Centre for Economic Transformation| CET


Power relations and dynamics within partnerships for sustainability

On 25 November 2022, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) and the Maastricht School of Management (MSM) jointly organized an online Collaborative Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Conference. The CIE Conference attracted both scholars and practitioners from around the world and focused on orchestrating multi-stakeholder collaborations for grand challenges with special attention paid to power relations and dynamics in such partnerships. A career development workshop for doctoral students and early career scholars took place a day earlier, on 24 November 2022, and focused on impact scholarship.

The CIE conference brought together scholars studying partnerships from various perspectives, such as strategic management, innovation systems, organization theory and public administration, to discuss challenges and possible ways forward in partnerships for sustainability. Conference participants presented their research work in parallel paper sessions and actively engaged in debates after the plenary sessions.

Are partnerships leading the way towards a sustainable future?

To combat grand challenges like global warming and rising inequality, organizations from the private sector, public sector and civil society increasingly collaborate in partnerships. However, working together with organizations from different societal sectors is no easy feat. As stakeholders bring to the table different backgrounds, interests and resources, it may be difficult to find common ground to govern action for sustainability. Moreover, partnerships may not always lead to the desired or envisioned change and may even have unintended consequences. As one conference participant aptly summarized in the chat: “It seems people use ‘partnership’ or ‘collaboration’ as buzzwords in sustainability issues, thinking they are panaceas. But we study them [and] it is evident they are clearly not [panaceas] and work only [under] specific conditions. Another participant added, “They are complex and messy and often [do] not [lead] to the results or outcomes that are needed.”

Both the keynote presentation by Prof. Charlene Zietsma and the panel discussion with Professors Barbara Gray, Bobby Banerjee and Rashedur Chowdhury, raised critical questions about the ‘dark side’ of partnerships. With economic motivations and mechanisms underpinning many partnerships, non-business interests like the ones from local communities are often underserved. Marginalized stakeholders may not have a voice nor a seat at the table, making partnerships a potential expression of power and a mechanism for social injustice. In the panel debate, Professors Barbara Gray and Bobby Banerjee called upon scholars to take a more critical approach in studying partnerships, while professor Rashedur Chowdhury raised critical questions about the collaborative paradigm, arguing that companies can achieve a lot by themselves if they would act morally responsible. The panelists further emphasized the need to move beyond studying process dynamics and direct ‘outputs’ of partnerships and to start questioning the actual ‘outcomes’ and impacts of this organizational form, using a power perspective. A pertinent question, for instance, is who bears the costs of the partnership.

Video panel discussion 

In her keynote address, Professor Zietsma also highlighted the performance of partnerships and theirpower dynamics. She particularly discussed the role of orchestrators in making partnerships
more equitable and producing meaningful impact. Not only should orchestrators take power relations into account when embarking on new partnerships, but they should also foster the conditions for joint listening and building mutual understanding and trust among partnership participants. It is here that funders are important too as they should provide orchestrators the time and money to do so. In closing, Professor Zietsma encouraged scholars to make partnerships work better via engaged scholarship, a theme that was also central in the Academic Career Development Workshop. The conference’s call to re-imagine partnerships from a power lens resonated with the online audience as evidenced in the chat: “the role of power in partnerships needs to be explicated more in our work”, “Great session. Provocative and maybe that's what we need” and “I take along the need for contextualized, in-depth research into the social fabric that underpins collective action.


Impact scholarship

The Academic Career Development Workshop that took place on-site in Maastricht, The Netherlands, focused on ‘impact scholarship’. Professor Garima Sharma kicked off with an inspiring keynote presentation on different strategies to bridge the research-practice gap. This focus on impact scholarship was also central in the editors panel discussion, involving Professors Pablo Munoz, Charlene Zietsma and Juliana Reinecke. The workshop participants not only learned about top tier journals’ interest in research with a focus on partnerships and grand challenges, but also what these journals do to support impactful research. More importantly, however, was the encouragement of the editors to critically reflect on one’s role in society as an academic. They underscored Professor Sharma’s key message that impact scholarship is all about impacting and that accumulates over time and in many ways.

Published by  Centre for Economic Transformation CIE Conference 16 January 2023