Co‐innovation through multiple social identity processes

Hannelize Jacobs (Department of Management, Monash University (South Africa Campus), Johannesburg, South Africa)

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Publication date: 4 January 2013



The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between “social identities” and “innovation as a collective act”, specifically how multiple social identity processes construct, reconstruct and revise organisational identity, and create positive commitment and motivation for collaborative innovation (co‐innovation).


The paper adopted an inductive theory building from cases (particularly, theory building from a singular case) methodology. As the purpose of the research is to develop theory and not to test it, theoretical sampling was used. The particular case was specifically chosen because the business – a successful co‐operative for over 30 years – enables the investigation of organisational identity construction and development on different levels including intra‐ and inter‐organisational interactions.


While still leaving scope for the readers to make interpretations and conclusions from the case themselves, the study suggests some general conclusions drawn from the interrelationship of key concepts in the case, and from the subsequent model of evolving multiple social identity processes for co‐innovation that emerged. These conclusions may not only broaden “the social identity approach to organisations” and “organisational innovation”, but also link their underlying theories.

Research limitations/implications

The case explains the phenomena in a particular social system, namely a co‐operative business with a common purpose. The co‐operative model can be associated with organisations with poor democratic governance and accountability. The ultimate success of the case depended on the ability of the organisation and its members to construct and maintain a common organisational identity of innovation and to innovate collectively.


This paper extends “the social identity approach to organisations” and “organisational innovation” by developing a model, inductively sourced from a “real‐life” case, for explaining the construction, reconstruction or revision of social identities that result from the reciprocal relationship between co‐innovating organisations. The proposed model suggests an evolutionary (rather than a revolutionary) framework for the presentation of co‐innovation as a product of social identity construction.



Jacobs, H. (2013), "Co‐innovation through multiple social identity processes", European Business Review, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 42-64.

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