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09 May 2024 | Posted by Innova Institute


Juan Nihoul presents to us his recently finished PhD research, which he successfully defended at the Innova Institute in February 2024.

Nowadays, most organizations conduct their innovation efforts through interorganizational collaborations. The goal of this innovation strategy is to access external resources, share costs and risks, and ultimately enhance innovation processes. These endeavours are typically implemented through projects, often referred as collaborative projects. Despite the growing interest of both private and public sectors in fostering innovation through collaborative projects, many of them struggle to achieve their objectives concerning the triple constraint and / or stakeholder´s satisfaction.

Bringing together actors from diverse knowledge fields, industries, and cultures offers a fertile ground for the development of innovative products, services, and technologies. However, this collaborative context also presents significant managerial challenges for project partners, owing to the complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty inherent in these projects. In this context, effectively managing disruptions arising from unforeseen threats becomes significant, as project´s failure becomes a likely outcome without proper response and adaptation to them.

In this vein, the objective of this study is to increase the current understanding about how collaborative projects overcome perturbations, focused on the dynamic interplay between three significant constructs during perturbations: equivocality, governance and organizational learning. Equivocality is a central issue in a network of partners and it is exacerbated during perturbations. Changes in governance approaches do not only might contribute to overcome perturbations, but also these might exacerbate or reduce equivocality levels. As the partners have no previous experience of dealing with a disruption, they must react and apply their learning capabilities to overcome it. These three constructs represent fundamental aspects to deal with during perturbations, whose interrelationships are better explained by mutual causality and non-linearity.

The research framework applied is rooted in the complexity theory, with a specific emphasis on the concepts of complex adaptive and generative systems. A cross-case analysis based on a single and successful collaborative project, the LOCUTIOS project was conducted. This project was embedded in a high uncertain environment, being able to overcome two instances of perturbations and still delivering valuable outputs and outcomes. In this sense, abductive approaches were used as a reasoning logic. Cross-case analysis was applied to investigate corresponding responses that facilitated resolution and ensured resilience, based on the interrelationships between the three constructs.

The research's contribution is summarized through a framework that offers explanations into how this successful case managed to overcome perturbations. The framework contributes to explain two different reaction patterns, characterised by different learning behaviours (adaptive or generative), governance approaches (complementarity or substitution), and role of equivocality (driver or barrier) to knowledge exploration. Achieving resilience does not follow a unique path; instead, there are (at least) two approaches distinguished by the learning behaviours of the organizations, namely generative and adaptive resilience that enable a project to overcome perturbations. The relevance of this research resides on explaining various forms of potential resilience within collaborative projects when confronted with unforeseen challenges, filling a gap in the literature.

Author: Juan Nihoul


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