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In a recent issue in this journal, Lawton et al. and Spillman argue for the importance of studying trade associations, also referred to with the broader term meta-organization. They discuss why meta-organizations matter and why more research is needed on the topic. We fully concur with the authors that meta-organizations constitute an inflating, diverse, and undeniable phenomenon of collective action among organizations and that collective scholarly efforts are necessary to improve our understanding of meta-organizations in their multiplicity. In this article, we shed some light on a body of work already investigating the matter. They constitute what we call the “European School” of meta-organization. We show the relevance of this recent European work for the US–UK-oriented trade association research and aim to bridge the gap between these research traditions by proposing a common research agenda on key topics of resources, forms’ differentiation, coopetition, and their role in sustainability governance.
Journal of Management Inquiry
2018, Vol. 27(2) 204 –211
© The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1056492617712895
Journal of Management Inquiry
2018, Vol. 27(2) 204 –211
© The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1056492617712895
In a recent issue in this journal, Lawton, Rajwani, and Minto
(2017) and Spillman (2017) argue for the importance of
studying trade associations, also referred to with the broader
term meta-organizations. They are dissatisfied with scholarly
neglect of trade associations, and discuss why more research
about them is necessary. They examine trade associations as
organizations, and identify research questions worth pursu-
ing related to effects of organization, culture, and resources.
We appreciate their efforts and we agree that a collective
endeavor is necessary.
With this paper, we aim to establish a dialogue between
two research communities, which have, thus far, been dis-
connected (Berkowitz & Dumez, 2016). One of these
research communities, mainly located in Europe, builds on
the seminal paper of Ahrne and Brunsson (2005) and their
book Meta-Organizations (2008). The other research com-
munity, mainly US–UK based, uses as their key reference the
paper introducing a special issue in the Strategic Management
Journal by Gulati, Puranam, and Tushman (2012) discussing
meta-organizational design. Although there are many simi-
larities in the aim to understand the organization of collective
action among organizations in these contributions, a key dif-
ference lies in their definition of the meta-organization.
Ahrne and Brunsson define meta-organizations as organiza-
tions, or associations, with organizations as their members,
whereas Gulati et al. define them as organizations with orga-
nizations and/or individuals as their members. Although
more specific in the definition, we argue that the theoretical
developments by the European research community usefully
extend the research agenda put forth by Lawton et al. (2017)
and Spillman (2017).
The work of Ahrne and Brunsson focused explicitly on
theorizing the effects of the particularities of having organiza-
tions instead of individuals as members. Meta-organizations,
as associations of organizations, are not limited to trade asso-
ciations. As pointed out by Cropper, Ebers, Huxham, and Ring
(2008, 2011), a common problem in the field of interorganiza-
tional relations is that research has focused too much on the
manifestations of interorganizational relations, and therefore
too little theoretical and conceptual developments have been
able to provide understanding of the phenomena more broadly.
The concept of meta-organization, as developed by the
“European School” of meta-organization, overcomes the
focus on manifestations, as the concept of meta-organization
crosses various empirical and theoretical types of manifesta-
tions. Thus, collaborations among public, private, and third
sector organizations and among organizations across sectors
are included. This would encompass among others, indus-
trial associations (Reveley & Ville, 2010), transgovernmen-
tal networks (Jordana, 2017), corporative-associative order
712895JMIXXX10.1177/1056492617712895Journal of Management InquiryBerkowitz and Bor
1i3-CRG, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS, Paris Saclay, France
2Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals, Spain
3Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland
Corresponding Author:
Sanne Bor, Department of Management and Organisation,
Hanken School of Economics, P.O. Box 479, FI-00101 Helsinki, Finland.
Why Meta-Organizations Matter: A
Response to Lawton etal. and Spillman
Héloïse Berkowitz1,2 and Sanne Bor3
In a recent issue in this journal, Lawton etal. and Spillman argue for the importance of studying trade associations, also
referred to with the broader term meta-organization. They discuss why meta-organizations matter and why more research is
needed on the topic. We fully concur with the authors that meta-organizations constitute an inflating, diverse, and undeniable
phenomenon of collective action among organizations and that collective scholarly efforts are necessary to improve our
understanding of meta-organizations in their multiplicity. In this article, we shed some light on a body of work already
investigating the matter. They constitute what we call the “European School” of meta-organization. We show the relevance
of this recent European work for the US–UK-oriented trade association research and aim to bridge the gap between these
research traditions by proposing a common research agenda on key topics of resources, forms’ differentiation, coopetition,
and their role in sustainability governance.
meta-organization, collective action, review, inter-organizational relations, resources, coopetition, governance
Berkowitz and Bor 205
(Streeck & Schmitter, 1985), and multipartner alliances
(Das, 2015). A wide set of empirical settings can also be
included from the European Union (EU) and Fédération
Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), to the UN
Global Compact or North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO), from R&D consortia to associations of public agen-
cies, such as the Association of Bank Supervisors of Americas
(ASBA), or multipartner alliances such as the Wi-Fi Alliance
(an alliance promoting Wi-Fi technology).
Our response to Lawton et al. and Spillman is organized in
three parts. First, we elaborate the meta-organization concept
as developed by the “European School”. Then, we shortly
present the key theoretical developments since the seminal
paper by Ahrne and Brunsson in 2005. We finish the article by
arguing for a common research agenda, whereby we invite
scholars to join forces and contribute toward theorizing the
conditions and particularities of meta-organizations.
The Meta-Organization Concept of the
“European School”
Following the definition of meta-organization by Ahrne and
Brunsson (2005, 2008), the concept of meta-organization of
the “European School” has three important elements (Bor,
2014). First, a meta-organization is essentially an organiza-
tion. Organizations, including meta-organizations, are
decided social orders. A decided social order means that “the
elements necessary for the continuation or repetition of
social interaction are the result of decisions, rather than being
the result of common institutions, norms, or status differ-
ences” (Ahrne, Brunsson, & Seidl, 2016, p. 95). These ele-
ments include their membership, hierarchy, rules, monitoring,
and sanctioning (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2008; Ahrne et al.,
2016). The meta-organization can, however, remain partially
organized, as they are not always able to use all of these ele-
ments (Ahrne et al., 2016; Berkowitz & Dumez, 2016). They,
for example, often have weak central power and low sanc-
tioning power.
Second, the meta-organization is an association. This
means that members collectively form the center of authority.
Although members may vest their collective authority further
into executive committees or even into an administrative orga-
nization, the ultimate authority lies with the members collec-
tively. Furthermore, membership of an association is voluntary
and members keep most of their autonomy. Members have
their own authority center in place, which can decide to stay or
exit, to contribute or not, and to communicate and agree with
other members about the collective goals. Members are thus
only partially absorbed into the meta-organization. A meta-
organization as a collective strongly depends on each mem-
ber’s choice to remain a member and on each member’s
willingness to contribute to the collective. Thus, member orga-
nizations are simultaneously the owners, co-producers and
clients or end users of the collective (Bor, 2014).
Third, members of this organization are themselves orga-
nizations. Organizations are collective action units composed
of individuals or organizations. They possess resources,
which they can (but not necessarily will) contribute to the
collective, the meta-organization. As organizations, member
organizations have much more available resources than indi-
viduals do, which means only a few members are enough for
the meta-organization to function. However, the differences
in resource’s availability among organizations are potentially
also much higher than among individuals, which may result
in inequalities among member organizations. Finally, organi-
zations need a degree of autonomy to legitimize their exis-
tence. Because both members and meta-organization are
organizations, members and meta-organization may compete
with one another to protect their own autonomy, identity, and
By recognizing the associative nature of the organization
and the specific circumstances created by having organiza-
tions as members, the concept of meta-organization helps us
to understand and theorize a variety of effects, such as mem-
ber power and influence dynamics, decision making, conflict
handling and resolution, resource acquisition, and resource
utilization. In what follows, we present some of the theoriz-
ing work started by the “European School” of meta-organi-
zation during the last 15 years.
Working Toward a Theory of Meta-
Meta-organizations, due to their particularities of being asso-
ciations with organizational members, “work under different
conditions than other organizations” (Ahrne & Brunsson,
2005, p. 43). Ahrne and Brunsson (2005, 2008), like Lawton
et al. (2017) and Spillman (2017), regretted that organiza-
tions of organizations were underestimated and argued that a
full blown meta-organization theory was needed to under-
stand the specific conditions to these organizations. The key
areas that, thus far, have been set out include formation and
dynamics; functions of meta-organizations; decision-making
in meta-organizations; and relations to the environment.
Formation and Dynamics of Meta-Organizations
Ahrne and Brunsson (2008) argue that certain features affect
formation and continuation of meta-organizations. First,
membership of meta-organizations is relatively cheap. It
often costs little compared with members’ total resources.
Second, meta-organizations do not need to own resources of
their own. Member organizations can provide such
resources—also called indirect resources (Bor, 2013, 2014),
such as members’ staff, offices for meetings, and so on
(Berkowitz, 2016). Third, meta-organizations can grow by
stimulating membership through outreach (Berkowitz, 2016)
or even actively setting up member organizations.
206 Journal of Management Inquiry 27(2)
Because of these, one of the first consequences is that
meta-organizations are easy to set up and maintain. Indeed,
they can function without owning resources or having their
own personnel. Moreover, only a small number of members
is enough to set up and sustain a meta-organization.
Second, meta-organizations seem to have a low turnover
of members, especially due to cheap membership (Ahrne &
Brunsson, 2008). This low turnover can result in member-
ship divergences. Member organizations may change over
time, their priorities evolve, but all member organizations
may not necessarily move in similar directions (Bor, 2014).
Finding a common ground and deciding on the collective
purpose or goals of the meta-organization can therefore
become more difficult over time, and may lead to inertia.
Third, growth of meta-organizations can be stimulated
also when members do not exist. Meta-organizations can
create or support the creation of their own members. When
membership represents geographical areas (local, regional,
national, or continental), for example, and an area is not rep-
resented, a meta-organization may decide to support the
development of a member organization in such area. It may
also start a branch, similar to a multinational, with the aim to
let such branch grow into a member organization.
Fourth, the possible low costs structure results in meta-
organizations persisting over the long term. In the oil and gas
industry, Berkowitz (2016) shows that meta-organizations
keep appearing throughout the 20th century, but do not disap-
pear. These meta-organizations subsist even when their direct
objective has vanished (e.g. price negotiation) and they
become “dormant.” Such “ghost” meta-organizations may
therefore stack up and occupy organizations’ environment.
Finally, still due to low costs of membership and mainte-
nance, multiple meta-organizations can emerge on the same
topic (e.g. human rights or environmental performance) and
coexist (Berkowitz, 2016). These meta-organizations often
have different boundaries (infra-sectoral, sectoral, cross-sec-
toral) and classes of members (business only or multistake-
holder) (Berkowitz, Bucheli, & Dumez, 2017). One
organization may cumulate membership to these various
meta-organizations. Membership overlap creates links
between such meta-organizations, like board interlocks
(Kogut, 2012). Such links enhance the chances for coopera-
tion between these meta-organizations, for instance, con-
cerning joint production of environmental reporting
guidelines. However, at the same time, such meta-organiza-
tions compete over members and resources, in a similar fash-
ion as Lowndes and Skelcher (1998) highlighted.
Functions of Meta-Organizations
As Lawton et al. (2017) and Spillman (2017) also recognize,
meta-organizations can have a wide variety of functions.
Ahrne and Brunsson (2008) present three general purposes
for which a meta-organization may be set up, though they
note that meta-organizations in practice commonly pursue a
combination of these purposes: (a) interaction among mem-
bers, (b) collective action among members, or (c) creation of
collective identity. Berkowitz (2016) highlights the informa-
tion production function of meta-organizations to support
each of these purposes, and shows a wide variety of goals for
meta-organizations. She describes, for example, the preser-
vation of sectoral commons (such as reputation), managing
stakeholders (including lobbying) and tackling sustainability
issues by allowing members to collectively develop responses
to social or environmental challenges (Berkowitz et al.,
2016; Chaudhury et al., 2016; Vifell & Thedvall, 2012). Two
key features of meta-organizations link and may explain
some of the strengths of meta-organizations. We highlight
these shortly below.
First, Ahrne and Brunsson (2008) argue that meta-organi-
zations, due to the autonomy of their members, have difficul-
ties creating and maintaining hard laws. Meta-organizations,
therefore, often produce voluntary self-regulation in the form
of standards, rather than hard laws, to enhance or make inter-
action and collective action possible. As Rajwani, Lawton,
and Phillips (2015) also outline, meta-organizations thereby
contribute to shaping industry norms. Standards are less con-
straining and they facilitate the diffusion of a set of practices
throughout member organizations to achieve collective
learning (Gadille, Tremblay, & Vion, 2013). Other studies
also highlight this collective peer-learning and the role of
meta-organizations in the diffusion of management practices
in, for example, health care (Leys & Joffre, 2014) or the oil
and gas industry (Berkowitz et al., 2016).
Second, meta-organizations, due to their lack of authority
over members, focus on creating a collective playing field
agreed by all members (Bor, 2014) through decision making
by consensus. The creation of such playing field facilitates
dialogue, negotiation, and even coopetition, that is, combined
advantages of cooperation and competition, between very
diverse, potentially competing actors, from firms to nongov-
ernmental organizations (NGOs) and governments (Berkowitz,
2016). Meta-organizations thereby can act as a multistake-
holder governance device where best practices can be propa-
gated among different organizations (Berkowitz, 2016).
Ahrne and Brunsson (2008) argue that meta-organizations
make decisions by consensus and have trouble reaching deci-
sions by other methods. This results from both the associa-
tive nature of the organization and members’ autonomy,
which means that there is a need to ensure that members
remain members. Subsequent research—by Bor (2014) con-
cerning R&D consortia and Malcourant, Vas, and Zintz
(2015) concerning the World Anti-Doping Agency—shows
that the need for decision-by-consensus particularly concern
governance issues.
Berkowitz and Bor 207
In her study of European Commission funded R&D con-
sortia, Bor (2014) argues that the associative nature and
members’ autonomy do not affect the managerial or adminis-
trative decisions in similar fashion. She finds varied ways of
making managerial and administrative decisions, including
top-down, bottom-up, and horizontal decision-making pro-
cesses. The author shows that the way of making resources
available to the meta-organization—directly (resources
becoming controlled by the meta-organization, for example
through fees) or indirectly (resources remaining controlled
by the member, for example staff, tools or facilities)—may
affect managerial and administrative decision making in
meta-organizations. Managerial and administrative decisions
are more horizontal or bottom-up when member organiza-
tions control resources, while decisions follow a more top-
down process when the meta-organization itself controls
these resources.
Members may intentionally decide to provide the meta-
organization with more control over resources. The objec-
tive then could be to ensure that the meta-organization’s
actions continue beyond meetings of members. STAR alli-
ance, for example, made such decision when they realized
that, in-between meetings, member representatives were
unable to prioritize the meta-organization beyond their
own organization. This resulted in slowing down the meta-
organization’s work (Findeisen & Sydow, 2016). In other
cases, however, members may decide not to delegate con-
trol over resources to the meta-organization, as this would
give the meta-organization agency without members’
involvement. The meta-organization could then become
unresponsive to members’ needs and wishes. In addition,
involvement in managerial and administrative decisions
carries especially high stakes when the meta-organization
offers mutual learning or mutual coordination among
members (Bor, 2014).
As a unit of decision making, meta-organizations raise
questions of addressability or nonaddressability (Grothe-
Hammer, 2016). Meta-organizations make collective deci-
sions and as such, act as a “voice for the industry”. They can
become a representative, which is supposed to be address-
able (Rajwani et al., 2015). However, when a meta-organiza-
tion does not have a very clear hierarchy or single point of
authority, the collective becomes nonaddressable (Grothe-
Hammer, 2016). When it has no responsive boundary, exter-
nal actors cannot address it as a single unit. Furthermore, as
collective decisions are made, member organizations can
hide behind such decision with the argument that they cannot
be held responsible for such collective decisions.
Another issue related to decision making is accountability,
that is, who is accountable to whom. In meta-organizations,
representatives of member organizations are accountable to
both their own organization and the meta-organization. In
parallel, meta-organizations are primarily accountable to
those that provide them with resources. When members pay
fees, they will ask the meta-organization to render account.
When external organizations, as the European Commission,
provide resources, also they can demand the meta-organiza-
tion to render account. In this multidirectional accountability
situation, it is not always clear who has priority and whom the
meta-organization reports to (Bor, 2014).
Relations to the Environment
Meta-organizations can be understood as a way for member
organizations to affect (part of) their environment. In
resource dependency terms, members create a negotiated
environment (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978). The environment
thereby becomes less uncertain, because the meta-organiza-
tion provides a regulated and coordinated space—a decided
order—for their members (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2008).
Berkowitz and Dumez (2015a) analyze trade associations
among other forms of meta-organizations, such as thematic
meta-organizations or cross-sectoral meta-organizations in
the oil and gas industry. They show that oil and gas compa-
nies may decide to strategically organize and shape their
environment through setting up meta-organizations, depend-
ing on the issue at stake. Some companies, for example, have
set up the research-oriented meta-organization CONCAWE
to reduce uncertainty in relation to environmental issues rel-
evant to the oil industry.
Member organizations not only create meta-organiza-
tions to establish a negotiated environment for members,
they often also aim to actively affect their environment
beyond the boundaries of the meta-organization. As we
mentioned earlier, a stream of literature on business asso-
ciations (Barley, 2010; Rajwani et al., 2015) has focused on
their role as voices for industries. As also discussed, some
key functions of meta-organizations are lobbying, enhanc-
ing legitimacy or status, and coordinating production or
service delivery. Little research, however, examines how
meta-organizations influence their institutional environ-
ment beyond these functions. For instance, meta-organiza-
tions may allow to defuse potential conflictual situations
with other stakeholders by integrating them in a meta-orga-
nization (Berkowitz & Dumez, 2015b). The study shows
how multistakeholder meta-organizations, such as the
Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, internalize
local governments and NGOs in the decision-making pro-
cess to neutralize conflicts on transparency of payments in
countries of production.
Another important issue concerns how the environment in
return affects meta-organizations. Some literature has stud-
ied meta-organizations’ reaction and resistance to change in
their environment. König, Schulte, and Enders (2012) study
German industry associations and their reactions to the emer-
gence of online trade. The authors show that meta-organiza-
tions disclose similar responses to nonparadigmatic change
as individual-based organizations, that is, inertia.
208 Journal of Management Inquiry 27(2)
A Common Research Agenda on Meta-
The research done by the “European School” is, as we have
tried to highlight, compatible with the research agenda sug-
gested by Lawton et al. (2017) and Spillman (2017). Below,
we specify some additional lines to the suggested research
Resources and Resourcing Meta-Organizations
Lawton et al. (2017) suggest a first key theme of the research
agenda: resources and resourcing. They specifically suggest
exploring and unpacking the ways in which members extract
proprietary benefits from the meta-organization and how
they extract benefits from combining their resources with
other members. We agree that this is an unexplored avenue,
well worth pursuing.
We would like to suggest, however, to broaden this part of
the agenda, which so far has a member-centric focus. We
suggest including to the agenda a collective or meta-organi-
zational focus on resources. As Bor (2014) notes, the control
meta-organizations get over resources they mobilize affects
the way and the extent to which meta-organizations monitor
and sanction members. Bor and Cropper (2016b) have set
out to further explore this relation between resource acquisi-
tion and the organizing of meta-organizations. They suggest
that resource dependency differently affects goal orientation,
membership, hierarchy, monitoring, and sanctioning of the
meta-organization, depending on the source (internal or
external) of resources, and the extent of control the meta-
organization gets over resources.
We think that this shows exciting possibilities for future
work in exploring how meta-organizations and their mem-
bers mobilize, acquire, combine, and use resources and the
consequences of this for the working of the meta-organiza-
tion as well as their members.
Differentiating Meta-Organizations
Another key research question, that Ahrne and Brunsson
(2008) outline, is to explore “the differences among meta-
organizations” (p. 171). Similarly, Spillman (2017) invites to
study variations in meta-organizational forms along two dif-
ferent lines. First, we can learn from studying variations along
already acknowledged differences, such as purpose. Second,
we may learn about variations when “asking what associa-
tions do for members compared with other organizational
forms of coordination and governance” (p. 3). We think these
are very fruitful suggestions for the way forward.
We believe that there are also benefits in comparing meta-
organizations with other devices of coordination and gover-
nance. We think it can be fruitful to try to bridge the gap
between literatures on interorganizational forms and literature
on meta-organizations. Recent work by Bor and Cropper
(2016a) explores whether and how theoretical insights about
other interorganizational forms (Phillips, Lawrence, & Hardy,
2000), multipartner alliances (e.g. Das, 2015) and whole net-
works (e.g. Provan, Fish, & Sydow, 2007) can be fruitfully
borrowed or integrated into meta-organization theory. We
also see much potential in exploring how other forms of
“unconventional organizations” may provide insights (Brès,
Raufflet, & Boghossian, 2017).
Coopetitive Dimensions of Meta-Organizations
We agree with Spillman (2017) that the very existence of
meta-organizations challenges traditional assumptions that
“business is entirely anomic and competitive” (p. 1). On the
contrary, business is by nature coopetitive, thus both coop-
erative and competitive (Brandenburger & Nalebuff, 1996;
Yami, Castaldo, Dagnino, & Le Roy, 2010). Understanding
why competitors decide to gather in such meta-organizations
and how they collectively create or fail to create value is
A recent study aims to analyze business collective action
in the form of a sectoral meta-organization in the crowdfund-
ing sector (Berkowitz & Souchaud, 2017). The study shows
that competitors agree to cooperate not only among each
other but also with legislators and regulators to develop a
public policy. In that context, the meta-organization acts as
an institutional entrepreneur (DiMaggio, 1988) in addition to
what Spillman (2017) calls “policy-shaper,” by co-construct-
ing a public policy with multiple stakeholders and corralling
a new regulatory space (Souchaud, 2017).
Other types of “coopetitive meta-organizations” are out
there, in the forms of patent pools, for instance, or research-
oriented meta-organizations. Do such meta-organizations
escape free riders, or are they victims of the paradox of col-
lective action that Olson (1971) already identified for indi-
vidual-based collective action? Meta-organizations combine
three potential levels of coopetitive strategies: meta-organi-
zational, organizational (members), and individual (repre-
sentatives of member organizations). This may result in
multilevel conflicts of interest that may in return affect meta-
organizations’ functioning. A stream of research in coopeti-
tion addresses the issue of tensions and paradoxes of
collective action (Fernandez & Chiambaretto, 2016;
Tidström, 2014). We think such frameworks can also be
fruitfully applied to coopetitive meta-organizations.
Toward a Normative Approach of Meta-
Organizations and Sustainability
Finally, in line with Spillman’s call to study the contextual con-
ditions under which meta-organizations activities become con-
sequential, we suggest to work toward a more normative
approach of meta-organizations and their contribution to the
Berkowitz and Bor 209
governance of sustainability. Furthermore, to date, little research
has thoroughly examined the key issue of meta-organizations’
performance, especially in this perspective of sustainability.
Meta-organizations may help address major socioenvi-
ronmental challenges such as climate change (Chaudhury
et al., 2016). Although some literature has outlined the
importance of studying governance in the transition to sus-
tainability (Leal Filho et al., 2016; Turnheim & Geels, 2013),
few studies focus on meta-organizations’ role in this transi-
tion. Yet they can act as a multistakeholder and distributed
governance device that defines and diffuses sustainable prac-
tices (Berkowitz, 2016; Berkowitz et al., 2016). More empir-
ical and conceptual research is needed to understand how
meta-organizations may facilitate transition to sustainability
and how they interact with other governance devices to
tackle grand challenges (Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015).
Further developing such a model of sustainable gover-
nance through meta-organizations would also require assess-
ing their conditions of performance. Little work has managed
to address this issue, partly due to the challenge of accessing
empirical data. Indeed, meta-organizations have no obliga-
tion of transparency, nor of monitoring. As we have shown
earlier, they multiply, coexist, and affect members in varied
combined ways. In addition, existing performance instru-
ments and accounting methods that apply to organizations
made of individuals may not directly apply to meta-organiza-
tions. Therefore, we would need to develop new theoretical
and managerial tools to assess meta-organizations’ contribu-
tion to sustainability transition.
The first step would consist in framing what is being
assessed. Meta-organizational performance as efficiency is
hard to evaluate. It may be fruitful to think of it in terms of
effectiveness, rather than efficiency (Ostroff & Schmitt,
1993). As producers of information, meta-organizations’
effectiveness for members depends upon various dimen-
sions: influence on regulation, sectoral diffusion of industrial
norms and standards, reputation management, corporate
social responsibility capacity building, enhanced industry
sustainability, and so on.
The second step would require developing tools to evaluate
contributions to these dimensions. Mathieu, Verhoest, and
Matthys (2016) propose a tool to assess participation to legis-
lation of multiple regulatory actors, using for instance level of
coordination. A similar tool could be transposed to study meta-
organizations’ multiple functions. Another fruitful venue
could be to explore network performance models applied to
meta-organizations, developing for instance multilevel score-
cards (Vesalainen & Autio, 2017). Assessing impacts on mem-
bers in terms of norm adoption or collective sustainability
enhancement calls for developing not only such standardized
quantitative measurement techniques but also more qualitative
measures. What is at stake is the ability to systemically com-
pare meta-organizations for further theoretical developments
and to identify conditions for sustainable governance.
As we show in this article, the “European School” of meta-
organization is a dynamic and diverse community. The con-
cept of meta-organization, as developed by the school,
overcomes the focus on heteroclite manifestations of interor-
ganizational forms and has therefore a strong analytical
power. Ongoing research projects undertaken internationally
would benefit from a common agenda and a collective effort.
In this article, we attempted to identify and frame some of
these common venues to bridge the gap between the European
and American research communities.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the Conférence des Grandes
Ecoles, Kone Foundation and Foundation for Economic Ecducation
(Liikesivistys) for their support during the writing of this article.
They are also grateful to the Editor, Nelson Phillips, and the anony-
mous reviewers for their help and supportive comments.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article:Héloïse
Berkowitz has received funding from Conférence des Grandes
Ecoles for a mobility at Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals
during the writing of this article. Sanne Bor has received funding
from Kone Foundation and Foundation for Economic Education
(Liikesivistysrahasto) during the writing of this article.
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... Given the increasing need for collective actions in confronting the world's sustainability-related challenges (Ahrne and Brunsson 2008;Spillman 2018), "meta-organizations" (i.e., organizations which are themselves members of other entities) has witnessed a growing research interest. By uniting diverse stake holders (Berkowitz 2018), raising public awareness about sustainability, condemning multinational companies' lack of responsibility (Carmagnac and Carbone 2019), and through quality control (Gulati, Puranam, and Tushman 2012), meta-organizations create a stage for taking collective actions against reckless business practices (Ahrne and Brunsson 2008;Berkowitz et al. 2018). "Meta-organizing" (a.k.a. ...
... "Meta-organizing" (a.k.a. "meta-governance") is a coordinated collective action at the industry level (Berkowitz 2018;Berkowitz et al. 2018), which is a necessity for development (Berkowitz 2018) and for winning in emerging economies (Khanna and Palepu 2010). Although meta-organized firms may lack a formal authority, or consensus on standards for collaboration (Chaudhury et al. 2016), the role of the architects in binding these organizations through communications and delivering the desired objectives has been emphasized (Gulati, Puranam, and Tushman 2012). ...
... The role of such meta-organizations in collectively building members' capabilities is also emphasized. Yet, meta-organizations lack the necessary resources to carefully monitor their members, or the authority to punish them (Ahrne and Brunsson 2008); hence they are partial organizations (Ahrne and Brunsson 2011;Berkowitz 2018;Berkowitz et al. 2018). ...
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This paper offers a conceptual overview of the role of meta-organizations in environmental sustainability in an under-researched context of Africa. The current paper is one of the few studies to offer a specific differentiation concerning meta-organizations concerning environmental sustainability in developed vs. emerging economies' settings. Then the paper further offers an in-depth assessment of meta-organizations' role in environmental sustainability in Africa, with reference to major hurdles in this concern. Our analysis reveals several problems with business only meta-organizations in Africa, which significantly limit meta-organizations' role in ensuring environmental sustainability in this region. These problems include competing interests resulting in failure to accommodate multiple stakeholders, lack of responsible investing and environmental stewardship, along with institutional voids. Finally, the paper offers several solutions, implications, along with pinpointing specific areas of research related to meta-organizations and sustainability in Africa, that future studies can pursue.
... Owing to their opacity and discursive strategies, meta-organizations can escape responsibility attribution or strategically shift responsibility to specific actors (Carmagnac et al. 2022). We understand relatively little about their positive or negative contributions to sustainability (Berkowitz & Bor, 2018;Carmagnac et al., 2022). Against this backdrop, gaining responsible actorhood means that meta-organizations must become accountable for their decisions as an autonomous actor, and further for their socio-environmental impacts. ...
... Meta-organizations therefore constitute organizations where social orders and decision-making processes are layered (Grothe-Hammer et al., 2021). This has implications for accountability: it can make it difficult to set accountability mechanisms as member organizations can deny responsibility, but also simply to understand who is accountable to whom and how (Berkowitz & Bor, 2018). This is particularly the case in the absence of actorhood. ...
... Metaorganizations are voluntary associations of members that are themselves organizations (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2008). Owing to their high dependence on their members to whom they provide services (Berkowitz & Bor, 2018), meta-organizations may naturally imply some form of accountability systems. But accountability is also necessarily multidirectional in meta-organizations (ibid). ...
... The main focus of theory development has been on validating and elaborating the defining features of a meta-organization. Although recognized as an important issue to explore, less attention has been paid to the ways in which metaorganizations vary (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2008;Berkowitz & Bor, 2018;Berkowitz, Brunsson, Grothe-Hammer, Sundberg, & Valiorgue, 2022). Garaudel (2020) proposed two approaches to theorizing such variation. ...
... One dimension of variation identified is resourcing (Berkowitz & Bor, 2018;Bor, 2014;Bor & Cropper, 2016). While acknowledging that resources are intrinsic to an organization, Ahrne and Brunsson (2008) assume that, in the case of meta-organizations, the availability of resources is essentially unproblematic and therefore leave that area largely unexplored. ...
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Meta-organization theory has shied away from a systematic consideration of the complexities and consequences of resource acquisition patterns, instead assuming member organizations furnish the resources their associations require. The theory reflects empirical enquiry, which has focused primarily on the most visible form of resources, the association’s finance budget and staffing. This paper develops a conceptual framework to show the wider range of ways in which meta-organizations acquire resources and presents a resource-flow perspective. We utilize insights from resource dependency theory to specify two dimensions of resource flow. The first addresses the source of resources, distinguishing those acquired from the meta-organization's membership from those acquired from external interests. The second concerns whether the meta-organization secures control over the use and allocation of acquired resources, or not. We identify four resource flows utilizing these two dimensions: member resourcing, associational resourcing, contributed resourcing and generated resourcing, and discuss how each resource flow relate to meta-organizational activity, highlighting when a particular flow can be expected. The resource-flow perspective allows us to adapt existing typologies to define a conceptual space onto which variations among meta-organizations can be mapped. This space focuses on the expected level of resource engagement of members in the meta-organization and the extent of resource contribution from interests in the meta-organization's environment. Finally, we discuss areas for development of the resource-flow perspective and its potential to support future research.
... If organizations seek to collaborate effectively, they must therefore recognize they cannot exercise power and control over others and should commit to not exploiting or abusing others when the opportunity to do so presents itself (Todeva and Knoke 2005). Precisely because participants do not have authority over each other, collaboratives need to come up with solutions based on mutual agreement, resulting from dialogue and negotiation (Berkowitz and Bor 2018). As such, in the VSV and IGO collaborations, coordination did not take place in a one-directional fashion; rather, it occurred in dialogue with each other. ...
... The hospital, as a member of the collaborative, decided to provide the obstetricians and maternity care assistants with materials (A2/B3). This resonates well with Berkowitz and Bor (2018), who argue that when members of a collaborative organization are themselves in control of the resources, decisions are made in a more horizontal manner. Such learning behaviors (e.g., taking over work, thinking along) and conditions (i.e., trust and support) encourage collective learning and enhance collaborative work (cf. ...
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The success factors and challenges of interorganizational collaboration have been widely studied from different disciplinary perspectives. However, the role of design in making such collaborations resilient has received little attention, although deliberately designing for resilience is likely to be vital to the success of any interorganizational collaboration. This study explores the resilience of interorganizational collaboration by means of a comparative case study of Dutch maternity care providers, which have been facing major challenges due to financial cutbacks, government-enforced collaborative structures, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings make two contributions to the literature. First, we further develop the construct of interorganizational resilience. Second, we shed light on how well-designed distributed decision-making enhances resilience, thereby making a first attempt at meeting the challenge of designing for interorganizational resilience.
... supra). Il semble alors que le choix de 5C d'opter pour une structure de type méta-organisationnel ne soit pas anodin à cet égard (Berkowitz et Bor, 2018 ;Lapoutte, 2021). Contrairement à d'autres stratégies d'alliances (telle que la fusion ou l'acquisition), la méta-organisation a en effet cela de particulier qu'elle regroupe des organisations sans en faire disparaître et sans instaurer ...
... Creating meta-organisations (MOs), that is to say organisations whose members are themselves organisations, can be one collective strategy to gain legitimacy (Ahrne and Brunsson, 2005;Esparza et al., 2014). MOs aim at influencing their environment (Berkowitz and Bor, 2017) through three main objectives: interaction among members, collective action among members and creation of collective identity (Ahrne and Brunsson, 2008). ...
Labour Market Intermediaries (LMIs) with a social purpose, or Labour Market Social Innovation, are bubbling since the 1980s due to the fragmentation of labour standards and the growing number of “non-standard forms of work”. However, they face an important lack of legitimacy especially in countries like France where labour market is highly regulated. Analysing the legitimation trajectories two profit-limited LMIs, the Employers’ Associations and the Business and the Employment Cooperatives in France, we highlight the role of meta-organisations and some key factors of success and failure.
... there is no shared agreement about the definition of meta-organisation among scholars. From one side, the "European School" of meta-organisations (Berkowitz and Bor 2018) takes inspiration from the pioneering works of Brunsson (2005, 2008) who defined the phenomenon of meta-organisations as «formal organisations organising other formal organisations» (Berkowitz et al., 2022, p. 1) Moreover, there is another school of thought following Gulati's interpretation (Gulati et al. 2012) that introduced meta-organisations as collective actions -taken not only by organisations themselves but also by individualswithout any formal authority aiming to a system-level goals. Put simply, whereas the European School define meta-organisations as organisations coming together to create new formal decision-making structures; the other scholars do not necessitate structures to define meta-organisation because only the collective action is crucial. ...
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CORAL ESRs developed a web-based Glossary about key-terms and concepts of the project. The glossary marks the end of the theoretical phase of the PhDs. From social innovation, rural creative class, hybrid CWS to social entrepreneurship, precariousness, and remote work in rural areas, the glossary aspires to help scholars navigate coworking studies that cut across a wide variety of disciplines and sources.
The value of a digital platform (DP) can only be achieved through the coordinated actions of participating sides. Therefore, the question of how platform owners can coordinate multiple side actions is central. By positioning platform sides as part of the DP organization rather than viewing DP as a market or technological architecture, we highlight the differences in platform sides and how these differences must be acknowledged and managed as they are a source of misalignment among platform sides. Given that DP owners do not possess formal power over the sides (they are free to join other DPs simultaneously), our study demonstrates how a DP owner, in addition to putting in place structures to enable or constrain certain actions of platform sides, must also influence their narrowing of possibilities of action toward achieving coordinated actions. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to offer a process model of digital platform coordination that explains digital platform coordination in terms of the contextual conditions (when platform sides could enact their agency), the mechanisms of the platform sides’ agency enactment and digital orienting (an expanded repertoire of actions in coordinating platform sides through technology), and the resultant outcome.
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Meta-organizations form to advance collective action. But collective action can be more difficult to coordinate for meta-organizations comprising governmental agencies or sovereign states, with system-level objectives often conflicting. These challenges can be more binding during a crisis, where the responses called for are outside of the original reason for the meta-organization's existence. We advance a framework for conceptualizing meta-organizations that focuses on both internal attributes and external perceptions and suggests how each may help or hinder meta-organization influence during a crisis. Using as a case study the response of the European Union (EU) to COVID-19 and, specifically, to air travel restrictions at the outbreak of the pandemic, we show how meta-organizations can have difficulties in responding expeditiously to crises, particularly when encountering contradictory system-level goals. We argue that meta-organizations must plan for crises during less turbulent times, developing the processes that contribute to the gradual creation of new system-level goals.
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Bireyleri ortak bir amaç etrafında örgütleyen ve sayıları giderek artan örgütlerle birlikte; bu örgütler de aynı zamanda üyelerinin diğer biçimsel örgütler olduğu örgütler şeklinde tanımlanan meta-örgütler şeklinde örgütlenmektedir. Bu çalışmanın amacı, örgüt çalışmaları alanında 2005-2022 yılları arasında meta-örgütlenme yazınının nasıl evirildiğini ortaya koymaktır. Meta-örgütler ve meta-örgütlenme yazınındaki üretim dinamiklerinin incelendiği 59 çalışmadan yola çıkarak, ortaya konulan bilimsel bilgi birikiminde öne çıkan kriterler tanımlanmakta, amaç ve işlevler, meta-örgütlerin oluşumu ve dinamikleri ile çevre ilişkileri esas alınarak değerlendirilmektedir. Bulgularımız, mevcut yazının farklı ekollerin varlığı nedeniyle parçalı bir görünüm gösterdiğini vurgularken; meta-örgütlerin birbirinden farklılaşması, değişim ve dinamikleri, eylem ve sonuçları üzerine çalışmaların büyük zorluklar (grand challenges) bağlamında, örgüt kuramları yazını ile bütünleştirilerek önemli bir araştırma potansiyeli taşıdığı söylenebilir.
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Qualifiée par les uns de « divine surprise » ou par les autres d’« inconséquence dramatique », l’ouverture d’une dérogation au monopole bancaire sur le crédit au bénéfice des plateformes adoptant le nouveau statut d’Intermédiaire en financement participatif (IFP) a constitué un véritable coup de tonnerre demeuré en grande partie inexpliqué. Nous chercherons ici à comprendre ce qui a permis d’aboutir en un temps record à l’apparition d’une brèche réglementaire dans le monopole bancaire. Les principaux résultats de notre recherche sont les suivants : - le monopole bancaire sur le crédit était un principe de régulation dont la légitimité, sur le plan intellectuel, était presque unanimement reconnue comme étant extrêmement fragile ; - l’association professionnelle des plateformes a présenté sa démarche de coconstruction du secteur comme étant un élément de réponse mis à la disposition des pouvoirs publics dans leur combat contre la crise ; - un dirigeant de l’une de ces plateformes s’est révélé être un entrepreneur institutionnel redoutable assumant de son propre chef le rôle de nomothète du nouvel incubateur régulatoire proposé ; - les cabinets ministériels et présidentiel se sont investis dans cette problématique d’une manière extrêmement active et singulière ; - les partisans naturels du monopole bancaire sont restés, quant à eux, divisés, désarmés et indécis quant à la position à adopter dans la négociation.
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Titre: Les méta-organisations rendent-elles performatif le développement durable ? Stratégies collectives dans le secteur pétrolier Mots-clé: performativité, développement durable, méta-organisations, secteur pétrolier, océans Résumé: Située à l’intersection de la recherche en stratégie et de la théorie des organisations, la thèse s’intéresse à la manière dont une idée, émise par des instances internationales sous la forme d’une doctrine imprécise, le développement durable, a transformé en profondeur la stratégie, le fonctionnement et la nature même des entreprises. Pour comprendre ce phénomène, la recherche mobilise la notion de performativité, c’est-à-dire la capacité d’une théorie à créer la réalité qu’elle décrit. Mais toutes les théories ou doctrines ne performent pas les comportements des acteurs et trois conditions de performativité ont été identifiées. Lorsque ces conditions sont réunies, deux processus de performativité peuvent intervenir, par cadrage et par débordement. Le développement durable peut donc performer les pratiques si cette doctrine est transformée en principes opérationnalisables (première condition), incorporés dans des dispositifs à différents niveaux, de la méta-organisation au dispositif micro-local dans les firmes (deuxième) et que ces dispositifs sont performants ou deviennent incontournables (troisième). Parmi les dispositifs étudiés au niveau de la deuxième condition, l’accent a été mis sur les méta-organisations (des organisations dont les membres sont des organisations). La thèse constitue la première recherche empirique sur le rôle de ces dispositifs d’action collective dans un secteur industriel, le secteur pétrolier. La méthodologie est compréhensive, s’appuyant sur 80 entretiens semi-directifs, sur la construction d’une base de données de 100 méta-organisations et la mise en place d’un dispositif de recherche intervention sur le problème du bruit marin. La thèse a mis en évidence des formes nouvelles de méta-organisations, thématiques et multi-parties prenantes, opérant comme un espace de négociation interorganisationnelle, comme dispositif stratégique de légitimation des firmes et comme dispositif normalisateur participant d’une gouvernance distribuée. La notion de performativité a été précisée par la mise en évidence de ses conditions de réussite et des deux processus qu’elle peut emprunter. La théorie des méta-organisations a été prolongée par l’identification des types jusque-là peu étudiés. La thèse a ainsi des implications managériales pour l’élaboration de stratégies collectives par les firmes. Title: Do meta-organizations make Sustainable Development performative? Collective strategies in the oil and gas sector Keywords: performativity, sustainable development, meta-organizations, oil and gas, oceans Abstract: Drawing on research in strategy and organization theory, this thesis focuses on the way an idea that was formulated by international instances as an imprecise doctrine – sustainable development, still managed to deeply change firms’ strategy, practices and even nature. This research uses the concept of performativity, i.e. the capacity of a theory to create the reality that it describes. However, all theories or doctrines do not necessarily succeed to perform behaviors and the thesis identifies three conditions of performativity. When the conditions are met, two performa-tivity processes can occur, a framing and an overflowing process. Sustainable development can perform practices if it becomes actionable principles (first condition), if these principles are incorporated in devices at different levels, from meta-organizations to micro-local instruments in firms (second) and if these devices are efficient or irremediable (third). Among the studied devices, the thesis emphasizes the role of meta-organizations, organizations which members are them-selves organizations. The thesis constitutes the first empirical survey of this collective action device’s role in an industrial sector, the oil and gas. Using a comprehensive methodology, data collection consisted in 80 semi-structured interviews, constructing a database of about 100 meta-organizations and setting up an intervention-research device on the emerging issue of marine sound. The thesis highlights new forms, thematic and multi-stakeholder, that act like an inter-organizational negotiation space, as a strategic device for the legitimization of firms’ activities, and as a normalizing device participating to a distributed governance of business conduct and society. The thesis clarifies the concept of performativity by identifying its conditions of success and the two processes it can follow. The thesis also contributes to the literature on meta-organizations by showing its empirical diversity and by identifying types that we knew little about before. As such, the thesis has managerial implications for collective strategies of firms.
This article explores and elucidates the activities of transnational networks as regulatory intermediaries. Specifically, I examine their role in the regulation of banks, as far as they facilitate exchanges between global regulators (GRs)—such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision or the Financial Stability Board—and local regulators (LRs), such as national regulatory agencies or legislatures. I find that transgovernmental network intermediaries produce benefits both for GRs, which employ them to disseminate their rules; and for LRs, which use them to obtain influence, advice, and information. Networks promote collaborative intermediation horizontally, without compromising sovereignty, and require only soft organizational structures with low operational costs. Network intermediation is a key ingredient in facilitating local regulatory activities and in providing tools and cognitive resources to LRs. Network intermediaries blur the global-local boundary, however, as some of their members operate as LRs and simultaneously participate directly in GRs.
Conference Paper
This article is an exploration of the ways in which 'resourcing' – the way in which resources are acquired or made available – contributes to the character, capacity and governance of a meta-organization, a function of which is collective action. Resourcing forms, we argue, a constitutive element of meta-organization that should be considered in understanding meta-organization design and governance. We consider the treatment of resourcing of inter-organizational forms in meta-organization theory and also in adjacent literatures on strategic alliances and 'whole networks'. Our analysis considers resources in two ways, although we place the main emphasis on the resourcing of the meta-organization. The acquisition of resources by the meta-organization, or alternatively, the contribution of resources to the meta-organization has been given limited attention in the emerging theoretical literature (Ahrne and Brunsson, 2005, 2008; Gulati, Puranam, et al., 2012). Here, and with echoes of resource dependency theory (Pfeffer and Salancik, 2003), we consider how the source of resources (from member organizations or from external stakeholders) and the meta-organization's degree control or discretion over the resources contributed are related to the nature of the meta-organization and to the facets of formal organization that have been emphasised by Ahrne and Brunnson, especially. These other essential/constitutive elements of meta-organization include membership and boundaries, centre of authority and decision-making, and accountability, monitoring and sanctioning. We draw on Gulati, Wohlgezogen, et al's (2012) distinction between 'cooperation' and 'coordination' to locate this discussion about the design and governance of meta-organization. We conclude that the source and the control over resources are important elements which can explain some of the organizing of meta-organizations. We also raise, more tentatively, some arguments about the ways in which the properties of resources might affect governance – and especially aspects of coordination. In particular, we note that different types of resource contribution might be expected to create issues for the way in which (collective) value is produced.
The idea of strategic networks was first presented in 1980s when Jarillo (1988) and others argued that rather than between firms, competition is something that occurs between networks. After all these years there still seems to be one question unanswered: How does one define and capture what is good or excellent level of performance for a network? The point of departure for this development project was our partner firm’s interest in getting a comprehensive view of its network’s current state. The value that was expected to be realized was an improved focus on network-level development by making explicit the network-level performance and the mechanisms that have an effect on this performance. In this chapter, we present the theoretical grounding for comprehensive network performance evaluation, show results of a pilot study conducted in four supplier networks, and outline the managerial practices by which this kind of information becomes valuable in network settings.
This article summarizes a cultural perspective on trade associations and its implications for understanding their organizational features, roles, and functions. I suggest that fruitful future research should examine over time the conditions under which particular association activities become consequential, and compare trade association organization with other forms of econonomic governance and nonprofit association.
We explore the organizational characteristics of trade associations (TAs) and suggest theoretical approaches for undertaking research into or involving TAs in management and organization studies. Through emphasizing the role of TAs within and between industries and at the interface of business and society, we consider how TAs generate meaning and influence.