Supply chain relationships as a context for learning leading to innovation

Desirée Knoppen (Department of Operations Management & Information Systems, EADA Business School, Barcelona, Spain)
David Johnston (Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada)
María Jesús Sáenz (MIT-Zaragoza International Logistics Program, Zaragoza Logistics Center, Zaragoza, Spain)

International Journal of Logistics Management, The

ISSN: 0957-4093

Publication date: 9 November 2015



The purpose of this paper is to integrate the literature on learning in the context of boundary spanning innovation in supply chains. A two-dimensional framework is proposed: the learning stage (exploration, assimilation, exploitation) and the learning facet (structural, cultural, psychological and policy). Supply chain management (SCM) practices are examined in light of this framework and propositions for further empirical research are developed.


In total, 60 empirical papers from the major journals on supply chain relationships published over an 11-year time span (2000-2010) were systematically analyzed.


The paper reveals a comprehensive set of best practices and identifies four gaps for future research. First, assimilation and exploitation are largely ignored as mediating learning stages between exploration and performance. Second, knowledge brokers and reputation management are key mechanisms that foster assimilation. Third, the iteration from exploitation back to exploration is critical though underdeveloped in efficiency seeking supply chains. Fourth, the literature stresses structural mechanisms of learning, at the expense of a more holistic view of structural, cultural, psychological and policy mechanisms.

Research limitations/implications

The search could be extended to other journals that report on joint learning and innovation.

Practical implications

The framework provides guidelines for practitioners to develop learning capabilities and leverage the knowledge from supply chain partners in order to continuously or radically improve boundary spanning processes and products.


The study is multi-disciplinary; it applies a model developed by learning scholars to the field of SCM.



Knoppen, D., Johnston, D. and Sáenz, M. (2015), "Supply chain relationships as a context for learning leading to innovation", International Journal of Logistics Management, The, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 543-567.

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