The winner of the 2020 SAP Best Paper Award are Amanda Porter, Damla Diriker, and Philipp Tuertscher with their paper "What Does it Take to be Open? Sustaining Openness through Closure in Open Organizing Initiatives"
Congratulations on winning the SAP Best Paper Award! Can you please briefly tell us what your paper is about?
Thank you! We were so happy and humbled to have received the SAP Best Paper Award! Broadly speaking, our paper deals with how open organizing processes can be organized to tackle grand societal challenges. More specifically, using the constitutive view of openness, we look at openness and closure not as opposite poles, where openness is a Utopian ideal and closure is its unwanted, evil twin. Instead, we see openness and closure as two sides of the same coin, where certain forms of closure can be, in fact, beneficial for generating the desired levels of inclusion and transparency in open organizing processes. We wanted to take a closer look at the interplay between these two seemingly contradictory concepts, study the relationship between them, and see how this could improve our understanding of organizing for grand challenges. To do so, we studied an award-winning initiative called Save our Oceans (SOO), where three dozen organizations teamed up to develop innovative ideas for the sustainable use of the oceans. We have found that there were many instances of inclusion and transparency, but also exclusion and opacity throughout the organizing process of SOO – even though SOO strived to develop a culture of openness where participants were involved in key decisions, and information was being kept transparent. Our study’s primary insight is the identification of specific combinations of openness and closure, which we called ‘punctuated openness.’ These were intentional strategic moves performed by the organizers to ensure the quality and sustainability of inclusion and transparency over time.
What motivated you to start this project?
Quite simply, we were motivated by a desire to contribute to a larger conversation about how to tackle grand challenges that we as a society face. The question of how we can organize openly for tackling grand challenges is extremely timely – yet doing so requires lots of experimentation. There is no single piece of theoretical or empirical work that can unlock a way to do that. So, as management researchers, we wanted to orient our attention towards these issues and how organizations can play a role. We are also driven by an overarching interest in digital innovation and how digital tools can support the collaborative efforts of diverse actors. Therefore, SOO was a natural fit for us to better understand how collaborative crowdsourcing can be leveraged for open organizing in a multi-stakeholder setting for tackling grand challenges. While observing the SOO process in situ, we found ourselves puzzled by the fact that, despite the many practices that organizers used to involve diverse actors in decision-making, they were still confronted with an emergent need to make authoritative decisions or keep things opaque, which made us wonder, “why is that?”. And so, this interplay between openness and closure became our main focus in this study.
Your paper examines an initiative to develop collaboratively innovate for the sustainable use of oceans within the maritime industry. What are the key implications of your paper for advancing strategy scholarship for sustainable innovation?
Our findings show how organizers of such processes can reflexively create, implement, and adjust procedures to ensure a balanced interplay between openness and closure, enabling the organizers to reach the desired levels of inclusion and transparency. Going beyond a descriptive understanding of open organizing, we question some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about openness and theorize open organizing as a much more complex phenomenon. We believe that the identification of ‘punctuated openness,’ which foregrounds the need for organizers to be flexible and experiment with not only the innovative solutions for grand challenges but also with the procedures they create to orchestrate the process in such settings, provides a promising direction for thinking about managing the complexity and uncertainty that open approaches to strategizing invite in the context of sustainable innovation. More specifically, our findings show that, although unbounded openness is valued because the diversity of knowledge and resources are seen as necessary for addressing socially relevant problems, an approach characterized by unbounded openness may fall short of generating the desired levels of involvement of diverse stakeholders. To overcome the challenges of reaching the desired levels of inclusions and transparency, the organizers may engage in the formalization of a participatory architecture, deploy pre-specified guidelines for interaction to help participants generate inclusive content and decisions, or selectively exclude participants from specific parts of the process. In an open strategy processes that involves many successive phases like ours, the organizers can ensure continuity between phases by modifying intermediate strategic content to become suitable for use in future phases, continuously monitoring the process to make any necessary adjustments. We found that all of these actions leverage different forms of closure to reach desired levels of inclusion and transparency, which is important for us to improve our understanding of the relationship between openness and closure and how to sustain open organizing over time.
Would you like to share any challenges you faced during the research process, especially with respect to studying organizational openness and sustainability? If so, how did you overcome them?
During the research process itself, we did experience challenges maintaining our dual roles as researchers and participants. We overcame this challenge by differentiating the involvement of our research team, such that we always had a team member closely involved in the field working with another team member that maintained a greater distance from the actual data collection process. This way, we could continuously discuss and debate emerging observations through the lens of both insider and outsider of the process. One of the most significant challenges we confronted when writing this paper was moving from the details to the bigger picture. As often the case in qualitative research, we have a large amount of data collected from diverse data sources. So, it is quite easy to get lost in it. Actually, we are still working to write-up the findings in a clear way without filtering too many important details.
Finally, do you have any advice for members of the SAP community who aspire to also receive the award in the future?
This is a tough question to answer, but the main advice we can give is perhaps to get their hands dirty in data – no matter how frustrating and painful it is sometimes to keep going back to your data in the process of writing your paper. By iterating between data and theory, you will get closer to seeing the pattern that makes you say, ‘I think this is an interesting puzzle and I may have some sort of an answer.’ We would also advise that you research phenomena that you genuinely find interesting, so then the data does not get boring, even in the fifth time analyzing it! Not only may this provide new insights for the puzzle at hand, it can even present a new mystery to be solved.