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date: 23 October 2019

(p. 23) Manifestations of Inter‐organizational Relations


This section centres on dominant ways in which Inter‐organizational relationships (IORs) are manifest in various contexts and thus takes an empirical perspective on the field. As we outlined in the Introduction to this Handbook, we refer to manifestations of relationships among organizations as Inter‐organizational entities (IOEs). From the range of possible IOEs we have selected those that are widely discussed in current research and referred to in the practice of IOR. A systematic approach to delineating different kinds of IOEs needs to be based on a set of significant dimensions and pertinent attributes over which they differ. As we pointed out in the book's Introduction, the literature in IOR has not produced such a definite list that is widely accepted among IOR scholars. This is hardly surprising, as IOR researchers are rooted in different disciplines, apply a wide range of theories, follow different research interests, and will thus focus on different dimensions of their study objects. Under these circumstances, how did we choose to distinguish various kinds of IOEs? In a Handbook aimed at a wide audience of scholars that intends to cover a broad range of themes addressed in IOR research, we could hardly privilege the view and dimensions emphasized by a particular discipline, theory, or set of research interests. Rather, we needed to distinguish IOEs in a more neutral way. As a first stab at the issue, we therefore returned to the two core concepts that underlie all IOR research—organizations and the relationships between them—in order to distinguish different kinds of IOEs. Yet with regard to both concepts, again there are a wide variety of dimensions and attributes that can help to characterize them. In line with the overall aim of the Handbook to reflect a wide variety of research endeavours and to juxtapose the different ways into studies of IOR, we chose to distinguish IOEs on the basis of the following dimensions:

  • the identity of the partners engaged in IOEs, including business firms, public sector agencies, voluntary sector agencies, and cross‐sectional organizations in the community sector;

  • the motivations that lead partners to engage in IOEs, such as resource acquisition in supply relations, service provision, policy implementation, or firm, industry, and regional development;

  • the temporal horizon of IOEs, ranging from short‐term projects to long‐term Inter‐organizational relations; and

  • the number of actors involved in IOEs, ranging from dyadic to multilateral sets of organizations.

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Of course, it would have been possible to distinguish different kinds of IOEs on the basis of other dimensions. For instance, we could have asked authors to provide industry‐specific treatments of IOEs and thus would have put readers in a position to be able to compare the commonalities and differences of IOEs in, say, a young and dynamically evolving industry such as the biotechnology industry with IOEs in a more mature and stable industry such as construction. Or we could have emphasized regional and geographic commonalities and differences among IOEs by choosing to distinguish, for instance, regional, national, and international IOEs, or IOEs from different regions of the world. We privileged the dimensions listed above, however, mainly because in our view they provided a distinction of IOEs at a fairly high analytical level. Within these broad forms of IOEs chapter authors could then still discuss other differentiating dimensions and attributes.

Yet even within the limits we chose, we could not include all manifestations of IORs that might have been of interest to readers. One entry that many readers might have expected to find is public—private partnerships (PPPs). Yet there is no chapter dedicated to PPPs. Rather, particular aspects of PPPs are covered in three separate chapters of the Handbook: the chapters on collaborative service provision in the public sector by Sandfort and Milward; on voluntary and community sector partnerships by Mandell and Keast; and on Inter‐organizational relationships in local and regional development partnerships by Geddes. In line with the Handbook's focus on longer‐term Inter‐organizational relationships we also chose not to include a chapter on mergers and acquisitions (M&A), as the participating organizations, ex post, become one entity and by definition are no longer capable of sustaining Inter‐organizational relationships. Nor did we include a chapter dedicated to international development partnerships. However, aspects of such IOEs are highlighted in Chapter 8 by Geddes, on Inter‐organizational relationships in local and regional development partnerships, and in Chapter 17 by Knoke and Chen, on political perspectives on Inter‐organizational networks. Some other voids in our list of IOEs may still exist, yet we are nevertheless confident that Part II provides a balanced overview of the main manifestations of IORs and allows for some interesting juxtapositions. For instance, readers may wish to compare alliances involving business organizations with partnerships among public organizations, or longer‐term IORs in industrial districts with short‐term IORs such as Inter‐organizational projects, and so forth.

We asked chapter authors to provide a briefing on, and evaluation of, empirical knowledge about the respective manifestation of IORs, the variety of their forms, and the key questions that have been researched. Given the variety of forms within each of the manifestations contained in this part and their development over time, chapter authors could not possibly cover all aspects and details. They have handled the trade‐off between breadth and depth of coverage differently. Some provide generic overviews, while others put greater emphasis on a particular argument that stresses specific aspects of the IOEs discussed and of the pertinent scientific debate.

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The chapter, by Lazerson and Lorenzoni, articulates an evolving, new view of Inter‐organizational relations in industrial districts. They have observed that a number of lead firms have taken a very non‐traditional path in coping with a competitive environment that is very different from that which has historically been characterized in studies of ‘industrial districts’. These leading firms stand out by escaping from what the authors describe as ‘the manufacturing cage’. Following a brief summary of some of the principal organizational characteristics of industrial districts, and relationships to traditional notions of flexible production, they consider the emergence of leading firms and the use of forward integration as a strategic response by these lead firms to new competitive threats. Empirical data from case studies is presented prior to a concluding set of remarks about the new role of leading firms in districts and the implications for Inter‐organizational relationships. Thus, in contrast to conclusions by Johnsen, Lamming, and Harland, in the following chapter, Lazerson and Lorenzoni conclude that the networks that they observed are being managed and strategically so.

The chapter, by Johnsen, Lamming, and Harland nicely complements Lazerson and Lorenzoni's chapter. It explores Inter‐organizational relationships in a broad context involving chains and networks of organizations. The authors assert that research on the different units of analysis explored in the chapter requires different lenses, methodologies, methods, and techniques. In particular they use an operations and supply lens to observe supply relationships, chains, and networks. Their focus is on the analysis of Inter‐organizational relationships embedded in complex networks, offering a variety of different perspectives on business networks, arguing that the benefits of supply network analysis derive from a strong focus on understanding the—positive and negative—effects of interconnected and interdependent relationships. In the concluding section of the chapter they raise the issue of ‘managing’ in networks: to what extent can—or should—an organization ‘manage a network’ and what does it mean to manage within a network context?

Dacin, Reid, and Ring undertook the somewhat daunting task of attempting to synthesize the explosion in research dealing with so‐called strategic alliances between business firms which are also manifested as joint ventures. Although, as they point out, businesses do this with less reliance on equity joint ventures than was the case 30 years ago, joint ventures are still a frequent governance mechanism relied upon by the governments of emerging economies.

Given the enormous literature on alliances and joint ventures, the authors chose to focus their review on issues related to the topic of partner selection—from an embeddedness perspective—and on related matters such as negotiating with potential partners. They do, however, assess the impact that other theoretical approaches to their topic have had on the research. They also provide a brief summary of the research related to the processes by which alliances and joint ventures emerge and evolve. They close with a discussion of a number of issues related to research on (p. 28) partner selection that they believe are likely to help define future research efforts in this area.

In the next four chapters, the focus shifts from private sector IORs to those involving public and third sector actors. The chapter by Klijn provides an overview of research using the network concept in analyses of policy‐making and implementation in the public sector. He observes that three research traditions have used the concept of ‘network’ as a tool for understanding a world of policy‐making and implementation that they assert is full of networks. These traditional approaches are compared and the author demonstrates that they have begun to converge. Klijn then shifts his focus to what the literature reveals about managing policy networks and the complex decision‐making processes that take place within them. He also takes up questions related to approaches to the research of networks of policymaking and implementation, concluding his discussion with some observations about the future of this research tradition.

Sandfort and Milward define collaborative service delivery in the public sector as displaying eight basic characteristics. These partnerships have been explored in contexts as diverse as social work, public health, community psychology, public administration, non‐profit management, and education. Varied research questions and research approaches have been used, including the network approach described by Kiljn. The authors assert that all this has created problems in discussing these varied collaborations in coherent terms; problems compounded in studies that investigate public—private collaborative services in an international context because the institutional definitions of ‘public’ and ‘private’ are so nationally bound. Noting that there are no dominant theoretical traditions or analytical frameworks, they aim to make sense of this diversity and highlight the important insights, gaps, and implications for future scholarly inquiry included in this literature.

In the chapter by Mandell and Keast, the authors highlight the changing role of voluntary and community organizations (VCOs), with an emphasis on exploration of their roles in partnering with governments and others. They endeavour to unpack changing relationships between VCOs and key stakeholders, drawing on extant literature and case studies. The findings from the case studies and the extant body of literature permit them to identify differing perspectives of IORs that, in their view, can be applied to VCOs, providing their own approach to defining VCOs. They examine a variety of roles played by VCOs and the types of Inter‐organizational arrangements relied on, at local, national, and international levels. They also explore relationships between VCOs, the private sector and not‐for‐profit organizations, highlighting changing relationships between VCOs and governments. They conclude their chapter with a discussion of some of the emergent issues and future challenges for VCOs and those who are engaged in research related to them. As many of the public sector service delivery collaborations described by Sandfort and Milward increasingly involve voluntary organizations, those interested in these kinds of public sector collaborations will benefit from the reviews provided by Mandell and Keast.

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The chapter by Geddes reviews relationships between institutionalized actors in local and regional development partnerships. The main focus is on partnerships in the UK, Europe, and the USA, but attention is given to other parts of the world. In his view, local and regional development partnerships include actors from the community and civil society as well as organizations in the public, for‐profit, and not‐for‐profit sectors. He argues that, although these kinds of partnerships are an integral part of urban and regional development, they raise questions that he addresses about the effectiveness of partnerships from the point of view of policy‐makers and practitioners. In so doing, he identifies difficulties academics encounter in theorizing about the concept of partnership or in assessing its outcomes.

IOEs differ in the length of time for which they exist. Some industrial districts have a century‐long tradition, while some alliances and joint ventures run for decades or years. The chapter by Jones and Lichtenstein discusses a comparatively shorter‐lived kind of IOE: Inter‐organizational projects. The authors present an innovative analytical framework grounded in an institutional embeddedness perspective for understanding various types of Inter‐organizational projects and how these in different ways facilitate coordinated activities among two or more organizations. In their discussion of the prototypes of film projects, emergency and crisis response projects, architectural and large‐scale engineering construction projects, Jones and Lichtenstein place particular emphasis on outlining how different kinds of project pacing (temporal embeddedness) and the social embeddedness of these projects affect the coordination among project partners and their ability to handle uncertainty. Readers who would like to further expand their understanding of temporal aspects of IOR can turn to the chapter by Cropper and Palmer on dynamics, temporality, and change. Kenis and Oerlemans' Chapter 12 provides further insights into the nature of embeddedness.

The final chapter in the part, by Hui, Fonstad, and Beath, begins with an observation that despite a large amount of research related to Inter‐organizational relationships, unanswered questions about the management of service‐exchange relationships abound. Such gaps are especially evident in the area of technology service IORs. They identify four dimensions—across which technology services vary—that set technology services fundamentally apart from commodity‐like production. They note that IORs formed to enable the exchanges of technology services are essentially different from other IORs. Extending their arguments to technology service IORs in general, they conclude that researchers can theorize and explain them with more precision by paying attention to how the nature of the technology services in question changes the meanings of theoretical constructs commonly used in studying other kinds of IORs.

As we indicated in the first chapter of this volume, it is our hope that those who have turned to this part for guidance on a specific manifestation will, after digesting the contents of that chapter, move to chapters in this part that are beyond their normal sphere of interest. For example, we believe that those who are focused (p. 30) on alliances and joint ventures will find much insight in the chapter by Hui et al. Simlarly, the discussion of projects by Jones and Lichtenstein will be found fruitful by any scholar interested in collaborations taking place within and between public sector organizations or in partnerships with voluntary organizations.

The chapters in other sections of the book also have much relevance to the study of specific manifestations. Given the disciplinary ‘bias’ that tends to separate scholars engaged in studies of collaborations by public organizations from those exploring cooperation among business firms, we believe that the wide variety of theories treated in Part III will be of considerable value to those who may agree with our assessment about the ‘silo‐ed’ nature of the traditional approaches to the study of IOR. And those who have found that they have focused on a specific topic in studying a manifestation are likely to find something ‘new’ in the discussion of those topics in Part IV. For example, Hibbert, Huxham, and Ring consciously explore issues related to managing IORs and IOEs across virtually all the sectors of the economy in which the kinds of manifestations addressed in this part are either embedded or span.