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As well as review the literature on the notion of institutional entrepreneurship introduced by Paul DiMaggio in 1988, we propose a model of the process of institutional entrepreneurship. We first present theoretical and definitional issues associated with the concept and propose a conceptual account of institutional entrepreneurship that helps to accommodate them. We then present the different phases of the process of institutional entrepreneurship from the emergence of institutional entrepreneurs to their implementation of change. Finally, we highlight future directions for research on institutional entrepreneurship, and conclude with a discussion of its role in strengthening institutional theory as well as, more broadly, the field of organization studies.
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2 How Actors Change Institutions: Towards a Theory of Institutional
Entrepreneurship
Julie Battilana a; Bernard Leca b; Eva Boxenbaum c
a Harvard Business School, b Groupe ESC Rouen, c Copenhagen Business School,
First Published on: 01 June 2009
To cite this Article Battilana, Julie, Leca, Bernard and Boxenbaum, Eva(2009)'2 How Actors Change Institutions: Towards a Theory of
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© 2009 Academy of Management
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2
How Actors Change Institutions:
Towards a Theory of Institutional Entrepreneurship
JULIE BATTILANA
*
Harvard Business School
BERNARD LECA
Groupe ESC Rouen
EVA BOXENBAUM
Copenhagen Business School
Taylor and Francis LtdRAMA_A_404532.sgm10.1080/19416520903053598Academy of Management Annals1941-6520 (print)/1941-6067(online)Original Article2009Taylor & Francis310000002009JulieBattilanajbattilana@hbs.edu
Abstract
As well as review the literature on the notion of institutional entrepreneurship
introduced by Paul DiMaggio in 1988, we propose a model of the process of
institutional entrepreneurship. We first present theoretical and definitional
issues associated with the concept and propose a conceptual account of institu-
tional entrepreneurship that helps to accommodate them. We then present the
different phases of the process of institutional entrepreneurship from the emer-
gence of institutional entrepreneurs to their implementation of change. Finally,
we highlight future directions for research on institutional entrepreneurship,
*
Corresponding author. Email: jbattilana@hbs.edu
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and conclude with a discussion of its role in strengthening institutional theory
as well as, more broadly, the field of organization studies.
Introduction
With most countries facing a major financial and economic crisis, the ques-
tion of how to reform existing institutions has assumed greater urgency. The
demand for institutional change is increasing among organization members
and citizens the world over. Efforts to change them, however, face institutions’
strong power of inertia. Recognizing that institutional change is a complex
process involving different types of forces and agents, we argue that it is our
responsibility as scholars to explain not only how institutions influence actors’
behavior, but also how these actors might, in turn, influence, and possibly
change, institutions. Actors who initiate changes that contribute to transform-
ing existing, or creating new, institutions have been termed institutional
entrepreneurs by DiMaggio, who introduced the notion in 1988. This paper
examines the process of institutional entrepreneurship. As well as review the
literature, we propose a model that considers the process of institutional
entrepreneurship from the emergence of institutional entrepreneurs to the
implementation and possible institutionalization of the changes they initiate.
Building on Eisenstadt (1980), DiMaggio (1988) introduced the notion of
institutional entrepreneurship in institutional analysis in an effort to explain
how actors can contribute to changing institutions despite pressures towards
stasis (Holm, 1995; Seo & Creed, 2002), thereby reintroducing actors’ agency
to institutional analysis. Whereas early institutional studies (Selznick, 1949,
1957) did account for actors’ agency, later studies tended to overlook the role
of actors in institutional change, focusing instead on the influence of exoge-
nous shocks. The notion of institutional entrepreneurship thus emerged as a
new avenue of research into endogenous explanations of institutional change.
The literature on institutional entrepreneurship subsequently grew exponen-
tially. The more than 60 book chapters and articles on the subject published in
peer reviewed journals in North America and Europe over the past decade,
including the first mapping of the field of institutional entrepreneurship
(Hardy & Maguire, 2008), testify to the literature’s rise in institutional analysis
as a central stream of research. Whereas early institutional studies considered
mainly the constraints under which actors operate and other effects of institu-
tions on actors, works on institutional entrepreneurship aimed to build a
theory of action. DiMaggio and Powell (1991) explicitly called for the develop-
ment of such a coherent theory of action, the lack of which was institutional
theory’s core weakness. When it came to explaining change, the role of actors
and action in the creation, diffusion, and stabilization of institutions was
unclear (Christensen, Karnøe, Pedersen, & Dobbin, 1997; Dacin, Goodstein,
& Scott, 2002). The challenge was thus to develop a theory of action that, albeit
based on the tenets of institutional theory (Fligstein, 1997, p. 397), would
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67
avoid the notion of individuals as over-socialized and slavishly devoted to the
reproduction of habits (Powell & Colyvas, 2008).
The principle remaining obstacle to the introduction of agency to institu-
tional theory is the “paradox of embedded agency” (Holm, 1995; Seo & Creed,
2002), which refers to the tension between institutional determinism and
agency. If our norms and collective beliefs are institutionally determined, how
can human agency be a factor in institutional change? Research on institu-
tional entrepreneurship has consequently been criticized for being over-
voluntaristic, that is, for ignoring the influence of institutional pressures on
actors’ behaviors that is the very essence of institutional theory. The criticism
pertains to the portrayal of institutional entrepreneurs as a particular “species”
of overly rational and disembedded agents (Meyer, 2006, p. 732) who behave
as “heroes”. Following this line of reasoning, the notion of institutional entre-
preneurship would have been presented as a “Deus Ex Machina” (Delmestri,
2006, p. 1536–1537) that unskillfully reintroduced actors to institutional
change. Such a simplistic introduction of agency into institutional theory
would have undermined the efforts made in the 1980s and 1990s to refine
institutional theory into a powerful alternative to the multitude of agency-
focused theories that dominated organizational analysis.
Acknowledging the risk of reverting to accounts of heroism and limitless
human agency, we nevertheless argue that the concept of institutional entre-
preneurship should be central to future developments of institutional theory
because it enables us to explore actors’ degrees of agency, however institution-
ally embedded human agency might be. The present paper proposes a model
of the process of institutional entrepreneurship that builds on a comprehen-
sive review of the institutional entrepreneurship literature.
1
Our aim is to
strengthen the theoretical foundation of institutional entrepreneurship and
thereby help to develop a theory of action that accounts for actors’ embedded-
ness in their institutional environment. We first address definitional and the-
oretical issues associated with the concept of institutional entrepreneurship.
We propose a conceptual account that views institutional entrepreneurs as
change agents who initiate divergent changes, that is, changes that break the
institutional status quo in a field of activity and thereby possibly contribute to
transforming existing institutions or creating new ones.
We derive from this conceptual account different phases of the process of
institutional entrepreneurship. Identifying the factors that enable the emer-
gence of institutional entrepreneurship despite institutional pressures
towards stasis is the first step towards setting up a theoretical foundation for
institutional entrepreneurship. We distinguish two key categories of enabling
conditions, namely, field characteristics and actors’ social position. We then
present the key activities in which institutional entrepreneurs engage when
implementing divergent change including the articulation of a vision of
change and the mobilization of allies to support the vision. We highlight the
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specific challenges institutional entrepreneurs face relative to other change
agents with respect to developing, and mobilizing support for, a vision of
change. Because they initiate divergent changes, that is, changes that break
with existing institutions, institutional entrepreneurs face specific challenges
arising from other actors’ institutional embeddedness and possible political
opposition. Finally, we present emerging avenues of research on institutional
entrepreneurship, and argue that they will have important theoretical as well
as practical implications not only in the field of institutional theory, but also,
more broadly, in the field of organization theory.
Definitional and Theoretical Issues
The Concept of the Institutional Entrepreneur
Institutional entrepreneurs are actors who leverage resources to create new or
transform existing institutions (DiMaggio, 1988; Garud, Hardy, & Maguire,
2007; Maguire, Hardy, & Lawrence, 2004). They can be organizations or
groups of organizations (Garud, Jain, & Kumaraswamy, 2002; Greenwood,
Suddaby, & Hinings, 2002), or individuals or groups of individuals (Fligstein,
1997; Maguire et al., 2004). Eisenstadt (1980, p. 848) proposed that institu-
tional entrepreneurs were one variable, among a “constellation” of others, that
was relevant to the process of social change. In his work (Eisenstadt, 1964,
1980), institutional entrepreneurship is the adoption by individuals and
groups of leadership roles in episodes of institution building (Colomy, 1998).
Introducing the notion of institutional entrepreneurship in the framework of
institutional theory put more emphasis on the role of actors and agency in
institutional change processes. “New institutions arise…”, wrote DiMaggio
(1988, p. 14), “when organized actors with sufficient resources (institutional
entrepreneurs) see in them an opportunity to realize interests that they value
highly”. He thus revived dimensions of “old institutionalism” (Selznick, 1949,
1957) that had been de-emphasized in institutional studies conducted in the
1980s (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer, Scott, & Deal, 1983; Tolbert, 1985;
Tolbert & Zucker, 1983; Zucker, 1983).
Building on DiMaggio’s (1988) definition and subsequent studies of insti-
tutional entrepreneurship, we argue that institutional entrepreneurs are
change agents, but not all change agents are institutional entrepreneurs.
Actors, in our view, must fulfill two conditions to be regarded as institutional
entrepreneurs; (1) initiate divergent changes; and (2) actively participate in
the implementation of these changes. Only actors who initiate divergent
changes, that is, changes that break with the institutionalized template for
organizing within a given institutional context, can be regarded as institu-
tional entrepreneurs (Amis, Slack, & Hinings, 2004; Battilana, 2006;
D’Aunno, Succi, & Alexander, 2000; Greenwood & Hinings, 1996). The insti-
tutionalized template for organizing, often referred to as an institutional logic
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69
(Dobbin, 1994; Friedland & Alford, 1991; Scott, 1987, 1994; Suddaby &
Greenwood, 2005; Thornton, 2002, 2004), is a field’s shared understanding of
the goals to be pursued and how they are to be pursued. Non-divergent
changes are aligned with the institutions in a field, while divergent changes
break with them. Only when the changes introduced are divergent with refer-
ence to the institutional environment in which they are embedded do change
agents qualify as institutional entrepreneurs. Divergent change can be initi-
ated within the boundaries of an organization and/or within the broader insti-
tutional context in which an actor is embedded. Active participation in
change efforts is the other requirement for institutional entrepreneurship.
Actors must actively mobilize resources to implement change to be regarded
as institutional entrepreneurs.
We illustrate what we mean by initiating, and actively participating in the
implementation of, divergent change through examples of institutional entre-
preneurs in two contexts, Britain’s health care system and American law
firms. The first example is of individual actors, the second of an organization,
acting as institutional entrepreneurs. The institutional logic of medical profes-
sionalism is the dominant institutionalized template for organizing within the
UK’s National Health Service (NHS). According to this logic, physicians are
the key decision makers in the administrative and clinical domains (Giaimo,
2002). In this context, a clinical manager who initiates a change project aimed
at implementing nurse-led pre-admission clinics or nurse-led discharge in a
given hospital, thereby transferring both clinical tasks and some decision-
making authority from physicians to nurses, qualifies as an institutional entre-
preneur (Battilana, Cagna, D’Aunno, & Gilmartin, 2006) because the change
project diverges from the dominant institutionalized template of medical
professionalism in the UK health care sector. In contrast, a clinical manager
who initiates a change project aimed at centralizing information to enable
physicians to better control discharge decisions in a given hospital is a change
agent but not an institutional entrepreneur. The reason is that this change
project is aligned with the dominant institutionalized template for organizing
within the NHS (Battilana, 2007).
The introduction in the early 1980s of a new model for organizing within
US law firms is another example of institutional entrepreneurship (Sherer &
Lee, 2002). Previously, the institutionalized model for organizing within law
firms had been the Cravath model, the central component of which was the
up-or-out system, whereby, after a number of years (typically six), lawyers
were either promoted to partner or asked to leave the firm. In 1982, the highly
regarded New York law firm Davis, Polk and Wardell broke with the Cravath
model by creating a track for associates who did not make partner, and would
not go up again for this position. By implementing a change that diverged
from the institutionalized model for organizing within law firms, the law firm
Davis, Polk and Wardell effectively acted as an institutional entrepreneur.
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Although it contributes to our conceptual understanding, the definition of
institutional entrepreneurs as actors who initiate, and actively participate in
the implementation of, changes that diverge from existing institutions leaves
three questions unanswered: (1) must actors be
willing
to change the institu-
tional environment to be regarded as institutional entrepreneurs?; (2) how far
do actors have to go in the implementation of change to qualify as institu-
tional entrepreneurs?; (3) what is the difference between an entrepreneur and
an institutional entrepreneur? The first question deals with actors’ intention-
ality, that is, the intended effects of the changes they initiate. According to our
conceptual account, and aligned with DiMaggio’s (1988) definition, institu-
tional entrepreneurs are characterized by the volition to initiate change. This
leaves ambiguous, however, whether actors must be willing to initiate
diver-
gent
change to be regarded as institutional entrepreneurs. Studies of institu-
tional entrepreneurship vary with regard to specifying actors’ degree of
intentionality. Whereas early studies tended to consider that institutional
entrepreneurs purposively develop strategies aimed at trying to change their
institutional environments (Colomy, 1998; Colomy & Rhoades, 1994), more
recent studies suggest that their intentions can evolve at different steps of the
change process (Child, Lua, & Tsai, 2007), and that some actors might
unin-
tentionally
depart from the existing institutions in a field (Lounsbury &
Crumley, 2007). Agents without any grand plan for altering their institutions,
or even awareness that they are contributing to changes that diverge from
existing institutions, might thus end up acting as institutional entrepreneurs.
We thus define institutional entrepreneurs as change agents who, whether or
not they initially intended to change their institutional environment, initiate,
and actively participate in the implementation of, changes that diverge from
existing institutions.
The second question has to do with the effect of institutional entrepre-
neurs’ actions. We argue that, notwithstanding the requirement in the forego-
ing definition that they participate in the implementation of divergent change,
actors do not have to be successful in implementing such change to be consid-
ered institutional entrepreneurs. Actors, for example, who mobilize the
resources needed to introduce a new managerial practice, but fail to convince
potential adopters to change their routines, would still be considered institu-
tional entrepreneurs even though the change was ultimately not adopted.
Hence, sustainability managers in the Danish biotech company Novozymes
acted as institutional entrepreneurs when they attempted, unsuccessfully, to
introduce a bottom-of-the-pyramid orientation to sustainability in a company
recognized for its consistently high sustainability performance (Olsen &
Boxenbaum, 2009). Their goal was to develop low-cost products for emergent
markets in the developing world. This bottom-of-the-pyramid approach
broke with established organizational practice by pursuing business opportu-
nities that enhanced not only the company’s financial performance but also its
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71
social performance. The latter consisted in developing new products to allevi-
ate hunger, improve nutrition, or prevent the spread of HIV in disadvantaged
regions of the world, concerns that were not traditionally integrated into
either the company’s product development routines or its corporate sustain-
ability function. The sustainability managers mobilized the needed resources,
but were prevented by an interlocking pattern of cognitive, structural, and
processual barriers from convincing actors in the line of business to imple-
ment the novel practice. As DiMaggio (1988) suggests, such failures to imple-
ment divergent change must be quite common, yet they are rarely reported in
the institutionalist literature (Greenwood et al., 2002).
The third question deals with the similarities and differences in the con-
cepts of entrepreneurs and institutional entrepreneurs. Although the past
decade has seen the publication of many papers on institutional entrepreneur-
ship, surprisingly few discuss the links and potential overlaps between the
concepts of entrepreneurship and institutional entrepreneurship (for excep-
tions, see Hwang and Powell (2005) and Phillips and Tracey (2007)). The
creation of new ventures, which is the defining characteristic of entrepreneurs
(Lumpkin & Dess, 1996), can follow existing business models or generate new
ones (Aldrich, 1999; Aldrich & Fiol, 1994). By our definition of institutional
entrepreneurship, only when they generate new business models can entre-
preneurs be regarded as institutional entrepreneurs. Peter Walker and his
son, Andrew, in creating and managing the Peter Walker & Son brewery in
Liverpool in the second half of the nineteenth century, were entrepreneurs.
But whereas public houses (i.e., outlets licensed by the state to sell alcohol for
consumption on the premises) were run by nominally independent tenants,
Peter Walker & Son employed salaried managers who were liable to instant
dismissal (Mutch, 2007). In employing a business model that diverged from
one that was dominant in the field at that time, the Walkers acted as institu-
tional entrepreneurs.
Institutional entrepreneurship, as this example illustrates, clearly resonates
with the research tradition that views entrepreneurs as agents who create
new business models for the businesses they start (Lumpkin & Dess, 1996;
Schumpeter, 1934). The actions and decisions of entrepreneurs who act as
institutional entrepreneurs diverge from the templates used in the institutional
environment. The innovative business models they deploy, insofar as they
influence the institutional conditions under which others will operate, might
have important implications for entrepreneurs who will follow (Haveman,
1993). We thus argue that the concept of entrepreneur overlaps that of insti-
tutional entrepreneur, the distinction being that institutional entrepreneurs
introduce business models that diverge from the predominant model in the
institutional environment, a feature not required of entrepreneurs. Institu-
tional entrepreneurs, however, are not necessarily entrepreneurs as launching
a new venture is not an essential element of institutional entrepreneurship.
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In summary, we propose that institutional entrepreneurs, whether organi-
zations or individuals, are agents who initiate, and actively participate in the
implementation of, changes that diverge from existing institutions, indepen-
dent of whether the initial intent was to change the institutional environment
and whether the changes were successfully implemented. Such changes
might be initiated within the boundaries of an organization or within the
broader institutional context, within which the actor is embedded. Finally,
although entrepreneurs who create business models that diverge from exist-
ing institutions might also be institutional entrepreneurs, creating a new ven-
ture is neither necessary nor sufficient to qualify an actor as an institutional
entrepreneur.
Agency within Institutional Theory
Within the tenets of institutional theory, the concept of institutional entrepre-
neurship, as defined earlier, seems paradoxical. The question of how organiza-
tions or individuals whose beliefs and actions are determined by existing
institutions can break with these very same institutions and innovate relates to
the
paradox of embedded agency
, which alludes to the tension between agency
and structure (institutions) (Holm, 1995; Seo & Creed, 2002). The agency
versus structure debate, which stems from assumptions about relationships
between actors and their environment, is ongoing in the field of organization
studies (Archer, 1982), particularly in the field of institutional theory, in
which it has been a source of contention among institutionalists (Heugens &
Lander, 2009).
Organization theories are based on different assumptions regarding actors’
agency, that is, their ability to intentionally pursue interests and exert some
effect on their social environment (Scott, 2001). In the late 1960s, 1970s, and
early 1980s, a number of organization theories, including the collective-action
and strategic choice views (for a review, see Astley and Van de Ven (1983))
and economic theories of organization, such as public-choice theory, agency
theory, and the new institutional economics, tended to isolate organizations
from their societal context and focus on analyzing actors’ decisions. Institu-
tional theory, contrary to theories that neglected the impact of actors’ envi-
ronments on their individual preferences, decisions, and behaviors, suggests
that patterns of action and organization are shaped by institutions, not solely
by instrumental calculations (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Meyer & Rowan,
1977). It proposes that their behaviors are determined by actors’ need to be
regarded as legitimate in their institutional environment. Accordingly, during
the 1980s, institutional theory was used primarily to explain the observed
organizational homogeneity within organizational fields (DiMaggio & Powell,
1983; Tolbert & Zucker, 1983). Although they contributed to the field of orga-
nization studies by highlighting the importance of the environment in which
organizations are embedded, and explaining the observed isomorphism
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73
among organizations subject to similar institutional pressures, these studies
were soon criticized for relying on an over-socialized view of action, and not
accounting for institutional change (Hirsch & Lounsbury, 1997).
Although it has emerged as a promising way to account for the active role
of individual and organizational actors in institutional change, the notion of
institutional entrepreneurship has nevertheless spawned controversy, being
criticized by some institutionalists for promoting an instrumental and disem-
bedded view of agency that is, arguably, incompatible with institutional theory
(Delmestri, 2006; Meyer, 2006). The challenge for institutional researchers is
thus to precisely account, within the tenets of institutional theory, for the role
of embedded actors in institutional change processes (Dacin, Ventresca, &
Beal, 1999). To elaborate a view of agency within the tenets of institutional
theory implies a departure from models of rational choice and accounting
for agency as situated (Mutch, Delbridge, & Ventresca, 2006). In this view,
culture, institutions, and social relations are not just toolkits for actors; they
influence actors’ cognition and actions in important and often unconscious
ways. Their status as social facts implies a need to account for institutions and
social relations that constrain and enable, but do not determine, the choices of
actors, and for the recursive nature of relations between institutions and
actions (Hoffman & Ventresca, 2002; Thornton & Ocasio, 2008).
The challenge for a theory of institutional entrepreneurship is thus to be
able to travel the difficult road that passes between a rational choice model of
agency on one side and structural determinism on the other. Attempts to open
that road and provide some directions for traveling it are associated with
renewed interest in structuration theory (Barley & Tolbert, 1997). The most
recent developments draw on critical realism (Leca & Naccache, 2006; Mutch,
2007; Thornton & Ocasio, 2008), which considers simultaneously the influ-
ence of actors’ actions and the structures in which they are embedded;
relational sociology (Battilana, 2006; Delbridge & Edwards, 2007; Emirbayer,
1997; Mutch et al., 2006), which insists on the importance of the actors’ social
positions; and the new German sociology of knowledge (Meyer, 2006), which
is grounded in phenomenological analysis and pragmatism. These different
approaches have enriched research on institutional entrepreneurship by fur-
thering understanding of the interactions between actors and the institutional
environments in which they are embedded, thereby helping to identify the
enabling conditions for institutional entrepreneurship and resolve the para-
dox of embedded agency. In the following section, we present these enabling
conditions and explain how they facilitate the emergence of institutional
entrepreneurship.
Enabling Conditions for Institutional Entrepreneurship
Resolving the paradox of embedded agency is crucial because it is prerequisite
to setting up the theoretical foundation for institutional entrepreneurship
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(Battilana & D’Aunno, 2009). A number of studies that would explain how
actors can become institutional entrepreneurs despite institutional pressures,
and thereby resolve the paradox of embedded agency, cite enabling conditions
(Strang & Sine, 2002). Enabling conditions that have been identified range
from characteristics of actors’ to characteristics of the environments in which
they are embedded. The latter are composed of multiple layers; in the manner
of Russian dolls, individual actors are embedded in organizations, which are,
in turn, embedded in fields (see also Holm (1995) on nested systems), which
are recognized areas of institutional life (DiMaggio & Powell, 1983). Building
on research on the enabling conditions for institutional entrepreneurship, we
propose two key categories of enabling conditions for institutional entrepre-
neurship: field characteristics, and actors’ social position. Field characteristics
are likely to influence whether actors become institutional entrepreneurs, but
actors perceive field conditions differently depending on their social position
in a field, which influences their “point of view” about the field and gives them
differential access to resources (Bourdieu, 1988). Actors’ social position is thus
another enabling condition for institutional entrepreneurship. Whereas previ-
ous studies have confirmed their independent effects, we propose a possible
interaction effect between these two categories of enabling conditions.
The Enabling Role of Field-level Conditions
Different types of field-level conditions, far from being mutually exclusive, are
often interrelated. Jolts and crises that constitute a first form of field-level
conditions include social upheaval, technological disruption, competitive
discontinuity, and regulatory changes that might disturb the socially
constructed, field-level consensus and invite the introduction of new ideas
(Child et al., 2007; Fligstein, 1997, 2001; Greenwood et al., 2002; Holm, 1995).
The economic and political crises that were among the characteristics of the
European Union in the early 1980s, for example, helped to render pivotal
the European Commission’s role as a collective institutional entrepreneur in
the creation of the Single Market (Fligstein & Mara-Drita, 1996). Acute, field-
level problems that might precipitate crises are also an important enabling
condition (Fligstein & Mara-Drita, 1996; Phillips, Lawrence, & Hardy, 2000;
Wade-Benzoni et al., 2002). Problems related to scarcity of resources, for
example, can lead actors to migrate and operate as institutional entrepreneurs
in other fields in which they are likely to introduce elements divergent from
the institutionalized templates of organizing in the new field (Durand &
McGuire, 2005).
Degree of heterogeneity and institutionalization are among other organi-
zational field characteristics that might play a role in enabling institutional
entrepreneurship. The presence of multiple institutional orders or alterna-
tives constitutes an opportunity for agency and, thereby, for institutional
entrepreneurship (Clemens & Cook, 1999; Sewell, 1992). The heterogeneity
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How Actors Change Institutions
75
of institutional arrangements in a field, that is, the variance in the characteris-
tics of different institutional arrangements, is thus an enabling condition for
institutional entrepreneurship. Such heterogeneity is likely to give rise to
institutional incompatibilities that become a source of internal contradiction,
contradiction being defined as a pair of features that together produce an
unstable tension in a given system (Blackburn, 1994). An ongoing experience
of contradictory institutional arrangements is likely to trigger actors’ reflec-
tive capacity, enabling them to take some critical distance from existing insti-
tutional arrangements (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Seo & Creed, 2002; Sewell,
1992). Actors exposed to contradictory institutional arrangements are thus
less likely to take existing arrangements for granted and more likely to ques-
tion, and possibly diverge from, them.
Degree of institutionalization might also influence whether they become
institutional entrepreneurs by way of affecting actors’ agency (Tolbert &
Zucker, 1996). Lower degrees of institutionalization are associated with higher
levels of uncertainty in the institutional order, which might provide opportu-
nities for strategic action (DiMaggio, 1988; Fligstein, 1997; Phillips et al.,
2000). It is worth noting that most of the empirical studies of institutional
entrepreneurship conducted thus far have been in emerging fields that are less
institutionalized and consequently characterized by higher levels of uncer-
tainty (Déjean, Gond, & Leca, 2004; Garud et al., 2002; Lawrence, 1999;
Lawrence & Phillips, 2004; Maguire et al., 2004; Rao, 1994, 1998; Rao &
Sivakumar, 1999). This is not to say that higher levels of institutionalization
cannot be conducive to divergent change; institutional entrepreneurship
might also occur in relatively highly institutionalized fields (Beckert, 1999).
Knowing that degree of institutionalization might play a role in enabling
divergent change, we now need comparative studies that systematically
explore the influence of varying levels of institutionalization on the emergence
of institutional entrepreneurs.
Whereas the field conditions presented previously have largely been con-
sidered to be given and exogenous to the actions of actors, recent research
suggests that the actions of other actors can generate field conditions that fos-
ter opportunities that peers, acting as institutional entrepreneurs, might
exploit to precipitate change (Delbridge & Edwards, 2008; Powell & Colyvas,
2008). Although field-level conditions, whether exogenous or the result of the
actions of other actors in a field, seem to play an important enabling role in
institutional entrepreneurship, all actors embedded in the same field are not
equally likely to act as institutional entrepreneurs, the point being that in the
face of a range of field-level factors that encourage institutional entrepreneur-
ship, only some actors will exploit the opportunity to become institutional
entrepreneurs. This suggests that specific characteristics of actors might also
play an enabling role in institutional entrepreneurship, particularly important
being the social position an actor occupies within an organizational field.
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The Enabling Role of Actors’ Social Position
Actors’ social position mediates their relation to the environment in which
they are embedded (Emirbayer, 1997; Emirbayer & Mische, 1998). Social posi-
tion is important because it might affect both actors’ perception of a field
(Bourdieu, 1977) and their access to the resources needed to engage in institu-
tional entrepreneurship (Lawrence, 1999). How social position influences
actors’, whether individuals or organizations, perceptions of a field’s condi-
tions and their capacity to implement change influences, in turn, the likeli-
hood that any given actor will attempt to initiate divergent change.
Although it has been suggested that organizations’ status might play a key
role in enabling institutional entrepreneurship, there is variance in the find-
ings. Many studies that have explored this issue have found divergent change
to be more likely to be initiated by low status organizations (Garud et al., 2002;
Haveman & Rao, 1997; Hirsch, 1986; Kraatz & Zajac, 1996; Leblebici, Salancik,
Copay, & King, 1991; Tushman & Anderson, 1986), which are said to be at the
periphery of a field (Shils, 1975), but some recent studies have found such
change being initiated by high-status organizations (Greenwood & Suddaby,
2006; Greenwood et al., 2002; Sherer & Lee, 2002), which are said to be at the
center of a field (Shils, 1975). We argue that the observed variance might be
due to differences in field characteristics, that is, it might be that whether
actors at the center or periphery of a field are more likely to initiate divergent
change depends on the field’s degree of heterogeneity and institutionalization.
The observed variance might also be due to differences in the type of divergent
change, which is considered (Battilana, 2007). In other words, depending on
the institutions from which they diverge, divergent changes may be initiated
by actors occupying different social position. More comparative studies are
needed to account for differences across types of institutional contexts and
types of divergent changes. These studies should also examine the possible
interaction effect between field-level characteristics and actors’ social position.
Their position across fields might also influence the likelihood that organi-
zations will engage in institutional entrepreneurship. Findings suggest that the
intersection between fields might be more likely to spawn institutional entre-
preneurs (Phillips et al., 2000; Rao, Morrill, & Zald, 2000). An example is
alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which was conceived as a way to cir-
cumvent the American courts’ system of resolving minor disputes, often
criticized for mismanagement and poorly-designed procedures (Rao et al.,
2000). ADR emerged from the combined efforts of multiple actors embedded
in multiple fields, “lawyers, social workers, community organization thera-
pists, and judges working for courts, social work agencies, mental health agen-
cies, and community organizations (including churches)” (Rao et al., 2000,
p. 253) who developed informal methods of dispute resolution and eventually
shared their knowledge and built the ADR options.
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Individual actors’ social position has also been identified as an enabling
condition for institutional entrepreneurship. An example of social position
influencing individual actors’ likelihood of engaging in institutional entrepre-
neurship (Cliff, Jennings, & Greenwood, 2006; Dorado, 2005; Maguire et al.,
2004) can be found in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy in Canada.
In this field, institutional entrepreneurs tend to be actors whose “subject posi-
tions” (Foucault, 1972) provide legitimacy in the eyes of, and the ability to
bridge, diverse stakeholders, thereby enabling them to access dispersed sets of
resources (Maguire et al., 2004). Here, “subject position” refers to formal posi-
tion as well as all socially constructed and legitimated identities available in a
field. Position across as well as within fields might influence the likelihood
that individual actors will engage in institutional entrepreneurship. Actors
who are embedded in multiple fields might be more likely to act as institu-
tional entrepreneurs (Emirbayer & Mische, 1998; Sewell, 1992). The individu-
als who introduced diversity management in Denmark, for example, had
previously been exposed to this managerial practice during professional
assignments abroad (Boxenbaum & Battilana, 2005). These institutional
entrepreneurs, after being embedded in a field in which diversity management
was institutionalized, carried the managerial practice and its underlying
beliefs back to a Danish setting in which it was unfamiliar and perceived to
diverge from the institutionalized managerial practice of treating employees
equally. Their multiple embeddedness enabled these institutional entrepre-
neurs to transpose the managerial practice of diversity management from
North America to Denmark and generate a vision for change that resonated
with field characteristics in that nation.
We maintain that organizations’ and individuals’ social positions influence
actors’ likelihood of engaging in institutional entrepreneurship not only
independently, but also jointly, through interaction. That is, the status of the
organization in which an individual actor is embedded as well as her hierar-
chical position and informal network position within an organization are
likely to influence not only independently, but also jointly, the likelihood that
a given actor will engage in institutional entrepreneurship (Battilana, 2006).
For example, while actors who belong to lower status organizations might be
more likely to initiate changes that diverge from the institutionalized model of
organizations’ role division in a field, the influence of organization status
might be stronger (or weaker) depending on actors’ position in the hierarchy
of their organization (Battilana, 2007). This insight suggests a need to further
explore how interaction between the individual and organizational levels of
analysis influences the process of institutional entrepreneurship.
Even as we propose that field characteristics as well as actors’ social posi-
tion might play key roles in enabling institutional entrepreneurship, we find
no indication that these are sufficient to predict institutional entrepreneur-
ship. Among other potential enablers, we recognize, in addition to social
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position, individual characteristics such as demographic and psychological
factors. Research in this area, although promising, will challenge researchers
to control for the impact of other field-level and organization-level factors that
influence institutional entrepreneurship. Identifying the conditions that
enable it is the first step towards establishing the theoretical foundation for,
and developing a model of the process of, institutional entrepreneurship. To
further develop this model, it will be necessary to specify not only the condi-
tions under which institutional entrepreneurs emerge, but also the process by
which divergent change is implemented.
Divergent Change Implementation
Institutional entrepreneurs, because they initiate and implement divergent
change, are one category of change agent. The management literature on
change has shown change agents to undertake specific activities in support of
the implementation of change projects (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector, 1990;
Judson, 1991; Kotter, 1995; Rogers, 1962). Building on Lewin’s (1947) three-
phase model of change, prior conceptual and empirical studies (differences
notwithstanding) emphasize three sets of activities involved in change
implementation (Beckhard & Harris, 1977; Beer, 1980; Ford & Greer, 2005;
Kanter, 1983; Nadler & Tushman, 1989; Tichy & Devanna, 1986). Although
they are given different labels, these activities correspond to developing a
vision and mobilizing people behind that vision, and motivating them to
achieve and sustain it (for reviews, see Armenakis and Bedeian, (1999),
Battilana, Gilmartin, Pache, Sengul, and Alexander (in press) and Kanter,
Stein and Jick, (1992)).
Developing a vision
encompasses activities undertaken
to make the case for change including sharing the vision of the need for
change with followers.
Mobilizing people
includes activities undertaken to gain
others’ support for and acceptance of new routines.
Motivating others to
achieve and sustain the vision
consists of activities undertaken to institutional-
ize change. The question we address is how the divergent nature of the change
they implement influences institutional entrepreneurs’ approach to these
activities.
Implementing change that builds on existing institutions is challenging,
implementing change that breaks with existing institutions more so. Institu-
tional entrepreneurs who promote the latter type of change are challenged to
envision the divergent change and mobilize allies in support of its implemen-
tation, which entails “loosening” the institutional embeddedness of those
being mobilized. Institutional entrepreneurs also must counter political oppo-
sition. “Institutional defenders” who benefit from the status quo (DiMaggio,
1988; Levy & Scully, 2007) almost invariably arise to defend existing beliefs and
practices. This pattern is all the more pronounced if the proposed divergent
change threatens established organizational privileges and social position
within the organizational field.
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To surmount the challenges of embeddedness and political opposition
might require on the part of institutional entrepreneurs, as well as the
enabling conditions enumerated earlier, higher-level mastery of certain activ-
ities involved in change implementation. Institutional entrepreneurs can
sometimes impose institutional change without having to win over dissenting
actors (Battilana & Leca, 2009; Dorado, 2005). But such instances are rare, as
dominant players are usually keener to support maintenance of, than changes
to, institutions from which they benefit (DiMaggio, 1988). It is in the latter sit-
uations that institutional entrepreneurs are called upon to articulate a vision
for the divergent change they are promoting and mobilize allies to support its
implementation. Although we treat these key sets of actions as distinct, con-
secutive steps in the process of institutional entrepreneurship, we recognize
that they are in practice intertwined, and that visions for change continue to
evolve throughout the process of mobilizing allies.
Creating a Vision for Divergent Change
Supported by conditions that enable, despite institutional pressures towards
stasis, their emergence, institutional entrepreneurs must craft a vision for diver-
gent change in terms that appeal to the actors needed to implement it, a chal-
lenge given that the changes promoted by institutional entrepreneurs tend to
break with practices taken for granted by people in the field. Research on fram-
ing in the social movement literature helps to illuminate the issues faced by an
institutional entrepreneur attempting to develop a vision that frames a change
project (1) in terms of the problem it helps to resolve; (2) as preferred to existing
arrangements; and (3) as motivated by compelling reasons (Rao et al., 2000;
Snow & Benford, 1992). These dimensions translate into corresponding forms
of framing, namely,
diagnostic framing, prognostic framing,
and
motivational
framing
(Markowitz, 2007; Misangyi, Weaver, & Elms, 2008).
Diagnostic framing
seeks to make explicit the failing of the existing
organization or broader field, expose problems with current institutionalized
practices and assign blame (Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). The institutional
entrepreneurs who introduced diversity management to Denmark in 2001,
for example, leveraged a diagnostic frame available in Denmark at the time.
The integration of immigrants into the workforce had been construed as a
societal problem and attributed to taken-for-granted ways of selecting,
perceiving, and treating immigrants in Danish society (Boxenbaum, 2006;
Boxenbaum & Battilana, 2005). Adopting this diagnostic frame, the institu-
tional entrepreneurs introduced diversity management as a superior solution
to the integration of immigrants. Diversity management was thus selected as a
prognostic frame.
Prognostic framing
, in casting a promoted project as superior to a previous
arrangement, engages the institutional entrepreneur in de-legitimating existing
institutional arrangements and those supported by opponents (Creed, Scully,
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& Austin, 2002; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005), and in legitimating to stake-
holders and other potential allies the project at hand (Déjean et al., 2004; Demil
& Bensédrine, 2005). This effort implies theorizing the institutional project in
a way that resonates with the interests, values, and problems of potential allies
(Boxenbaum, 2006; Boxenbaum & Daudigeos, 2008; Fligstein, 2001; Suddaby
& Greenwood, 2005). Projects that depart significantly from existing institu-
tions must thus be characterized as less radical to forestall reactions of fear,
incomprehension, or apparent irrelevance that might inhibit potential allies
from changing their perspective.
The third dimension,
motivational framing
, entails providing compelling
reasons to support the new vision being promoted (Misangyi et al., 2008). To
design the appropriate motivational frame, institutional entrepreneurs must
be able to imaginatively identify with the states, and relate to the interests, of
others (Fligstein, 1997). They must also possess sufficient social skills, includ-
ing the ability to analyze and secure cooperation, to assess the configuration
of, and act according to, their position and the positions of other agents in the
field (Fligstein, 2001). For instance, socially responsible (SR) mutual funds
companies operating as institutional entrepreneurs in the United Stated relied
on a form of motivational framing, which insisted on the fact that SR funds
can deliver both access to high financial returns and effective social change.
Socially skilled institutional entrepreneurs cognizant of and sensitive to the
discursive (Maguire & Hardy, 2006) and cultural contexts (Boxenbaum &
Strandgaard Pedersen, 2009) in which they are embedded can draw selectively
from the institutional context in framing their visions (Fligstein, 1997). They
are able, by relating to their situations, to craft visions that other actors are
inclined to endorse. For example, France’s first social rating agency, ARESE,
developed a measure of companies’ corporate social performance that
diverged from, but was framed in a way that made it appear to be congruent
with, the existing norms of the financial market sector (Déjean et al., 2004).
ARESE developed a measure of corporate social performance that resembled
well-established ways of evaluating organizational performance and so could
be integrated within fund managers’ traditional decision-making processes.
ARESE formulated quantitative measures with which to generate the “ARESE
notation” that financial executives regarded as more serious and legitimate
than monographs about companies. Fund managers willing to develop
socially responsible investment funds were able, using this tool, which was
more aligned with the dominant logic of the financial world, to legitimize
themselves in the financial community. In addition to framing projects that
fundamentally break with them as being somehow aligned with existing insti-
tutions, institutional entrepreneurs can also frame proposed changes as being
mutually beneficial and introduce themselves, thereby, as neutral brokers act-
ing on behalf of the common good (Fligstein, 1997). Presenting a sponsored
norm or pattern of behavior as altruistic (Fligstein, 1997), or nesting it in
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81
impersonal institution-based trust through standard structures and stable
rules (Haveman & Rao, 1997), can motivate actors to alter their perspective in
a way that inclines them to mobilize behind a vision for divergent change.
It might be reasonable to expect that institutional entrepreneurs might need
to possess a higher level of mastery of framing than actors promoting non-
divergent change. This is so because institutional entrepreneurs face the unique
challenge of having to justify divergence from taken-for-granted practices and
frame the vision for that change in a way that enables others, despite its unfa-
miliar nature, to understand and endorse it. We have identified three types of
framing, that which generates a sense of urgency (diagnostic framing), and that
which present and promote a vision for a proposed change (prognostic framing
and motivational framing). Although we present the creation of the vision and
the mobilization of allies behind it as two distinct sets of actions, articulating
a vision and mobilizing allies to support it are intertwined activities.
Mobilizing Allies
Although the labels they use differ from those used in the change management
literature, studies of institutional entrepreneurship focus mainly on how insti-
tutional entrepreneurs manage the mobilization activities associated with
change implementation. Because divergent change can seldom be implemented
without support, institutional entrepreneurs must typically mobilize allies
(Fligstein, 1997; Greenwood et al., 2002) and cultivate alliances and cooperation
(Fligstein, 2001; Lawrence, Hardy, & Phillips, 2002; Rao, 1998). Institutional
entrepreneurs thus need to define the protagonists, antagonists, and other
actors who might be involved in a divergent change effort (Scully & Creed,
2005). Defining and redefining identity is central to attracting others and build-
ing a sustainable coalition (Rao et al., 2000). The aim is to coalesce allies and
reduce inherent contradictions in the coalition, and at the same time exacerbate
contradictions among opponents by emphasizing the failings of existing insti-
tutionalized practices and norms and demonstrating that adoption of the
proposed vision will assure improvement (Fligstein, 1997; Haveman & Rao,
1997; Holm, 1995; Rao, 1998; Seo & Creed, 2002; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005).
Such a strategy implies a high level of either empathy with potential allies (Flig-
stein, 1997) or Machiavellian strategic skills (Levy & Scully, 2007).
Mobilization activities include, in addition to the use of discourse, the mar-
shalling of other resources. Although the discursive element has thus far
received the greatest attention in the literature on institutional entrepreneur-
ship, recently there have been calls for studies that account for how institu-
tional entrepreneurs mobilize other resources to secure endorsement, and
support for the implementation, of divergent change.
Use of discourse.
Having developed and articulated a vision, institutional
entrepreneurs must convince different constituencies embedded in the
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existing institutions of the need for the change and mobilize them behind it.
The case for divergent change thus requires particular skills in communicat-
ing a vision that mobilizes allies. Principal among the challenges of doing so is
to make change that breaks with existing institutions resonate with other
actors embedded in those institutions. Institutional entrepreneurs accomplish
this not only by means of framing when they develop the vision for change,
but also by means of “rhetorical strategies” (Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005)
when they communicate this vision. These rhetorical strategies somehow
connect the institutional entrepreneurs’ innovations to familiar templates,
while at the same time emphasizing the need for change.
Institutional entrepreneurs develop and assemble in narratives rhetorical
arguments that refer to established institutional logics. They build their dis-
course based on institutional logics which, they anticipate, will resonate with
the values and interests of potential allies. Promoters of socially responsible
investment in France, for example, referred to a financial rather than an envi-
ronmental logic in anticipation of support from the financial community
being more decisive than that of activists (Déjean et al., 2004). These logics are
associated with specific “institutional vocabularies”, including structures of
words, expressions, and meanings, which are used by institutional entrepre-
neurs to articulate, manipulate, and recombine institutional logics (Suddaby
& Greenwood, 2005, p. 43). Institutional entrepreneurs often use analogies to
help legitimize their vision for change (Douglas, 1986; Hargadon & Douglas,
2001; Leblebici et al., 1991). For example, the Global Reporting Initiative
(GRI), which aimed to institutionalize the practice of sustainability reporting,
used the analogy between sustainability reporting and financial reporting to
gain legitimacy in the early stages of the change implementaion process. As
the GRI’s guidelines gained more acceptance, the organization reduced the
extent to which it employed the analogy, emphasizing also the dissimilarities
between the two forms of reporting (Etzion & Ferraro, in press).
Institutional entrepreneurs can develop stories, link past events to form a
plot, define heroes and villains, some positioned as key to the future of the
field (Morrill & Owen-Smith, 2002; Zilber, 2007), by gathering and re-
employing symbolic stories of past events that litter the organizational
landscape (Meyer & Rowan, 1977), or emphasizing, and relating single, local
stories to more general issues. They may do so with the purpose of helping to
subvert the established institutional order. Institutional entrepreneurs can
propose a theorization of such stories (Morrill & Owen-Smith, 2002), theori-
zation referring to the rendering of particular stories or practices in more gen-
eral and rationalized terms that will make them attractive to a variety of
potential adopters (Greenwood et al., 2002). This storytelling is afforded legit-
imacy by employing, tacitly or explicitly, well-established discursive conven-
tions, called “narrative styles”, to construct substantive imageries that lend
coherence and meaning to plots and accent devices (Morrill & Owen-Smith,
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2002). Some narrative styles are archetypal and widely diffused, such as trag-
edy, comedy, romanticism, and satire (White, 1973). Others will be related to
specific organizations and historical contexts such as private corporations
(Morrill, 1995) and social movements (Gamson, 1992), and thus be relevant to
more local populations (Morrill & Owen-Smith, 2002). Zimmerman and Zeitz
(2002), reviewing the development of Internet entrepreneurs, suggest that
these actors introduced themselves as “fashion setters” and combined narra-
tive styles that were calculated to especially resonate with venture capitalists.
They selected narrative styles steeped in fascination with innovation and
traditional narrative styles related to financial performance.
Resources mobilization.
Resources that might be mobilized to induce
endorsement, and support for the implementation, of divergent change
(Misangyi et al., 2008) were, until recently, little researched (Battilana & Leca,
2009; Misangyi et al., 2008). But a full understanding of the process of diver-
gent change implementation relies on an appreciation for the different types
of resources institutional entrepreneurs mobilize (Levy & Scully, 2007). We
maintain that financial resources and resources related to social position, such
as formal authority and social capital, play a key role in helping institutional
entrepreneurs convince other actors to endorse and support the implementa-
tion of a vision for divergent change.
Implementing any change is costly, and because the implementation of
divergent change is more challenging, and likely to require more resources, it
is likely to be more costly (Misangyi et al., 2008). Financial assets can be used
during early stages of the institutional entrepreneurship process to bypass
the sanctions likely to be imposed by opponents of a proposed change
(Greenwood et al., 2002) as well as to ride out the negative costs of the transi-
tional period during which new ideas are likely to be unpopular (Greenwood
& Suddaby, 2006). They can also be used to bring other players into a coali-
tion. Sun, for example, was able to induce systems assemblers, software firms,
and computer manufacturers to contribute to the network-centric approach
to computing it was proposing to oppose Microsoft’s Windows by providing
free access to Java instead of charging for that resource (Garud et al., 2002).
Institutional entrepreneurs can also use financial resources to encourage
important stakeholders to favor a project (Demil & Bensédrine, 2005), which
might suggest that larger players are more likely to be successful institutional
entrepreneurs (Greenwood et al., 2002). The example of Rockfeller as devel-
oped by Chernov (1998) illustrates this point: because he controlled most of
the oil refineries in the United States, John D. Rockfeller could change the way
the oil market worked by controlling prices, and other actors were unable to
oppose his changes (Dorado, 2005).
Apart from financial resources, research on institutional entrepreneurship
also insists on the importance of social position not only to initiating, but also
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to promoting, divergent change. Social position can help institutional entre-
preneurs mobilize allies to support the implementation of divergent changes.
For example, high-status organizations can leverage their status to impose
divergent changes in a field of activity (Sherer and Lee, 2002). When their
social position does not enable them to easily mobilize others, institutional
entrepreneurs might try to convince actors who themselves occupy higher
status social positions, to endorse their project. Institutional entrepreneurs
can then leverage the endorsement of such higher status actors to increase
the legitimacy of their project and thereby mobilize other actors behind it.
Existing research distinguishes between formal authority and social capital as
potential sources of power associated with social position.
Formal authority
refers to an actor’s legitimately recognized right to make
decisions (Phillips et al., 2000, p. 33). The authority of the state (DiMaggio &
Powell, 1983) and authority conferred by formal positions are formal author-
ities. Formal authority can help institutional entrepreneurs legitimize diver-
gent ideas (Maguire et al., 2004), frame stories (Fligstein, 2001), and promote
acknowledgment and “consumption” of their discourse by other actors
(Phillips, Lawrence, & Hardy, 2004). Although social position can confer for-
mal authority that can be leveraged to implement directly divergent change,
institutional entrepreneurs can also mobilize other actors who possess formal
authority as a way to strengthen a coalition that supports a divergent change
project.
Social capital
is associated with actors’ informal network positions; it
accrues to one’s position in a web of social relations that provides access to
information and political support. Institutional entrepreneurs can leverage
social capital to influence others, as by severing links between select groups,
which can then be enlisted as allies, and the rest of the field. Their social capital
might enable institutional entrepreneurs to champion and orchestrate collec-
tive action among diverse stakeholders (Maguire et al., 2004). Being in a posi-
tion to broker among groups that would otherwise not be connected affords
an opportunity to assemble a coalition around a vision for divergent change.
Institutional entrepreneurs might present themselves as neutral brokers medi-
ating on behalf of the mutual best interest of different groups (Fligstein, 1997).
Delors pursued just such a strategy in mediating among the disparate mem-
bers of the European Union (EU) to create a “Single Market”. Before becoming
president of the EU, Delors toured the European capitals to make the argu-
ment to governments that were no longer engaged in dialogue that the EU had
to launch some project in order to move forward. Eventually, the Single Mar-
ket emerged as the most viable project. A central position in a field can also
help to ensure that the texts created by an institutional entrepreneur will be
acknowledged and consumed (Phillips et al., 2004). Recent research suggests
that institutional entrepreneurs are likely to possess a high level of “reach cen-
trality”, defined as access to a large number of field members through a limited
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85
number of intermediaries (Oliver & Montgomery, 2008). Institutional entre-
preneurs who are not themselves central to a field might be able to cultivate
ties with actors who are. In so doing, they are able to secure the endorsement
and support of these actors and gain access to the resources they control. Insti-
tutional entrepreneurs can enhance the legitimacy of change projects by, for
example, mobilizing support for them among key constituents such as highly
embedded agents (Lawrence et al., 2002) and professionals and experts
(Hwang & Powell, 2005) who operate at the center of a field.
The Influence of Field Characteristics
The process of implementing divergent change is also likely to be influenced by
field characteristics (Wijen & Ansari, 2007), in particular, levels of institution-
alization and fragmentation. Institutional entrepreneurs who operate in fields
with high levels of institutionalization frame discourses that resonate with the
interests and values of members of the dominant coalition (Greenwood et al.,
2002; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005). This choice is appropriate when a coali-
tion is unified. But when the field is heterogeneous, that is, populated not by
one coalition but by fragmented groups, the institutional entrepreneur needs
to find a common ground and elaborate an encompassing discourse that reso-
nates with the interests and values of all the different actors (Fligstein, 1997;
Hsu, 2006). It is, for example, the strategy that Jacques Delors used to mobilize
support around the notion of a common market among the governments
of the EU at a time when those governments could not agree on a common
purpose (Fligstein & Mara-Drita, 1996).
Institutional entrepreneurs adopt other discursive strategies when they
operate in less institutionalized fields, as when they engage in developing
emerging fields characterized by a low degree of institutionalization. They
might, for example, formulate a vision that aims to establish a common iden-
tity specific to the actors who will be part of the new field (Markowitz, 2007;
Rao et al., 2000). Like leaders of social movements, institutional entrepreneurs
can mobilize support in an emerging field by crafting an attractive social iden-
tity that appeals to potential field members. Institutional entrepreneurs in less
institutionalized fields might also need to legitimize the new field in the eyes
of major stakeholders on whom field members are likely to depend (Aldrich &
Fiol, 1994; Déjean et al., 2004; DiMaggio, 1991; Koene, 2006; Rao et al., 2000).
Emerging fields favor institutional entrepreneurs’ use of rhetorical strategies
that exploit the general fascination with novelty (Zimmerman & Zeitz, 2002).
Institutional entrepreneurs might become fashion setters in creating new
fields that interest and attract new field members, and simultaneously legiti-
mize the field with centrally positioned actors in adjacent fields.
Although discursive strategies might differ according to the characteristics
of the field in which an institutional entrepreneur operates, little effort has
thus far been devoted to studying systematically how the different activities
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that constitute institutional entrepreneurship vary in different contexts
(Maguire et al., 2004). For example, little is known about how institutional
entrepreneurs mobilize financial resources, formal authority, and social capi-
tal across contexts. We also know little about which approaches to managing
the process of divergent change implementation work best in which contexts.
Their success, as we have shown previously, depends to a great extent on insti-
tutional entrepreneurs’ access to, and skills in leveraging, the scarce and
critical resources (Fligstein, 1997; Lawrence, Mauws, Dyck, & Kleysen, 2005)
needed to mount political action (Seo & Creed, 2002). Previous findings help
to lay the groundwork for the development of a contingent model of the pro-
cess of divergent change implementation. Further attention to the question of
context might help predict both the selection of different resource mobiliza-
tion strategies and the likelihood that they will be successful in a given context.
Although the discursive aspect of mobilizing activities in which institutional
entrepreneurs engage has thus far received most of the attention in the litera-
ture on institutional entrepreneurship, recent studies suggest that the institu-
tionalization process might not be only discursive (Lounsbury & Crumley,
2007). Yet, the non-discursive dimension of the process of divergent change
implementation remains the subject of scant research. Finally, we note that of
the three activities in which institutional entrepreneurs engage when imple-
menting divergent change, creating a vision and mobilizing allies have
received by far the most attention. The activities involved in motivating actors
to realize and sustain a vision, that is, to institutionalize change, have been
studied the least in the literature on institutional entrepreneurship.
Although, as we emphasized earlier, some important questions remain to
be answered, our analysis thus far has yielded a contingency model of institu-
tional entrepreneurship that extends from its emergence to the possible insti-
tutionalization of divergent change. It also accounts for the influence of both
field characteristics and actors’ social position. Figure 8.1 shows how field
characteristics and social position enable actors, despite institutional pres-
sures towards stasis, to engage as institutional entrepreneurs in the imple-
mentation of divergent change that involves the creation of a vision and the
mobilization of allies. Institutional entrepreneurs, because they initiate
changes that break with existing institutions, face specific challenges arising
from other actors’ institutional embeddedness as well as potential political
opposition. How institutional entrepreneurs manage the process of divergent
change implementation is influenced by both field characteristics and actors’
social positions. Divergent change might then diffuse throughout the field. If
it does, the resulting institutional change will likely ultimately affect field
characteristics and, thereby, possibly actors’ social position. The model out-
lined here will no doubt evolve as future research provides a more fine-
grained understanding of the process. It is meant to provide a basis for future
work and reflection about institutional entrepreneurship. In the next section,
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we suggest directions for future research in institutional entrepreneurship
that, we believe, will have important theoretical as well as practical implica-
tions not only for the field of institutional theory, but also, more broadly, for
the field of organization theory.
Figure 8.1 Model of the Process of Institutional Entrepreneurship.
Evolving the Field of Research on Institutional Entrepreneurship
As explained earlier, the concept of institutional entrepreneurship has been a
source of controversy among institutionalists, previously having been criti-
cized for promoting a disembedded view of agency (Delmestri, 2006; Meyer,
2006). Acknowledging that it is a possible drift, we argue that it is possible,
building on our model of institutional entrepreneurship, to develop a robust,
embedded view of institutional entrepreneurship and agency that fits well
with the tenets of institutional theory. This view aligns with recent studies
of institutional entrepreneurship that are moving away from heroic views of
individuals in favor of construing institutional entrepreneurs as individual or
collective actors embedded in, and trying to navigate, specific social contexts
by mobilizing other actors to partake in divergent change projects. We urge
that future research continues to improve our understanding of the process of
institutional entrepreneurship, and to consider possible implications for and
contributions to related streams of research in organization theory.
Our analysis leads us to emphasize the following directions for future
research on the process of institutional entrepreneurship. We need, first, to
continue to improve how we account for the embeddedness of institutional
entrepreneurs. We also need a more vivid analysis of institutional dynamics
and agency that builds on the research on institutional entrepreneurs that has
increasingly promoted a more distributed view of agency. Related to these
lines of research, we urge an expansion of the levels of analysis as a way to fur-
ther our understanding of institutional entrepreneurship and agency within
the context of institutional theory. We further urge that future research on
institutional entrepreneurship more fully exploit synergies among the
Figure 8.1 Model of the Process of Institutional Entrepreneurship.
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different research streams that are somehow related to institutional entrepre-
neurship such as research on change management, entrepreneurship, social
entrepreneurship, and social movements. Finally, we conclude by emphasiz-
ing consideration of the importance of the practical implications of research
on institutional entrepreneurship.
Accounting for the Embeddedness of Institutional Entrepreneurs
Research on institutional entrepreneurship has been instrumental in reintro-
ducing agency to institutional theory and imparting some theoretical and
empirical understanding of how embedded actors can shape institutions.
Embeddedness, being central to shaping the possibilities for actors to exercise
agency, constitutes the context within which institutional entrepreneurs act.
Characteristics of the social environment as well as actors’ position within this
environment are crucial variables in understanding the emergence of institu-
tional entrepreneurs, as is actors’ awareness of other fields and diverse institu-
tional logics. All of this implies that more systematic research and clear
typologies of variables and contexts are needed to move beyond monographs.
A consistent typology of organizational fields that would make an impor-
tant contribution to more systematic research on institutional entrepreneur-
ship remains to be developed. Our review of the literature identified two
frequently referenced field characteristics, namely degree of fragmentation
and degree of institutionalization, both of which might constitute a first step
towards a typology of fields. Ranking fields high or low on each of these
dimensions might enable researchers to identify four ideal-types of fields
(highly institutionalized fragmented fields, highly institutionalized unified
fields, less institutionalized fragmented fields, and less institutionalized uni-
fied fields). Such a typology would support more systematic, cross-context
comparisons of the process of institutional entrepreneurship.
Finally, most studies thus far have focused on actors’ embeddedness in a
given field of activity. More studies that account for actors’ (whether organi-
zations or individuals) embeddedness in multiple fields are needed. Research
suggests that multiple embeddedness might be a key enabling condition for
institutional entrepreneurship (Boxenbaum & Battilana, 2005; Durand &
McGuire, 2005; Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006). Among the questions that
remain to be answered regarding the impact of actors’ multiple embeddedness
are: (1) whether the likelihood of acting as an institutional entrepreneur is
influenced by the degree of similarity between the different institutional fields
in which an actor is embedded; and (2) how multiple embeddedness affects
the process of divergent change implementation.
Accounting for a Distributed View of Agency in Institutional Processes
Early studies of institutional entrepreneurship focused on the actions of a
single actor. But recent studies that have begun to account for the possible
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collective dimension of institutional entrepreneurship (Canales, 2008;
Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007; Rao et al., 2000) suggest that it might be a
collective phenomenon that involves different actors with access to varying
kinds and levels of resources who act in either a coordinated or uncoordinated
way. Lawrence et al. (2002) show how inter-organizational coordination can
contribute to institutional change, especially when the partners in the collabo-
ration are highly involved in the project and deeply embedded within the orga-
nizational field, thus having both the motivation and means to foster diffusion.
Collective institutional entrepreneurship can also be uncoordinated. Dorado
(2005) labeled as “institutional partaking” such situations in which institu-
tional change cannot be attributed to any single individual or organization,
but rather results from the accumulation of countless institutional entrepre-
neurs’ uncoordinated divergent actions. Consistent with this idea is, as noted
earlier, the notion that institutions can be changed by “spatially dispersed,
heterogeneous activity by actors with various kinds and levels of resources”
(Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007, p. 993; see also Holm, 1995).
Considering agency to be distributed affords a more realistic view of insti-
tutional processes as political and non deterministic, and of the outcomes,
being dependent on the actions and reactions of multiple actors, as being by
definition uncertain (Delbridge & Edwards, 2008; Garud et al., 2007; Meyer,
2006; Reay & Hinings, 2005). Institutional change might be occasioned by
unintended actions of ordinary actors who break with institutionalized prac-
tices without being aware of doing so. But because the institutionalization
process most often remains a political one, certain practices might not become
institutionalized without the intervention of actors acting strategically (Brint
& Karabel, 1991; DiMaggio, 1988; DiMaggio & Powell, 1991; Friedland &
Alford, 1991; Hargrave & Van de Ven, 2006; Zilber, 2002). This area of devel-
opment speaks to the need for a robust theory of collective action among
institutional entrepreneurs and other actors in a field.
When agency is considered to be distributed, politics and collective mobi-
lization become central to understanding how diverse actors can coalesce. The
ongoing integration of concepts and research on change from the social
movement literature in institutional analysis (Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2008)
can be instrumental here. Future empirical research should pay more atten-
tion to the diversity of actors who coalesce around an institutional project
(Powell & Colyvas, 2008). A recent suggestion by Lawrence and Suddaby
(2006) complements the body of work on institutional entrepreneurship by
providing a framework for accounting for the multiple actors directly
involved in the political struggle and the interactions among them. They pro-
pose that researchers analyze the “institutional work” of actors purposively
attempting to create, maintain, or disrupt institutions, and thereby expand
analysis beyond institutional entrepreneurs (Lawrence, Suddaby & Leca,
2009). Reay and Hinings’ (2005) analysis of field members’ actions during
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institutional processes, and Delbridge and Edwards’ (2008) account of the
variety of actors who contribute in varied ways to a process of institutional
change, provide directions in which to extend the scope of analysis so as to
account for a broader view of agency in institutional processes.
Developing a distributed view of agency should also lead to consideration
of how institutional entrepreneurs are able to ensure the stabilization and pos-
sible diffusion of divergent change at the field level. Most current research on
institutional entrepreneurship focuses on the first steps of the implementation
process without accounting for how they might contribute to institutionalize
the change. What is at stake is to understand how institutional entrepreneurs
and/or other actors can ensure the maintenance of the novel practices they
promote, a dimension that the current analysis of institutional entrepreneur-
ship does not fully integrate (Hwang & Powell, 2005; Jain & George, 2007;
Wijen & Ansari, 2007).
Expanding the Levels of Analysis
The directions for future research outlined earlier will require that the levels of
analysis used in the study of institutional entrepreneurship be expanded.
Although most research has been concentrated at them, the organizational
field and organizational levels cannot be considered a requirement of institu-
tional theory. The community and individual levels of analysis, which have
received scant attention thus far in studies of institutional entrepreneurship,
should be accounted for in future studies. Individual actors are embedded in
organizations that are embedded not only in organizational fields but also in
local geographic communities. The community level of analysis corresponds
to the populations, organizations, and markets located in a geographic terri-
tory that share, as a result of their common location, elements of local culture,
norms, identity, and laws (Marquis & Battilana, in press). Recent research has
shown that the local level has not only remained important, but in many ways
local particularities have become more visible and salient, as globalization has
proceeded (Bagnasco & Le Galès, 2000; Greenwood, Diaz, & Lorente, in press;
Marquis, Glynn, & Davis, 2007; Sorge, 2005). Actors’ simultaneous embed-
dedness in local geographic communities as well as broader global environ-
ments might influence the likelihood that they will act as institutional
entrepreneurs. Their multiple embeddedness might also influence the process
of divergent change implementation.
In addition, research that accounts for institutional entrepreneurship at the
individual level remains limited (Reay, Golden-Biddle, & GermAnn, 2006).
The influence of individual-level variables on the process of institutional entre-
preneurship should not be overlooked. Accounting for the possible role of indi-
vidual agency and trying to better understand its features and origins do not
imply that individuals’ actions are the only sources of divergent change. We
are in accord with the view that individuals are but one among many elements
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that interact in complex ways to bring about institutional effects, as explained
in the previous section. We insist, however, that their possible role in institu-
tional processes, including in the process of institutional entrepreneurship,
should not be neglected. Individual factors might play a role both in the emer-
gence of institutional entrepreneurship and in the process of divergent change
implementation. A few studies (Maguire et al., 2004; Seo & Creed, 2002) have
acknowledged the possibility that individual factors might enable divergent
change. Mutch (2007) suggests that institutional entrepreneurs are able to
abstract from the concerns of others and take an autonomous reflexive stance.
Complementing this approach, and relying on Emirbayer and Mische’s (1998)
multi-dimensional view of agency, Battilana and D’Aunno (2009) propose that
the three dimensions of agency—iteration (habit), projection (imagination),
and practical evaluation (judgment)—might play a role in institutional entre-
preneurship. In the case of institutional entrepreneurs, the projective dimen-
sion of agency dominates others. The question is thus to know under what
conditions the projective dimension of agency dominates. Although field char-
acteristics and actors’ social position have been shown to influence actors’
agency, other individual-level conditions such as psychological factors might
affect actors’ agency. This relationship wants further exploration.
Finally, because institutional entrepreneurship is a complex process that
involves different types of actors (e.g., individuals, groups of individuals, and
organizations), multi-level studies might take account of the field, commu-
nity, organizational, and individual levels of analysis (Rousseau, 1985). Such
multi-level research has been proposed as a promising avenue within the
framework of institutional theory, but remains to be developed (Friedland &
Alford, 1991; Ocasio, 2002; Palmer & Biggart, 2002; Reay et al, 2006; Scott,
2001; Strang & Sine, 2002). This multi-level research is necessary to develop a
more fine-grained understanding of the processes of institutional entrepre-
neurship and, more broadly, of institutional change. Only this type of research
will enable scholars to reconcile the need to account for a distributed view of
agency in institutional processes with the need to account for the role of indi-
vidual actors in institutional processes, including in the process of institu-
tional entrepreneurship.
Building Bridges with Other Streams of Research
It became clear as research on institutional entrepreneurship was developing
that contributions could be expected in several domains, the most obvious
being institutional theory. Research on institutional entrepreneurship has
been instrumental in nurturing such emerging streams of research in institu-
tional theory as “institutional work”, which attempts to account for actions
intended to create, maintain, and disrupt institutions (Lawrence & Suddaby,
2006), and the emerging articulation between institutional theory and the
“practical turn” in the social sciences (Jarzabkowski, Matthiesen, & Van de
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Ven, 2009; Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007). As our analysis emphasizes,
however, the stream of research on institutional entrepreneurship relates not
only to institutional theory but also to a number of other research domains
that deal with actors who introduce novel elements into an organization or
into their broader environment, including research on entrepreneurship,
social entrepreneurship, change, and social movements.
Surprisingly, the interaction between research on institutional entrepre-
neurship and research on entrepreneurship has seldom been discussed.
Phillips and Tracey (2007) recently argued that more dialogue is needed
between these traditions, and prominent researchers in entrepreneurship view
this approach as a promising stream in the domain (Ireland, Reutzel, & Webb,
2005). Given the growing interest in how existing institutional arrangements
shape entrepreneurship, research on how entrepreneurs can shape those
arrangements seems quite relevant. Lounsbury and Glynn (2001) use research
in institutional theory to demonstrate the importance of culture in entrepre-
neurship and how entrepreneurial stories facilitate the crafting of a new iden-
tity that serves to legitimize a venture in the eyes of other stakeholders,
thereby affording access to new capital and market opportunities. Another
emerging line of inquiry examines how field conditions shape entrepreneurial
activity, which might, in turn, shape the field conditions. Sine and David’s
(2003) study of the US electric power industry, for example, documented how
environmental jolts stimulate entrepreneurial activity by destabilizing the
institutional structures that otherwise impede such activity. Encouraged by
this destabilization and crisis, entrepreneurs generate new solutions or
repackage existing practices, which collectively create a “solution bazaar”
of alternatives to the incumbent institution (Sine & David, 2003, p. 188).
Entrepreneurship and institutional entrepreneurship processes might thus be
intertwined, as is the case when entrepreneurs develop business models that
break with those of existing institutions. Future research should analyze the
specific challenges that face entrepreneurs who also act as institutional entre-
preneurs as well as similarities and differences between the entrepreneurship
and institutional entrepreneurship processes (e.g., do entrepreneurs and
institutional entrepreneurs need similar skills? What are the similarities and
differences between the activities in which they engage?). Future research
should also pay closer attention to the outcomes of these processes when they
are intertwined. A new venture breaking with existing institutions might be a
commercial failure, but succeed in helping to legitimize a new organizational
form. More research is thus needed at the intersection of entrepreneurship
and institutional entrepreneurship. One emerging area to which both streams
are likely to contribute is social entrepreneurship.
Social entrepreneurs create organizations that address social problems
ignored or addressed ineffectively or inefficiently by existing organizations
(Mair & Martí, 2006; Seelos & Mair, 2005; Zahra, Gedajlovic, Neubaum, &
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Shulman, in press). They differ from other entrepreneurs to the extent that
they privilege social value over the generation of economic rents (Dacin,
Dacin, & Matear, 2007). Social entrepreneurs whose proposed solutions to
social problems diverge from the existing institutions in a field of activity can
be regarded as institutional entrepreneurs (Mair & Martí, 2006). Commercial
microfinance organizations that provide loans to low-income entrepreneurs
under market conditions are an example (Battilana & Dorado, 2007).
Commercial microfinance organizations are institutional entrepreneurs
because they combine two potentially competing institutional logics in an
innovative way, thereby diverging from both. Like their not-for-profit coun-
terparts, they are driven by the value of social development: their purpose is to
help the poor disenfranchised from conventional banks by democratizing
access to credit and other financial services. But unlike their not-for-profit
counterparts, commercial microfinance organizations are regulated by bank-
ing laws that require that fiduciary obligations towards investors and deposi-
tors be fulfilled. They thus deal with both the development logic that guides
their mission to help the poor and the banking logic that dictates that the
interest rates they charge generate profits sufficient to enable them to fulfill
their fiduciary obligations. Research on institutional entrepreneurship can be
fruitfully mobilized to inform our understanding of the challenges faced by
such social entrepreneurs and the strategies they employ to meet them. With
the current economic crisis forcing a rethinking of our economic system, it is
crucial that the sustainability conditions of organizations that combine a com-
mercial and social development logic be better understood.
Another domain of research that remains to be developed is at the intersec-
tion of research on institutional entrepreneurship and research on change
agency. As previously mentioned, institutional entrepreneurs are a category of
change agent, distinguished from other change agents in that the changes they
initiate
diverge
from existing institutions in a field of activity. We need to
better understand the specificities of the strategies used by institutional
entrepreneurs relative to those used by other change agents (who implement
non-divergent changes). Owing to the divergent nature of the changes they
implement, do institutional entrepreneurs need more time and capacity as well
as resources and skills? If so, how much and which ones? It would also be inter-
esting to investigate whether the variables that influence the outcomes of the
change process are similar for divergent and non-divergent changes. But com-
parative research on change initiatives should not be limited to divergent and
non-divergent change; also needed is a more fine-grained understanding of the
concept of divergent change. Rather than rely on a dichotomous approach that
contrasts divergent and non-divergent change, recent research measures the
extent to which changes diverge from the institutional contexts within which
they are implemented (Battilana, 2007). We also need to further explore the
nature of divergent change. Are there different categories, and, if so, what are
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the antecedents of the different types of divergent change? Battilana (2007)
shows, for example, that different types of divergent change are likely to be
initiated by institutional entrepreneurs who occupy different social positions
in a field.
Finally, institutional entrepreneurship is likely to contribute to the ongoing
interaction between organizational theory and research on social movements
(Davis, Morrill, Rao, & Soule, 2008). The latter provides a framework for ana-
lyzing large-scale institutional changes and shares several major assumptions
with research on institutional entrepreneurship. Schneiberg and Lounsbury
(2008) find the two approaches to share views about embedded agency and
show how agents draw upon existing institutions to create new ones, as well as
identify as critical to change some of the same processes including framing,
theorization, transposition, and the recombination of logics. But whereas
research on institutional entrepreneurship tends to concentrate on specific
agents, research on social movements places greater emphasize on collective
mobilization. This suggests that each approach might contribute to the devel-
opment of the other. Research on institutional entrepreneurship might con-
tribute to a better understanding of how some agents get to spearhead and
organize social movements, thereby bringing a more micro view to this macro
and structural perspective. As we already discussed earlier, research on social
movements might in turn contribute to research on institutional entrepre-
neurship, by helping to fill a gap in the existing literature related to the com-
plex collective action that follows institutional entrepreneurs’ actions.
Expanding the Methods
To explore the new research directions presented earlier, the methods used to
study institutional entrepreneurship will need to be expanded. The discursive
dimension occupies center stage in the current literature on institutional
entrepreneurs’ strategies (Creed et al., 2002; De Holan & Phillips, 2002;
Fligstein, 1997, 2001; Maguire et al., 2004; Rao, 1998; Rao et al., 2000). Current
research privileges discourse analysis in its various forms including critical
discourse analysis (Munir & Phillips, 2005), narrative analysis (Zilber, 2007),
framing analysis (Creed et al., 2002; Rothenberg, 2007), and rhetoric (Suddaby
& Greenwood, 2005). Some researchers even propose that institutional entre-
preneurship is mainly a discursive strategy whereby institutional entrepre-
neurs generate stories, discourses, and texts aimed at affecting the processes of
social constructions that underlie institutions (Morrill & Owen-Smith, 2002;
Munir & Phillips, 2005; Phillips et al., 2004). Acknowledging the importance
of discourse in communicating, and mobilizing people behind, a vision for
divergent change, we nevertheless argue for taking into account other dimen-
sions of the process of divergent change implementation. Recent efforts to
consider such other dimensions as practices (Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007)
and material resources (Wijen & Ansari, 2007) call for new methods that
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complement those focused exclusively on actors’ discourse and cognition.
Methods drawn from the literatures on communities of practice (Brown &
Duguid, 1991; Wenger, 1998), strategy as practice (Chia, 2004; Jarzabkowski,
2004; Whittington, 1996), Bourdieu’s (1977) notion of habitus, and actor-
network-theory (Callon, 1986; Latour, 1987) might provide interesting
insights into practices and material elements that could complement the
ideational emphasis of institutional theory.
Another important methodological issue is the need for comparison.
Empirical research thus far has been reported largely in monographs on suc-
cessful institutional entrepreneurs in organizational fields. Most studies are
process analyses of institutional entrepreneurship based on single, in-depth,
longitudinal case studies (De Holan & Phillips, 2002; Garud et al., 2002; Munir
& Phillips, 2005). This approach has yielded valuable insights, but within lim-
its. To assess these insights and develop others, we need to move beyond idio-
syncratic research. Yet, multi-case comparative research remains rare (for
exceptions, see Boxenbaum and Daudigeos (2008), Lawrence et al. (2002) and
Rothenberg (2007)). Although much could be learned by comparing success-
ful institutional entrepreneurs with failed ones, research thus far has focused
almost exclusively on the former. Failure cases are, in fact, more difficult to
detect and study in retrospect, but this situation introduces a strong bias in
our understanding of institutional entrepreneurship. It also hinders our
ability to identify which combinations of factors correlate most closely with
successful outcomes of divergent change. A method such as qualitative com-
parative analysis (Fiss, 2007; Ragin, 2000) seems well-suited to examining
which combinations of variables lead to specific outcomes—in terms of the
emergence of institutional entrepreneurs, the process of divergent change
implementation in which they engage, and the diffusion processes to which
they might contribute.
There is also a need for studies that systematically compare the actions
undertaken by institutional entrepreneurs who implement divergent changes
with those usually undertaken by change agents implementing non-divergent
changes. Finally, it seems important to develop finer-grained analyses that will
account for the actions and values of all of the agents involved in the process
of shaping institutions. To the extent that institutional entrepreneurship
evokes a complex political process, it is necessary to document the actions of
institutional entrepreneurs and their collaborators as well as the actions of
those who oppose them (DiMaggio, 1988; Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).
Conclusion
We present institutional entrepreneurs as actors who introduce changes that
diverge from existing institutions in a given environment. We highlight
specific challenges faced by institutional entrepreneurs who attempt to create,
and try to mobilize people behind, a vision that induces them to adopt
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unfamiliar templates of action that break with existing institutions in a partic-
ular context. We further outline how this conception of institutional entrepre-
neurs differs from, yet overlaps with, some forms of entrepreneurship
including social entrepreneurship as well as with some forms of change
agency. We also trace the origins of institutional entrepreneurship, and place
the concept in the context of organization theory. Our elaboration of the
controversy surrounding agency in institutional change highlights the tension
between the notion of actors as strategic agents and the powerful influence of
institutional forces on human agency. Termed the paradox of embedded
agency, this tension—one of the most important challenges facing contempo-
rary institutional theory—might find its resolution in the notion of institu-
tional entrepreneurship as long as it accounts for actors’ embedded agency.
Research on institutional entrepreneurs has been instrumental in restoring
agency as a central issue in, and to some extent shaping the evolutionary path
of, institutional theory. This approach is consistent with DiMaggio’s (1988)
insistence, in his seminal article on institutional theory, on the importance of
agency. The contribution of research on institutional entrepreneurship is not
limited to institutional theory. A number of research traditions including
research on change, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and social
movements have been, or potentially could be, enriched by the stream of
research on institutional entrepreneurship, which in turn would also benefit
from these other streams of research. More broadly, because it aims to under-
stand how individual and organizational actors might contribute to changing
the institutional environment in which they are embedded despite institu-
tional pressures toward stasis, research on institutional entrepreneurship
contributes to the field of organization theory by reviving its mandate to
attend to the role of organizations and individual actors in the larger social
system (Hinings & Greenwood, 2002; Parsons, 1956; Stern & Barley, 1996).
This revival is crucial at a time when we are trying to understand the failure
of, and face the difficult challenge of reforming, some of our institutions
including markets. How the social system influences organizational behavior
and how individual and organizational actions can affect the social system,
are precisely what we need to understand at this juncture. A better under-
standing of embedded agency might enable actors to influence more effec-
tively the direction of change and thereby favor more desirable institutional
change. We agree with those who maintain that institutional theory stands
the best chance of arriving at such understanding (Davis & Marquis, 2005;
Kanter & Khurana, in press), but it will do so only if it leverages the stream of
research on institutional entrepreneurship including synergies with related
research traditions. Because institutional change is a highly complex and
uncertain process, the outcome of which is difficult to predict, we should
devote additional effort to trying to understand better how actors can initiate
and implement divergent change. By doing so, institutional scholars will
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inform our understanding not only of the institutional origins of a crisis such
as the one that we are currently facing, but also of how actors, in particular,
policymakers, might reform institutions.
Acknowledgments
We would like to thank Jim Walsh and Arthur Brief as well as Thomas
D’Aunno, Robin Ely, Ranjay Gulati, Linda Hill, Rakesh Khurana, David Levy,
Johanna Mair, Joshua Margolis, Michael Lounsbury, Christopher Marquis,
Melissa Ouellet, Leslie Perlow, David Thomas, Michael Tushman, and Marc
Ventresca for their comments on previous versions of this paper. Conversations
with Marie- Laure Djelic, Tom Lawrence and Michel Anteby have also been
extremely useful in improving this paper. All mistakes are ours.
Endnote
1. We examined research on institutional entrepreneurship from 1988, the year
DiMaggio’s book chapter brought the notion into organizational analysis,
onward. We searched the EBSCHOT Business Source Premier and JSTOR data-
bases for entries in peer-reviewed journals that contained in the title, abstract,
keywords, or full text at least one of the following keyword phrases: institutional
entrepreneur or institutional entrepreneurship. This procedure generated more
than 100 articles. Excluding editorials, calls for papers, and articles that made
reference to the terms only in passing or referred to other meanings or theories
(e.g., economic approaches such as transaction cost analysis) left us with more
than 60 articles published in refereed publications. We then used the reference
lists of the selected articles to identify recurrent references published in journals
not included in the database as well as book chapters.
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