In: S. Cropper, M. Ebers, C. Huxham & P.S. Ring (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations. Oxford University Press, 366–389.
  • Jarzabkowski, P., & Bednarek, R. (2018): “Toward a social practice theory of relational competing.” Strategic Management Journal, 39 (3), 794–829.
  • Reinecke, J., & Ansari, S. (2016): “Taming Wicked Problems: The Role of Framing in the Construction of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Journal of Management Studies, 53 (3), 299–329.
  • Scherer, A.G., & Palazzo, G. (2011): “The New Political Role of Business in a Globalized World: A Review of a New Perspective on CSR and its Implications for the Firm, Governance, and Democracy.” Journal of Management Studies, 48 (4), 899–931.
  • Seidl, D., & Werle, F. (2018): “Inter‐organizational sensemaking in the face of strategic meta‐problems: Requisite variety and dynamics of participation.” Strategic Management Journal, 39 (3), 830–858.
  • Smets, M., Jarzabkowski, P., Burke, G.T., & Spee, P. (2015): “Reinsurance Trading in Lloyd’s of London: Balancing Conflicting-yet-Complementary Logics in Practice.” Academy of Management Journal, 58 (3), 932–970.
  • Vaara, E., & Whittington, R. (2012): “Strategy-as-Practice: Taking Social Practices Seriously.” Academy of Management Annals, 6 (1), 1–52.
  • Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. (2016): “An Inconvenient Truth: How Organizations Translate Climate Change into Business as Usual.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (5), 1633–1661.

Katharina Dittrich is an Assistant Professor in Organisation Studies at Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests include organizational routines, strategy, climate change and social studies of finance. She works primarily with practice-theoretical approaches and qualitative research methods, in particular ethnography. Her work has been published in ‘Organization Science’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’ and “The Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice” (2nd edition).
Paula Jarzabkowski is a Professor of Strategic Management at Cass Business School, City, University of London, UK. Her research focuses on strategy-as-practice in complex and pluralistic contexts such as regulated infrastructure firms, third sector organizations and financial services, particularly insurance and reinsurance. She has conducted extensive, internationally comparative audio and video ethnographic studies in a range of business contexts. Her work has appeared in leading journals, including ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Strategic Management Journal’. Her first book, “Strategy as Practice: An Activity-Based Approach”, was published by SAGE Publications in 2005 and her most recent co-authored book, “Making a Market for Acts of God”, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.
Jane K. Lê is a Professor of Strategic Management at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, Germany. Her research focuses on practice-based studies of complex contexts, particularly infrastructure settings that critically underpin our economy and quality of life. She fosters particular interests in paradox and materiality. Her work has appeared in a number of leading journals, including ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Strategic Organization’, ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘International Journal of HRM’, and ‘Organization’.