Sub-theme 48: Openness as an Organizing Principle: Revisiting Diversity and Inclusion in Strategy, Innovation, and Beyond

Leonhard Dobusch
Universität Innsbruck, Austria
Marieke van den Brink
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Violetta Splitter
University of Zurich, Switzerland

Call for Papers

Over the course of the past decade, we can observe a growing trend towards (calls for) greater openness in various organizational contexts such as open innovation, open government, open strategy or open science. To some degree openness has been recast as a programmatic organizing principle, promising not just gains in efficiency (e.g., Chesbrough & Appleyard, 2007) but also in terms of transparency (Ohlson & Yakis-Douglas, 2019), accountability (Whittington, 2019) and inclusiveness (Mack & Szulanski, 2017). At the same time, we can observe a growing body of literature on diversity and inclusion that addresses openness in terms of inclusive organizing (Ferdman & Deane, 2014; Mor Barak, 2016; Nkomo et al., 2019; Shore et al., 2018; Zanoni et al., 2010).
Particularly regarding inclusiveness, however, we see a detachment of research on openness in various organizational contexts (e.g. strategy or innovation) from other scholarly debates on diversity and inclusion that address inclusive organizing as such (for an exception see Dobusch et al., 2019). With this sub-theme we seek to make a connection between these two separate research streams because we see three particular avenues for crosspollination that will advance our knowledge about inclusion, diversity and open organizing:

  • First, for over two decades inclusion and diversity scholars have already engaged in conceptualizing inclusion on the individual, work group and organizational level. For instance, Mor Barak and Cherin (1998: 48) examine inclusion and exclusion as a “continuum of the degree to which individuals feel a part of critical organizational processes”. By contrast, Shore et al. (2011: 265) define inclusion as a state when the “needs for belongingness and uniqueness” are satisfied. Applying some of these concepts to research on openness in various organizational contexts, and in particular, empirical studies on open phenomena, might help to measure and comparatively assess various forms of open organizing in terms of their inclusiveness. Further, the time is ripe to revisit cases of open organizing in fields such as innovation, government or science from a diversity and inclusion angle. Current research in these areas mostly focuses on potential efficiency gains due to practices such as “distant search” (Afuah & Tucci, 2012), “selective revealing” (Henkel, 2006) or “open data” (Janssen et al., 2012). Given the dominance of this instrumental rationality in research on openness in various organizational contexts, important questions of exclusion in spite of – or even because of – increasingly open organizing mostly remain unacknowledged.

  • Second, studies on diversity and inclusion have been investigating sociomaterial and alternative forms of organizing of work and its consequences for the constitution of diversity and inequalities (see EGOS stream 61, Hamburg 2020). This work focuses on how gendered, racialized and otherwise asymmetrically categorized identities and group memberships are (re-)produced, shaped and (de-)stabilized by a particular division of labor, modes of task, job and organization design and working time regimes (e.g., Acker, 1992; Ashcraft, 2013; Janssens & Steyaert, 2018). However, this stream of research has not yet engaged with the topic of ‘openness’ and how it relates to the (re-)production of diversity and connected inequalities. Therefore, it is of interest to both research streams to explore the potential of various forms of open organizing for inequality and inclusion scholars.

  • Third, in research on both openness in various organizational contexts as well as diversity and inclusion we observe a co-existence of – if not controversy between – programmatic and relationalist approaches. Programmatic approaches to openness and inclusion perceive inclusiveness as normatively good, which means as an ideal that should be achieved. Therefore, programmatic approaches seek to increase openness and inclusion by reducing closure and exclusion respectively. Relationalist approaches, in turn, emphasize that open or inclusive organizing is always accompanied by (renewed or reinforced) instances of closure or exclusion respectively (Dobusch, 2014; Dobusch & Dobusch, 2019), which shifts the focus to questions of legitimation of various exclusionary practices. Given these schisms in both fields of study, we see potentials for integration and comparative theorizing.

In sum, we believe that bringing together research on openness in various organizational contexts with research on diversity and inclusion in organizations will help to improve the conceptual foundations of both these fields and will stimulate new integrative insights more generally. While we encourage broad and innovative theorizing, we particularly welcome studies that seek to deliberately engage with more than one stream of literature. Potential research questions to be addressed in submissions to the sub-theme include:

  • How inclusive (or exclusive) are various forms of open organizing?

  • How do concepts of inclusion in studies on open organizing relate to concepts in the realm of diversity and inclusion?

  • How can concepts of openness stimulate research in the field of diversity and inclusion?

  • What are the differences and similarities between open and inclusive organizations?

  • What are the differences and similarities between relationalist approaches towards organizational forms of inclusion and exclusion and organizational forms of openness and closedness?

  • What are ontological, epistemological and theoretical conditions for integrating concepts of open and inclusive organizing? Is there a trade-off between certain forms of inclusion and openness?



  • Acker, J. (1992): “Gendering organizational theory.” In: A.J. Mills & P. Tancred (eds.): Gendering Organizational Analysis. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, 248–260.
  • Afuah, A., & Tucci, C.L. (2012): “Crowdsourcing as a solution to distant search.” Academy of Management Review, 37 (3), 355–375.
  • Ashcraft, K.L. (2013): “The glass slipper: ‘Incorporating’ occupational identity in management studies.” Academy of Management Review, 38(1), 6–31.
  • Chesbrough, H.W., & Appleyard, M.M. (2007): “Open innovation  and strategy.” California Management Review, 50 (1), 57–76.
  • Dobusch, L. (2014): “How exclusive are inclusive organisations?” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 33 (3), 220–234.
  • Dobusch, L., & Dobusch, L. (2019): “The relation between openness and closure in open strategy: Programmatic and constitutive approaches to openness.” In: D. Seidl, R. Whittington & G. von Krogh (eds.): Cambridge Handbook on Open Strategy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 326–336.
  • Dobusch, L., Dobusch, L., & Müller-Seitz, G. (2019): “Closing for the benefit of openness? The case of Wikimedia’s open strategy process.” Organization Studies, 40 (3), 343–370.
  • Dobusch, L., van Laer, K., & van den Brink, M. (2020): “The sociomaterial organizing of work and its consequences for the constitution of diversity and inequalities.” Paper presented in sub-theme 61 at the virtual 36th EGOS Colloquium 2020, organized by the University of Hamburg, Germany.
  • Ferdman, B.M., & Deane, B.R. (2014): Diversity at Work: The Practice of Inclusion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Henkel, J. (2006): “Selective revealing in open innovation processes: The case of embedded Linux.” Research Policy, 35 (7), 953–969.
  • Janssen, M., Charalabidis, Y., & Zuiderwijk, A. (2012): “Benefits, adoption barriers and myths of open data and open government.” Information Systems Management, 29 (4), 258–268.
  • Janssens, M., & Steyaert, C. (2018): “Practice-based theory of diversity: Re-specifying (in)equality in organizations”. Academy of Management Review, 44 (3), 518–537.
  • Mack, D.Z., & Szulanski, G. (2017): “Opening up: How centralization affects participation and inclusion in strategy making.” Long Range Planning, 50 (3), 385–396.
  • Mor Barak, M.E. (2016): Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Nkomo, S.M., Bell, M.B., Roberts, L.M., Joshi, A., & Thatcher, S.M.B. (2019): “Diversity at a critical juncture: New theories for a complex phenomenon.” Academy of Management Review, 44 (3), 498–517.
  • Ohlson, T., & Yakis-Douglas, B. (2019): “Practices of transparency in Open Strategy: Beyond the dichotomy of voluntary and mandatory disclosure.” In: D. Seidl, R. Whittington & G. von Krogh (eds.): Cambridge Handbook on Open Strategy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 136–150.
  • Shore, L.M., Randel, A.E., Chung, B.G., Dean, M.A., Ehrhart, H.K., & Singh, G. (2011): “Inclusion and diversity in work groups: A review and model for future research.” Journal of Management, 37 (4), 1262–1289.
  • Shore, L.M., Cleveland, J.M., & Sanchez, D. (2018): “Inclusive workplaces: A review and model.” Human Resource Management Review, 28 (2), 176–189.
  • Whittington, R. (2019): Opening Strategy: Professional Strategists and Practice Change, 1960 to Today. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Whittington, R., Cailluet, L., & Yakis‐Douglas, B. (2011): “Opening strategy: Evolution of a precarious profession.” British Journal of Management, 22 (3), 531–544.
  • Zanoni, P., Janssens, M., Benschop, Y., & Nkomo, S. (2010): “Unpacking diversity, grasping inequality: Rethinking difference through critical perspectives.” Organization, 17 (1), 9–29.
Leonhard Dobusch is Professor of Organization at the Department of Organization and Learning, Universität Innsbruck, Austria. He is member of the Editorial Review Board of ‘Organization Studies’ and co-founder of the momentum conference series. Leonhard’s research interests include the management of digital communities and openness as an organizing principle.
Marieke van den Brink is Professor of Gender & Diversity at Radboud Social Cultural Research, Radboud University, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on gender and diversity in organizations, organizational learning and change, power and resistance, and she links these concepts with macro developments such as migration, new public management and austerity. Marieke has published in, among others, ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Organization’.
Violetta Splitter is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Zurich, Switzerland. In her research she focuses on participation and power relations in Open Strategy from a practice-theoretical perspective as well as digital strategy making. She is a co-editor of the special issue on Open Organizing in ‘Organization Studies’.