Table of contents(15 chapters)
Societal grand challenges have moved from a marginal concern to a mainstream issue within organization and management theory. How diverse forms of organizing help tackle – or reinforce – grand challenges has become centrally important. In this introductory paper, we take stock of the contributions to the volume on Organizing for Societal Grand Challenges and identify three characteristics of grand challenges that require further scholarly attention: their interconnectedness, fluidity, and paradoxical nature. We also emphasize the need to expand our methodological repertoire and reflect upon our practices as a scholarly community.
Section I: Diverse Forms of Organizing & Societal Grand Challenges
In this paper, we contribute to the understanding of how entrepreneurs can deploy their values to enable joint action of heterogeneous stakeholders. Such an understanding forms a critical endeavor to tackle grand challenges adequately. Building on sensegiving research, we conducted a single-case study of an entrepreneurial initiative that tackles gender inequality in Lebanon which has been successful in mobilizing heterogeneous stakeholders who ordinarily would not collaborate with each other. We find that the values of the founders were pivotal for the initiative’s success as those values activated latent values of stakeholders through processes of contextualization and enactment. We subsume these processes under the label value-driven sensegiving. As a result of value-driven sensegiving, heterogeneous stakeholders could make sense of the founders’ aspirational vision and the role they could play in it, which paved ways for tackling grand challenges collaboratively. Our study provides insights into the centrality of values for mobilizing heterogeneous stakeholders across boundaries. Therefore, it contributes to the body of work on sensegiving, societal grand challenges, and new forms of organizing.
Working conditions on many digital work platforms often contribute to the grand challenge of establishing decent work. While research has examined the public regulation of platform work and worker resistance, little is known about private regulatory models. In this paper, we document the development of the “Crowdwork Agreement” forged between platforms and a trade union in the relatively young German crowdworking field. We find that existing templates played an important role in the process of negotiating this new institutional infrastructure, despite the radically new work context. While the platforms drew on the corporate social responsibility template of voluntary self-regulation via a code of conduct focusing on procedural aspects of decent platform work (i.e., improving work conditions and processes), the union contributed a traditional social partnership template emphasizing accountability, parity and distributive matters. The trade union’s approach prevailed in terms of accountability and parity mechanisms, while the platforms were able to uphold the mostly procedural character of their template. This compromise is reflected in many formal and informal interactions, themselves characteristic of a social partnership approach. Our study contributes to research on institutional infrastructures in emerging fields and their role in addressing grand challenges.
This paper adds to the literature on societal grand challenges by shifting the focus away from business firms and other formal organizations as key actors in addressing such challenges toward the inherent organizing capacity that lies in the use of language itself. More specifically, we focus on the organizing capacities of metaphor-based communication, seeking to ascertain which qualities of metaphors enable them to co-orient collective action toward tackling grand challenges. In addressing this question, we develop an analytical framework based on two qualities of metaphorical communication that can provide such co-orientation: a metaphor’s (a) vividness and (b) responsible actionability. We illustrate the usefulness of this framework by assessing selected metaphors used in the public discourse to make sense of and organize collective responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, including the flu metaphor/analogy, the war metaphor, and the combined metaphor of “the hammer and the dance.” Our paper contributes to extant research by providing a means to assess the co-orienting potential of metaphors in bridging varied interpretations. In so doing, our framework can pave the way toward more responsible use of metaphorical communication in tackling society’s grand challenges.
Wicked problems are causally complex, lack definite solutions, and re-emerge in different guises. This paper discusses how new ways of organizing emerge to tackle changing manifestations of wicked problems. Focusing on the wicked problem of poverty, we conducted a longitudinal study of Fe y Alegria (FyA), one of the world’s largest non-governmental organization, which provides education for the poor across 21 countries in Latin America and Africa. Drawing on archival and ethnographic data, we trace the historical narratives of how FyA defined poverty as a problem and developed new ways of organizing, from its foundation by a Jesuit priest in 1955 to its current networked structure. Our findings reveal the ongoing cycle of interpretive problem definition and organizing solutions for wicked problems. First, since there is no “true” formulation of a wicked problem, actors construct narrative explanations based on their understanding of the problem. Second, organizational solutions to a wicked problem are thus reflections of these narrative constructions. Third, emerging and changing narratives about what the problem is inspire new organizational responses. Our findings provide insights into the dynamic relationship between organizing for wicked problems, narratives, and the changing manifestations of wicked problems and grand challenges more broadly.
Meta-organizations are crucial devices to tackle grand challenges. Yet, by bringing together different organizations, with potentially diverging views on these grand challenges, meta-organizations need to cope with the emergence of contradictory underlying social orders. Do contradictory orders affect meta-organizations’ ability to govern grand challenges and if so, how? This paper investigates these essential questions by focusing on the evolution and intermeshing of social orders within international governance meta-organizations. Focusing on the International Whaling Commission and the grand challenge of whale conservation, we show how over time incompatible social orders between the meta-organization and its members emerge, evolve and clash. As our study shows, this clash of social orders ultimately removes the “decidability” of certain social orders at the meta-organizational level. We define decidability as the possibility for actors to reach collective decisions about changing an existing social order that falls under a collective’s mandate. We argue that maintaining decidability is a key condition for grand challenges’ governance success while the emergence of “non-decidability” of controversial social orders can lead to substantial failure. We contribute to both the emerging literature on grand challenges and organization theory.
Organization and management scholars are increasingly interested in understanding how “fluid” forms of organizing contribute to the tackling of grand challenges. These forms are fluid in that they bring together a dynamic range of actors with diverse purposes, expertise, and interests in a temporary and nonbinding way. Fluid forms of organizing enable flexible participation. Yet, they struggle to gain and sustain commitment. In this case study of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, which supports the achievement of zero hunger by 2030, we explore how the temporality of narratives contributes to actors’ commitment to tackling grand challenges in fluid forms of organizing. In our analysis, we identify three types of narratives – universal, situated, and bridging – and discern their different temporal horizons and temporal directions. In doing so, our study sheds light on the contributions by the temporality of narratives to fostering commitment to tackling grand challenges in fluid forms of organizing. It suggests the importance of considering “multitemporality,” i.e., the plurality of connected temporalities, rather than foregrounding either the present or the future.
Section II: Scholarship & Societal Grand Challenges
We conduct a literature review on forms of organizing that address grand challenges, which are operationalized as the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, as this framework is universal and widely adopted. By analyzing the articles that match our criteria, we identify six differentiable organizational forms: movements, temporary organizations, partnerships, established organizations, multi-stakeholder networks, and supranational organizations. These six forms are differentiated based on the two following categories: organizing segment and communicational technological approach. Our analysis shows that tackling a grand challenge often starts with collectives as a protest culture without any expected goal, besides sending an impulse to others. This impulse is received by criticized institutionalized organizations that have the capacity and resources to address the problem properly. However, new challenges arise as these organizations inadequately resolve these problems, thereby leading to conflict-laden areas of tension, wherein emergent organizations complement institutionalized organizations that have created the first infrastructure. To solve the most complex problems, a trichotomous relationship between different forms of organizations is necessary. Moreover, communicational technological approaches become more sophisticated as grand challenges increase in complexity.
Scalar terms, such as “local” and “global,” “big” and “small” are fundamental in how academics and practitioners make sense of and respond to grand challenges. Yet, scale is so taken-for-granted that we rarely question or critically reflect on the concept and how it is used. The aim of this paper is to identify scale as an important concept in research on grand challenges and to point out why taking scale for granted can be problematic. In particular, I suggest that to date most research on grand challenges sees scale as a fundamental ontological feature of the world. Yet, scalar categories and hierarchies are not as self-evident and given as they may seem. Moreover, taking scale as an ontological fixed category limits our ability to make sense of, theorize and respond to grand challenges. As an alternative, I suggest seeing scale as an epistemological frame that participants employ in their everyday practices to make sense of, navigate and develop solutions to grand challenges. The chapter concludes with a research agenda for studying scale as socially constructed in practice.
We illustrate the potential of diaries for advancing scholarship on organization studies and grand challenges. Writing personal diaries is a time-honored and culturally sanctioned way of animating innermost thoughts and feelings, and embodying experiences through self-talk with famous examples, such as the diaries written by Anne Frank, Andy Warhol, or Thomas Mann. However, the use of diaries has long been neglected in organization studies, despite their historical and societal importance. We illustrate how different forms of analyzing diaries enable a “deep analysis of individuals’ internal processes and practices” (Radcliffe, 2018) which cannot be gleaned from other sources of data such as interviews and observations. Diaries exist in different forms, such as “unsolicited diaries” and “solicited diaries” and have different purposes. We evaluate how analyzing diaries can be a valuable source to illuminate the innermost thoughts and feelings of people at the forefront of grand challenges. To exemplify our arguments, we draw on diaries written by medical professionals working for Doctors Without Borders as part of our empirical research project conducted in extreme contexts. We show the value of unsolicited diaries in revealing people’s thought world that is not apprehensible from other modes of communication, and offer a set of practical guidelines on working with data from diaries. Diaries serve to enrich our methodological toolkit by capturing what people think and feel behind the scenes but may not express nor display in public.
In this article, we explore some of the barriers that prevent learning about grand challenges. By grand challenges, we refer to transformational social and environmental issues and the critical barriers toward addressing them. Despite recent research contributions, initiatives, and calls for action to focus on such concerns, relatively little is known about the different barriers that hinder learning about grand challenges. To explore these issues, we draw from Rayner’s (2012) concept of uncomfortable knowledge, defined as knowledge that is disagreeable to organizations because it may challenge their value base, self-perception, organizing principles, or sources of legitimacy. Focusing on the example of recent programmatic attempts to advance “responsible education” in business schools, we identify three barriers to learning about grand challenges: Cognitive overload, emotional detachment, and organizational obliviousness. We conclude by outlining several implications on how to overcome these barriers, adding to recent academic and policy debates on how to make business school education more attuned to the transformational and social challenges of our time.
Many early-career researchers (ECR) are motivated by the prospect of creating knowledge that is useful, not just within but also beyond the academic community. Although research facilities, funders and academic journals praise this eagerness for societal impact, the path toward such contributions is by no means straightforward. In this essay, we address five common concerns faced by ECRs when they strive for societal impact. We discuss the opportunity costs associated with impact work, the fuzziness of current impact measurement, the challenge of incremental results, the actionability of research findings, and the risk of saying something wrong in public. We reflect on these concerns in light of our own experience with impact work and conclude by suggesting a “post-heroic” perspective on impact, whereby seemingly mundane activities are linked in a meaningful way.
Section III: Reflections & Outlook
Although management scholars have embraced grand challenges research, in many cases, grand challenges have been treated as merely a context for exploring extant theoretical perspectives. By comparison, our approach – robust action – provides a novel theoretical framework for tackling grand challenges. In this invited article, we revisit our 2015 model, clarifying and elaborating its key elements and taking stock of subsequent developments. We then identify three promising directions for future research: scaffolding, future imaginaries, and distributed actorhood. Ultimately, our core message is remarkably simple: robust action strategies – participatory architecture, multivocal inscription and distributed experimentation – jointly provide a means for tackling grand challenges that is well matched to their complexities, uncertainties, and evaluativities.
Research on grand challenges in the management literature is vibrant and growing. Given that the term “grand challenges” was first invoked in our field 10 years ago, it is timely to reflect on how we came to this point – and where we might go from here. In this article, we first explore the origins of the concept of grand challenges in order to trace core assumptions and developments and understand how they shape the current conversation about grand challenges in management scholarship. We next convey findings from our review of 161 papers that cite the editorial for a grand challenges special issue (George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, 2016), uncovering four ways in which papers are shaping the conversation on grand challenges. Finally, based on our perspective on how we got here and where we are now, we make several suggestions for what should come next in driving forward research on grand challenges. We urge scholars to go beyond the study of collaboration for tackling grand challenges and shift toward a more critical, yet generative, exploration of their construction, persistence, and unintended consequences. We also call for increased attention to theorizing grand challenges to guide practitioners’ understanding of the nature of the thing they are trying to address. In these ways, we hope to inspire management scholars to leverage expertise on processes – not content per se – that shape how grand challenges manifest and how they may be tackled.
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- Research in the Sociology of Organizations
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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