Coping with the Inclusiveness-Efficiency Paradox in Cross-Sector Partnerships

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Squaring the circle? (Image: Oscardamen/Pixabay)

In this post, Leona Henry, Andreas Rasche and Guido Möllering discuss their motivations and key contributions of their paper “Competing Demands: Coping with the Inclusiveness-Efficiency Paradox in Cross-Sector Partnerships,” published in Business & Society. The paper’s abstract appears below, followed by the authors’ reflections.

This article discusses how cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) for sustainability manage the paradoxical tension between stakeholder inclusiveness and administrative efficiency. Drawing on qualitative data from a case study of a CSP focused on urban sustainability, we show how the inclusiveness–efficiency paradox unfolded throughout the studied collaboration. We discuss how the paradox reemerged in a different guise within each phase of the partnership and how three practices of paradox management helped actors to cope with the tension: “customized inviting” (during the formation phase), “sequential including” (during the preparation phase), and “tailored instructing” (during the implementation phase). On the basis of these findings, we argue that (a) the paradox reoccurred throughout the phases of the CSP because the three paradox management practices accentuated boundaries, thereby helping to resolve the paradox temporarily while at the same time creating grounds for the paradox to resurface, and (b) that the three paradox management practices can be theorized as a special type of boundary work that “plays up” relevant differences between actor groups and thereby ensures collaboration.

What motivated you to pursue this research?
Our research was inspired by observations and first-hand experiences we gathered in the field. As a first author, Leona Henry spent several months engaging with a cross-sector partnership that aimed to develop urban climate policies. During those months, it became evident how the partnership consistently struggled with finding ways to involve multiple stakeholders in decision-making processes, while at the same time ensuring that processes remained efficient. This was a highly challenging issue, as even though the partnership’s actors were motivated to collaborate, they came from different backgrounds and had varying ideas on what collaboration actually entailed. As the resulting tension between realizing inclusiveness on the one hand, and efficiency on the other was one that accompanied and puzzled the partnership throughout its time of existence, we decided to engage with it in more depth and make it the focus of our scholarly attention.

Leona Henry, Andreas Rasche and Guido Möllering
Leona Henry, left, Andreas Rasche and Guido Möllering

Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?
Although there was no specific event influencing our decision to engage in this research, in general we are motivated by the increasing awareness and relevance of partnerships for sustainable development, as shown for example by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 17 – “partnerships for the goals.” As cross-sector partnerships are by definition composed of heterogenous actors that come with different expectations and skillsets, the findings of our paper (ensuring inclusiveness without jeopardizing efficiency) help to understand better how partnerships can contribute to sustainable development more broadly. Thus, we also show the societal relevance of management and organization theory.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
We believe our paper brings about three innovative contributions to the field of cross-sector collaboration. First of all, by closely following a cross-sector partnerships, or CSP, over time, we show how collaborative tensions associated with such partnerships have a highly dynamic character and tend to resurface throughout a cross-sector partnership’s lifecycle. In the case we observed, the struggle to provide both inclusiveness and efficiency was one that accompanied the partnership throughout its entire lifetime.

Secondly, our paper shows how at the heart of the persistent tension between inclusiveness and efficiency was a set of diverging values, expectations and collaborative preferences. What we observed was how such differences consistently “fueled” the imbalance between inclusiveness and efficiency. Finally, our paper also shows innovative ways through which the tension between inclusiveness and efficiency can be managed in a way that collaboration is enabled. Surprisingly, rather than minimizing differences, actors in this cross-sector partnership actually accentuated them in order to realize efficient collaboration.

All in all, we believe that our paper provides both theoretical as well as practical insights to a key issue for cross-sector partnerships that aim to address important societal issues.

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Leona Henry, Andreas Rasche and Guido Möllering

Leona Henry (pictured) is an assistant professor of organization studies at the Tilburg University School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Andreas Rasche is a professor of business in society at the Centre for Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School. Guido Möllering is the director of the Reinhard Mohn Institute of Management at Witten/Herdecke University, Germany, where he also holds the Reinhard Mohn Endowed Chair of Management.

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