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Knowledge search breadth and depth and OI projects performance: a moderated mediation model of control mechanism

Changfeng Wang (College of Economics and Management, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China)
Sabine Brunswicker (Research Center for Open Digital Innovation, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Ann Majchrzak (Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 15 March 2021

Issue publication date: 24 May 2021




This study aims to investigate the effects of project-level external knowledge search breadth and search depth on the innovation performance of open innovation (OI) projects in large firms; it further considers these effects mediated by two forms of control mechanisms (process and outcome control) when the level of project complexity and the two stages of a project – early (problem definition) and late (solution development) – are taken into account.


Based on a survey of 187 managers responsible for an OI project, the authors use theory on behavioral-based control mechanisms to explore whether the effect of external knowledge search breadth and depth on OI performance is contingent on having the right levels of control mechanisms in place.


The results showed that the control mechanism mediates the relationship between external knowledge search breadth and depth and OI project performance. Furthermore, project complexity is an important moderator of these effects, especially for outcome control.


A better OI project’s performance is not achieved by external knowledge search breadth and depth alone, but by building process and outcome control mechanism on it to balance knowledge sharing and protecting tension. Furthermore, Outcome control is only helpful with less complex OI projects.



Authors are grateful to editors, especially Guest Editor Prof. Fábio Lotti Oliva, and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and constructive suggestions to improve the quality of paper. We are also appreciative of the suggestions and helps of Dr. Ying Hongbin and Dr. Wang Qiliang. Errors and oversights are of authors alone. This research is funded by the following projects: National Natural Science Foundation of China (71371110); Ministry of Education 2020 Humanities and Social Sciences Fund (20YJA630069); Shandong Social Science Planning Fund Program (19BYSJ18); Shandong “13th Five-Year” Education Science Planning (ZZ2019052); and Project of Shandong Province Higher Educational Humanities and Social Science Program (J18RZ007).


Wang, C., Brunswicker, S. and Majchrzak, A. (2021), "Knowledge search breadth and depth and OI projects performance: a moderated mediation model of control mechanism", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 25 No. 4, pp. 847-870.



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