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2021 SAP Best Paper Award


The winner of the SAP Best Paper Award are Fannie Couture, Paula Jarzabkowski, Jane Le with their paper "Assessing the Unintended Consequences of Legitimating Responses to Grand Challenges"

Congratulations on winning the SAP Best Paper Award! Please, tell us more what this paper is about.

Thank you! Our paper looks at the social processes and practices involved in generating a collective response to a grand challenge, and how these processes and practices end up shaping a group’s ability to tackle the grand challenge over time. We specifically follow the dynamics of a multi-stakeholder partnership established to address water health issues in a critical river basin located in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef region. Our findings reveal how, while Partnership members became more and more successful in validating their response, this response became increasingly disconnected from the grand challenge it was meant to mitigate. The model we propose details cycles in which practices used to generate and validate a response to a grand challenge trigger unintended traps for organizational actors, which cumulate into this progressive disconnect. We believe our study can help us better understand the role of  key social processes and practices in shaping efforts to address grand challenges.

What was the starting point of the paper?

This project started with a hunch we had while analyzing the data. We felt there was a tension in the way members portrayed the report card as a tremendous success while also being skeptical of its actual role in mitigating the issue of water health degradation in the region. We began to brainstorm on what could be the underlying cause of such a tension. These conversations, and a whole lot of iteration between management literature and data analysis, eventually led us to our model of progressive disconnect.

Studying a multi-stakeholder partnership founded to respond to a grand challenge, you found an increasing disconnect with the worsening conditions that partnerships aimed to tackle. What are the key implications of your paper for advancing strategy scholarship on grand challenges?

One of the key implication of our paper is to clearly outline the importance of studying the consequentiality of practices (Jarzabkowski, Kavas, & Krull, 2021) carried out by actors as they seek to strategize on how to tackle grand challenges. If we were to look at the practices informing the Partnership’s strategy performance, they would be, at least on paper, instantiating a success story: the Partnership managed to survive in an uncommonly uncertain environment and even served as a role model for many other initiatives seeking to tackle similar issues. But when paying closer attention to the consequentiality of these practices, we observed that they allowed the group to validate their collective response, while also increasingly circumscribing the work done in order to actually mitigate the grand challenge.

Would you like to share any challenges you faced during the research process, especially with respect to studying grand challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?

Our data involves following the activities enacted by members of a multi-stakeholder partnership over several years as they sought to produce a collective response to a grand challenge and understanding the impacts these generated on the group’s capacity to mitigate this issue. This was particularly challenging as we wanted to account for the evolution and consequentiality of key practices while also paying attention to the multi-level dynamics unfolding over time. One of the ways we overcame this challenge is by being rigorous in our data analysis and making sure we critically reflected on our findings regularly as a team.  

Finally, do you have any advice for members of the SAP community who aspire to also receive the award in the future?

Being nominated is already a huge accomplishment and winning the award is fantastic, but the biggest reward is being a part of this community. There is incredible work produced by our peers which is a tremendous source of continuous inspiration and motivation. We invite everyone aspiring to win this award to get involved in this great community and learn about the innovative work that is produced by its members!



Reference: Jarzabkowski, P., Kavas, M., & Krull, E. (2021). It’s Practice. But is it Strategy? Reinvigorating Strategy-as-Practice by Rethinking Consequentiality. Organization Theory, 2, 1-13.