Balancing Acts - Managing Inter-Organizational Collaboration for Innovation

Harri Paananen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This study gives a holistic examination of the management of inter-organizational collaboration for innovation, from the macro level of innovation policy to the micro level of boundary-spanning management practice, while embedded in the meso level of managing diverse inter-organizational innovation consortia. The research context are the SHOK research consortia (Strategic Centres for Science, Technology and Innovation), which offer an intriguing site for studying inter-organizational collaboration. They aim to create breakthrough innovations, which can be transformed into growth in business life and wellbeing in society by pooling together the expertise and resources of companies, universities, and research institutions. It is of great importance to study how the collaboration of the different actors in these clusters can be managed for more efficiency, productivity, and ultimately, innovativeness. The study utilizes a combination of theoretical lenses, primarily those of paradox management and practice theory, to build upon the existing research around managing inter-organizational collaboration for innovation. It is built as a series of qualitative case studies, examining three layers within the Finnish SHOK innovation policy instrument: the macro level of the instrument itself, the meso layer of five case study research programs within one SHOK, and the micro layer of a single-case study of an exceptionally successful research program. The primary contributions of the dissertation are fourfold: First, it sheds light on how collaboration instruments in national innovation policy are designed with an overemphasis on structures while neglecting management practices, and calls for a balanced focus on both the DUI (doing, using, and interacting) and STI (science, technology, and innovation) modes of innovation. Second, it examines through comparative case studies what kind of paradoxical tensions are manifested in inter-organizational research programs, illustrates the role of proximity issues as antecedents of tensions, and underlines the prevalence of the learning-performing tension. Third, it illustrates how through "paradox management", a balanced, ambidextrous mode of leadership and organizing, inter-organizational collaboration can be pushed towards better innovative performance, while imbalanced approaches leaning towards either pole of a paradoxical tension will yield sub-optimal results. Fourth, it shows how balancing boundary-spanning practices can significantly contribute to the successful management of inter-organizational collaboration for innovation. The dissertation provides evidence on why and how a specific, conscious investment into the everyday practice of managing collaboration over organizational boundaries can pay high dividends.
Translated title of the contributionTasapainottelua - Poikkiorganisatorisen yhteiskehittämisen johtaminen
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Smeds, Riitta, Supervising Professor
  • Irrmann, Olivier, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6328-7
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6329-4
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • collaboration
  • collaborative innovation
  • innovativeness
  • practice
  • management
  • paradoxical tension
  • proximity


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