Sub-theme 12: [SWG] Institutions, Innovation, Impact: The Role of Inter-institutional Collaboration in Social Change

Markus A. Höllerer
UNSW Sydney, Australia, & WU Vienna, Austria
Marya L. Besharov
University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Guillermo Casasnovas
ESADE Business School, Spain

Call for Papers

To address complex and deep-rooted global challenges, such as poverty, social inequality, limited public health, and environmental destruction (e.g., George et al., 2016), novel forms of organizing have emerged that cut across traditional sectoral and institutional boundaries (e.g., Selsky & Parker, 2005). Examples include social-business hybrids such as social enterprises and B-Corps (e.g., Gehman & Grimes, 2017; Smith & Besharov, 2019), network- and community-based organizations (e.g., Davis, 2013; O’Mahony & Bechky, 2008), crowd funding and open government initiatives (e.g., Soubliere & Gehman, 2019; Kornberger et al., 2017), social impact bonds and other vehicles that sit at the intersection of financial, public, and social sectors (e.g., Casasnovas & Ventresca, 2016; McHugh et al., 2013), and various forms of organizing based on the sharing economy (e.g., Vith et al., 2019; Kornberger et al., 2018). A key defining characteristic of these novel organizing efforts lies in their focus on collaboration and partnership: in order to mirror and/or alleviate the complexity of the problems they seek to ameliorate they include a multiplicity of actors, sectors, and institutional domains (and, consequently, their underlying logics). Moreover, they often do so not just within but also across organizational boundaries (Mitzinneck & Besharov, 2019; Santos, 2012; Montgomery et al., 2012).
While an emerging body of research explores the organizational dynamics of these novel forms (see Battilana et al., 2017; Battilana & Lee, 2014), it is equally critical to understand the more macro issues of how and why such organizational arrangements emerge in response to complex and intermeshed social challenges, how they interact with existing institutional infrastructure and environments (including institutional dynamics that result from such interaction), and how and why they either become established and taken-for-granted, or disappear again. Public administration scholars have explored dynamics of bilateral relations in public-private partnerships (e.g., Osborne, 2002); others (e.g., Selsky & Parker, 2005) have even explored tri-partite partnerships. Yet, emerging organizational arrangements that seek to address the complex and deep-rooted social problems of today are often more complex in that they create novel relational spaces that intentionally entangle and interlink the rationales of the institutional domains involved – and they do so in a more formalized way. As previous literature has shown, such inter-institutional collaboration comes with significant risk of conflict, contestation, and power struggles due to divergent underlying rationales and guiding logics (e.g., Logue et al., 2020). Navigating the resulting inter- and intra-institutional plurality and complexity (Meyer & Höllerer, 2016) may require elaborate governance mechanisms as a way to steer, control, and orchestrate collective activity (e.g., Mair et al., 2015; Ebrahim et al., 2014).
Applying a macro-level perspective to the way in which institutions support (or thwart) the opportunities for social impact, this sub-theme explicitly draws attention to issues of translation, plurality, complexity, and hybridity in collaborative organizing efforts that cut across institutional domains. We consequently call for conceptual and empirical papers that explore and expand on questions related to the emergence and sustainability of diverse and novel organizational forms that span and bridge a variety of sectors, fields, and ideologies/interests; the associated challenges of inter- and intra-institutional plurality and complexity; the ways in which non-standard and partial forms of organizing offer novel responses to such complexity; and the potential for collaborative governance mechanisms to foster flexible yet resilient collectives that are equipped to deal with complex and dynamic economic, ecological, and social challenges.
In particular, we invite theoretical and empirical papers using a variety of methodological and conceptual approaches, focusing on (but by no means limited to) the following issues:

  • What types of economic, ecological, and social challenges are collaborative inter-institutional initiatives best suited to address? Are there particular domains or problem areas where inter-institutional initiatives are more or less prevalent (and effective)?

  • What factors explain the emergence of inter-institutional collaborations locally and globally? What kind of institutional infrastructure is needed to support and/or foster these?

  • What organizational and legal forms do inter-institutional collaborations take (e.g., public-private partnerships, social enterprises, multi-stakeholder cooperatives, impact investment vehicles, civic crowdfunding initiatives, sharing economy firms, etc.)? How do these forms differ? What opportunities and challenges come with each of them?

  • How do inter-institutional collaborations evolve over time? What factors contribute to their long-term sustainability or failure? What are typical problems inter-institutional collaborations struggle with?

  • What role does governance play in inter-institutional collaboration? What kinds of governance mechanisms are adopted, how do they operate, and with what consequences? What about ‘collaborative governance’?

  • How do inter-institutional collaborations measure the (social) impact of their work? How do they avoid mission drift?

  • What technologies (broadly understood) enable or constrain inter-institutional collaborations in the context of social change? What can be learned from this?

  • How are inter-institutional collaborations translated from one geographic context to another? What challenges emerge in the diffusion and translation process – and how can these be managed?

  • What type of incentive mechanisms are put in place, explicitly or implicitly, in inter-institutional collaborations? Who sets the rules of the game? And, relatedly, what about institutional infrastructure and social controls?



  • Battilana, J., Besharov, M., & Mitzinneck, B. (2017): “On hybrids and hybrid organizing: A review and roadmap for future research.” In: R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence & R.E. Meyer (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Institutionalism. London: SAGE Publications, 133–169.
  • Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014): “Advancing research on hybrid organizing: Insights from the study of social enterprises.” Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 397–441.
  • Casasnovas, G., & Ventresca, M.J. (2016): “Formative dynamics in the UK social investment market, 2000–2015: An ‘organization rich’ agenda on how markets form.” In: O. Lehner (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Social and Sustainable Finance. London: Routledge.
  • Davis, G.F. (2013): “After the corporation.” Politics & Society, 4 (2), 283–308.
  • Ebrahim, A., Battilana, J., & Mair, J. (2014): “The governance of social enterprises: Mission drift and accountability challenges in hybrid organizations.” Research in Organizational Behavior, 34, 81–100.
  • Gehman, J., & Grimes, M. (2017): “Hidden badge of honor: How contextual distinctiveness affects category promotion among certified B corporations.” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (6), 2294–2320.
  • 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.
  • Kornberger, M., Meyer, R.E., Brandtner, C., & Höllerer, M.A. (2017): “When bureaucracy meets the crowd: Studying ‘open government’ in the Vienna City Administration.” Organization Studies, 38 (2), 179–200.
  • Kornberger, M., Leixnering, S., Meyer, R.E., & Höllerer, M.A. (2018): “Rethinking the sharing economy: The nature and organization of sharing during the 2015 refugee crisis.” Academy of Management Discoveries,  4(3), 314–335.
  • Logue, D., Höllerer, M.A., Millner, R., Jebabli, K., & Clegg, S. (2020): “Negotiating institutional complexity in cross-sector collaboration: Intermediary work and the case of social impact bonds.” Working paper.
  • Mair, J., Mayer, J., & Lutz, E. (2015): “Navigating institutional plurality: Organizational governance in hybrid organizations.” Organization Studies, 36 (6), 713–739.
  • McHugh, N., Sinclair, S., Roy, M., Huckfield, L., & Donaldson, C. (2013): “Social impact bonds: A wolf in sheep’s clothing?” Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 21 (3), 247–257.
  • Meyer, R.E., & Höllerer, M.A. (2016): “Laying a smoke screen: Ambiguity and neutralization as strategic responses to intra-institutional complexity.” Strategic Organization, 14 (4), 373–406.
  • Mitzinneck, B.C., & Besharov, M.L. (2019): “Managing value tensions in collective social entrepreneurship: The role of temporal, structural, and collaborative compromise.” Journal of Business Ethics, 159 (2), 381–400.
  • Montgomery, A., Dacin, P., & Dacin, M. (2012): “Collective social entrepreneurship: Collaboratively shaping social good.” Journal of Business Ethics, 111 (3), 375–388.
  • O’Mahony, S., & Bechky, B.A. (2008): “Boundary organizations: Enabling collaboration among unexpected allies.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 53 (3), 422–459.
  • Osborne, S. (2002): Public-Private Partnerships: Theory and Practice in International Perspective. London: Routledge.
  • Santos, F.M. (2012): “A positive theory of social entrepreneurship.” Journal of Business Ethics, 111 (3), 335–351.
  • Selsky, J.W., & Parker, B. (2005): “Cross-sector partnerships to address social issues: Challenges to theory and practice.” Journal of Management, 31 (6), 849–873.
  • Smith, W.K., & Besharov, M.L. (2019): “Bowing before dual gods: How structured flexibility sustains organizational hybridity.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 64 (1), 1–44.
  • Soublière, J.-F., & Gehman, J. (2020): “The legitimacy threshold revisited: How prior successes and failures spill over to other endeavors on Kickstarter.” Academy of Management Journal, 63 (2), 472–502.
  • Vith, S., Oberg, A., Höllerer, M.A., & Meyer, R.E. (2019): “Envisioning the ‘sharing city’: Governance strategies for the sharing economy.” Journal of Business Ethics, 159 (4), 1023–1046.
Markus A. Höllerer is Professor of Organization and Management Theory at UNSW Sydney, Australia. He is also affiliated with the Research Institute for Urban Management and Governance at WU Vienna, Austria. His scholarly work has been focused on the study of institutions, meaning, and novel forms of organization and governance. Research interests include, among others, issues of collaborative governance at the interface of the private sector, public administration, and civil society.
Marya L. Besharov is Professor of Organisations and Impact at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on hybrid organizations such as social enterprises and mission-driven businesses that seek to address deeply rooted societal challenges while also making a financial profit. Marya’s papers have been published in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Business Ethics Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’, ‘Research in Organizational Behavior’, ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’, and ‘Industrial and Corporate Change’.
Guillermo Casasnovas is a post-doctoral fellow at ESADE Business School, Ramon Llull University, Spain. He works within the Social Enterprise and Impact Investing Group at the ESADE Entrepreneurship Institute; his research focuses on market and field formation dynamics at the intersection of business and social practices, with special emphasis on intermediation mechanisms and the early moments of those fields. Guillermo has published his work in the journal ‘Research in the Sociology of Organizations’ and in “The Routledge Handbook of Social and Sustainable Finance”, among others.