Sub-theme 24: Digitalizing Strategy and Societal Challenges

Thomas Gegenhuber
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
Julia Hautz
University of Innsbruck, Austria
Krsto Pandza
Leeds University, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Advances in digital technologies (e.g., Big Data, blockchain, AI, 5G, Internet of Things, AR/VR, etc.) produce new organizational forms (Puranam et al., 2014), change the rules of the game in many industries (Hinings et al., 2018; Yoo et al., 2012) and inevitably affect the very processes and practices of strategy-making (Whittington et al., 2011). Moreover, digitalization influences grand societal challenges such as privacy, employment, democracy, security, human well-being and sustainability. These complex and global problems can be addressed by collaborative strategizing that brings together individuals, organizations of different types, communities, and nations (George et al., 2016; Seidl & Werle, 2018).
Digitalization affects strategy processes and practices in three different ways. First, the adoption of digital technology facilitates inclusivity, collaborative knowledge exchange, and strategic issues identification by establishing new communication channels and practices (Ocasio et al., 2018). Second, digitalization creates new forms of organizing, which in turn require strategizing in unconventional organizational settings that often bring together actors from organizationally and institutionally diverse backgrounds (e.g., across public, policy and private divide, for-profit and non-profit, etc.). Third, advances in digital technologies often disrupt established social, political, and economic arrangements, which trigger multiple ethical dilemmas (Xiaowei et al., 2016). These affect not only the content of strategy, but also the processes and practices as multiple actors need to collaborate and strategize to resolve challenges such as regulation, privacy, sustainability, and democracy. These three trends often overlap, which creates a multifaceted phenomenon that fundamentally challenges the established perspectives on strategy process and practice.
Digital technologies increase transparency and availability of real-time information within and across organizational boundaries. They enhance accountability and enable information to permeate across hierarchical layers, which makes strategic communication easier, faster and more open (Stieger et al., 2012, Dobusch et al., 2019). Large crowds of often self-selected participants are empowered to support, oppose, and contribute to management’s decision-making (Hautz et al., 2019, Haefliger et al., 2011). However, less research has focused on how advanced digital technologies such as AI (von Krogh, 2018) and big data affect the role of managers across different hierarchical levels when they strategize. These machine to human interactions that potentially radically change strategy process and practice have been scarcely studied and conceptualized.
Digital technologies also trigger the creation of new organizational forms and meta-organizations (Gulati et al., 2012) such as platform ecosystems (Jacobides et al., 2018), post-bureaucratic networks (Kellogg et al., 2006), and temporary organizations (Bechky, 2006) that coordinate institutionally diverse group of actors (companies, universities governments, regulators, general public, and other stakeholders). For example, the German Federal Government hosted a hackathon with diverse actors to tackle the Covid-19 crisis (Gegenhuber, 2020). These post-bureaucratic ways of organizing and working are seen to be more effective, flexible, and agile (Birkinshaw & Ridderstråle, 2015; Hamel & Zanini, 2018). But these non-hierarchical, self-organizing, and collaboratively diverse structures bring new challenges for individuals involved in the formulation and implementing of coherent strategies in such institutionally diverse collaborative settings (Hamel & Zanini, 2016). Similarly, grand societal challenges triggered by digitalization will require more collaborative and open strategizing in non-hierarchical settings. This will expose strategies and decisions to greater public scrutiny from a wider range of interests of internal and external stakeholders, which can thereby offer a means of control and mitigating effects of contemporary corporate power (Whittington, 2019). Such strategizing will inevitably require a fresh look into behavioural, political, discursive, and cultural foundations of strategy processes and practices.
We envisage this sub-theme as a forum to explore the interplay between digitalization, grand societal challenges and strategy practice. We, therefore, call for empirical or conceptual papers addressing the call in general and following research themes particularly:

  • Digitally-enabled strategy processes and practices for addressing grand social challenges

  • Strategizing in digitally-enabled new organizational forms

  • Role of digital technologies and practices such as AI or big data in strategizing processes

  • Inter-organizational strategizing and collaborative processes of strategy formulation and implementation (characterized by organizational and institutional diversity)

  • The effects of inhabiting digital technologies in actors’ daily practices on underlying behavioral, political, discursive, and cultural foundations of strategy-making

  • Comparison of ‘traditional’ and digitally-enabled, seemingly less hierarchic approaches of digital strategy-making as well as multi-level analysis of strategizing efforts

  • The (un)-intended consequences of digital strategizing


Bechky, B.A. (2006): “Gaffers, Gofers, and Grips: Role-Based Coordination in Temporary Organizations.” Organization Science, 17 (1), 3–21.
  • Birkinshaw, J., & Ridderstråle J. (2015): “Adhocracy for an agile age.” McKinsey Quarterly, 4, 44–57.
  • 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.
  • Gegenhuber, T. (2020): Countering Coronavirus With Open Social Innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review,
  • George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihany, L. (2016): “Understanding and tackling societal grand challenges through management research.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880–1895.
  • Gulati, R., Puranam, P., & Tushman, M. (2012): “Meta-organization design: Rethinking design in interorganizational and community contexts.” Strategic Management Journal, 3 3(6), 571–586.
  • Haefliger, S., Monteiro, E., Foray, D., & von Krogh, G. (2011): “Social software and strategy.” Long Range Planning, 44 (5–6), 297–316.
  • Hamel, G., & Zanini, M. (2016): “Top-down solutions like holacracy won’t fix bureaucracy.” Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2016;
  • Hamel, G., & Zanini, M. (2018): “The end of bureaucracy: How a chinese appliance maker is reinventing management for the digital age.” Harvard Business Review, 96 (6), 50–59.
  • Hautz, J., Matzler, K., Sutter, J., Hutter, K., & Füller, J. (2019): “Practices of inclusion in open strategy.” In: D. Seidl, R. Whittington & G. von Krogh (eds.): Cambridge Handbook of Open Strategy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 87–105.
  • Hinings, B., Gegenhuber, T., & Greenwood, R. (2018): “Digital innovation and transformation: An institutional perspective.” Information and Organization, 28 (1), 52–61.
  • Jacobides, M.G., Cennamo, C., & Gawer, A. (2018): “Towards a theory of ecosystems.” Strategic Management Journal, 39 (8), 2255–2276.
  • Kellogg, K.C., Orlikowski, W.J., & Yates, J. (2006): “Life in the Trading Zone: Structuring Coordination across Boundaries in Postbureaucratic Organizations.” Organization Science, 17 (1), 22–44.
  • Ocasio, W., Laamanen, T., & Vaara, E. (2018): “Communication and attention dynamics: An attention-based view of strategic change.” Strategic Management Journal, 39 (1), 155–167.
  • Puranam, P., Alexy, O., & Reitzig, M. (2014): “Whats ‘new’ about new forms of organizing?” Academy of Management Review, 39 (2), 162–180.
  • 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.
  • Stieger, D., Matzler, K., Chatterjee, S., & Ladstaetter-Fussenegger, F. (2012): “Democratizing strategy: How crowdsourcing can be used for strategy dialogues.” California Management Review, 54 (4), 44–69.
  • von Krogh, G. (2018): “Artificial intelligence in organizations: new opportunities for phenomenon-based theorizing.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 4 (4), 404–409.
  • 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.
  • Xiaowei, R.L., Jianjun, Z., & Marquis, C. (2016): “Mobilization in the internet age: Internet activism and corporate response.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 2045–2068.
  • Yoo, Y., Boland, R.J., Lyytinen, K., & Majchrzak, A. (2012): “Organizing for Innovation in the digitized world.” Organization Science, 23 (5), 1398–1408.
Thomas Gegenhuber is an Assistant Professor for Digital Transformation at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, and researcher at Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria. He researches novel forms of organizing, crowdsourcing, various types of openness (open strategy, open [social] innovation, and open government), and (cultural) entrepreneurship in a digital economy. Thomas’ work appears in international journals such as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Long Range Planning’, ‘Business & Society’, ‘Information & Organization’, and ‘Innovation: Organization & Management’.
Julia Hautz is Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Her research focuses on open strategy and innovation via digital technologies, such as online communities, crowdsourcing, and contests. She is also interested in corporate diversification strategies and the role of managers in strategy and innovation. Julia’s work has been published, among others, in ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Long Range Planning’, ‘Global Strategy Journal’, ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘Journal of Product Innovation Management’, and ‘Journal of Strategic Information Systems’.
Krsto Pandza is Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Leeds University Business School, United Kingdom, and Director of the Centre for Technology Innovation & Engagement. His research interests lie at the intersection of strategy, technology innovation, and organizational theory. Krsto investigates how advanced digital technologies influence processes of strategic decision-making and practices of professional strategists and innovation managers. His research has been published in journals such as ‘Journal of Management Studies’, ‘Research Policy’, ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘Strategic Organization’, and ‘Long Range Planning’.