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Organizational hybridity and mission drift in innovation partnerships

Signe Vikkelsø (Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Mikkel Stokholm Skaarup (Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark)
Julie Sommerlund (Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 13 May 2021




Innovation partnerships are a popular model for organizing publicly supported innovation projects. However, partners often have different timelines and planning horizons, understanding of purpose and concepts of value. This hybridity poses organizational challenges pertaining to trust, goal setting, learning and coordination, which may lead to “mission drift,” i.e. compromising or displacement of intended goals. Despite the risk mission drift poses, its underlying dynamics are not sufficiently understood, and the means to mitigate it are unclear. This study aims to address these questions.


Through eight broad and one deep case study of innovation partnerships funded by Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD), the authors investigate how partnerships reconcile multiple expectations and interests within the IFD framework and how this might lead to mission drift. The authors draw upon existing theories on the organizational challenges of innovation partnerships and supplement these with new empirically based propositions on the risk of mission drift.


This study identifies a core tension between partnership complexity and the degree of formalization. Depending on how these dimensions are combined in relation to particular goals, the partnership mission is likely to become narrower or more unpredictable than intended. Thus, the authors theorize the significance of partnership composition and requisite formalization for a given innovation purpose.


This study contributes to the theoretical understanding of mission drift in innovation partnerships by opening the organizational black box of partnerships. The findings underscore the value of explorative case studies for specifying the contingencies of organizational design and governance mechanisms for different innovation goals.



The authors would like to thank Sen Chai and Willy Shih for inspiring conversations and help with the data collection. Thanks to the EO partnership for opening its doors and involving us in its strategic discussions. The authors are grateful for comments to earlier drafts of the manuscript from colleagues in the Research, Organization and Innovation (RIO) group at CBS, including Jane Bjørn Vedel, Susana Borrrás, Alan Irwin, Stine Haakonsson and Mart Laatsit, and to Mikka Nielsen, Astrid Jespersen and Mark Vacher from the Human Impact Group at University of Copenhagen. Thanks also to Keld Laursen for quick and effective comments. Finally, the authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for very constructive and helpful comments.


Vikkelsø, S., Skaarup, M.S. and Sommerlund, J. (2021), "Organizational hybridity and mission drift in innovation partnerships", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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