Centre for Applied Research on Business and Economics

Shifting cognitive frames through collective action to address grand challenges: A case study of a multi-stakeholder initiative in the apparel industry


Inter-organizational arrangements that aim to address social and environmental “grand challenges” often take the form of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) (also cross-sector partnerships or collaborations).

Grand challenges -- problems characterized by knowledge uncertainty, dynamic complexity and value conflict -- require diverse organizations to join forces to resolve them. MSIs are complex and dynamic arrangements due to the constant change occurring in the external environment and in the dynamics of the collaboration, as each participating organization may have very different frames of reference and interests that impede action and continuity. Scholars have long recognized the tensions of conflicting logics that are inherent in MSIs and the challenges that MSIs face in reconciling incongruent organizational identities, goals or shared visions.

Accordingly, MSIs need facilitators (i.e., ‘orchestrators’) to navigate the persistent and pervasive challenges of both reconciling conflicting logics and using complementary logics in such a way that the collaboration achieves collective goals.

Our study examines how MSI orchestrators work to meet this challenge by shaping and shifting cognitive frames in the context of a mature organizational field. We investigate the mechanisms used to enable cognitive shifts in logic and highlight the role of orchestration in enacting frame shifts. Empirically, we examine an MSI in the apparel industry that aims to guide retailers and fashion brands in the implementation of recommerce and rental business models, thereby pushing the textile and apparel industry from linear to regenerative and circular use of textile resources.

We identify several frames from the perspective of diverse stakeholders and uncover the four mechanisms that orchestrators use to influence frame shifts. We also see from our findings that orchestrators efforts to influence and navigate frame shifting is both emergent and planned as they attempt to navigate and manage the tensions and complexity that arise in multi-stakeholder initiatives focused on sustainability challenges.

Reference DiVito, L., Good, J. E., Lam, T., & van Wijk, J. (2021). Shifting cognitive frames through collective action to address grand challenges: A case study of a multi-stakeholder initiative in the apparel industry. Paper presented at 37th EGOS Colloquium 2021
Organizing for an Inclusive Society: Meanings, Motivations & Mechanisms, Amsterdam, Netherlands. https://www.egos.org/jart/prj3/egos/main.jart?rel=de&reserve-mode=active&content-id=1610525130808&subtheme_id=1574433575631&show_prog=yes

Publication date

Jun 2021


Jason E. Good


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