When the petting zoo spawns into monsters

Sascha Naderer, a former master student at JKU Linz, and I published a paper on crowdfunding in the Journal “Organization: Innovation & Management” titled “When the petting zoo spawns into monsters: open dialogue and a venture’s legitimacy quest in crowdfunding.” (you can access the article also here).

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Digital Transformation: an institutional perspective

Bob Hinings, Royston Greenwood and I published an article titled “Digital innovation and transformation: An institutional perspective” in the journal Organization and Information.

Two observations were critical inspirations for this article. First, Uber experiences how the regulatory contexts of the transportation industry in European cities effectively results in a shutdown of its services in certain jurisdictions. Second, I saw a talk from an Airbnb employee at a conference. He emphasized how crucial the review systems are for the functioning of the market, but he understated the role of existing institutional frameworks. However, through verifying IDs or using insurance services, Airbnb leverages existing institutions too. The lesson from Uber is that context matters – despite the disruptive, forward-looking ‚digital talk‘ championed in Silicon Valley. We can learn from Airbnb that we should think more about the interplay between new and old arrangements.

Consequently, and embracing an institutional perspective, we understand digital transformation as “the combined effects of several digital innovations bringing about novel actors (and actor constellations), structures, practices, values, and beliefs that change, threaten, replace or complement existing rules of the game within organizations and fields“ (Hinings et al., 2018: 3). To become institutionalized, such novel digital arrangements must gain legitimacy (i.e., social acceptance) of critical audiences in a given institutional field.

If you want to learn more, check out our article. You can contact me also via researchgate.


Paola Ometto, Johanna Winter, Royston Greenwood, and I published an article in Business & Society titled: “From Balancing Missions to Mission Drift: The Role of the Institutional Context, Spaces, and Compartmentalization in the Scaling of Social Enterprises“. In this article, we examine how a social enterprise in Brazil (a student organization at a private university) struggles to maintain (and ultimately fails) to maintain its mission as it scales-up. We suggest that in addition to spaces of negotiation (in our case the student organization’s assemblies a decision-making arena), herding spaces matter too (arenas allowing a social enterprise to pull support from its environment). However, we demonstrate how compartmentalization undermines these spaces as the organization scales up.

Against the backdrop of this article, I would like to note that I am increasingly fond of longitudinal studies. A mechanism in play at point X in time to prevent, say, mission drift, may not only not work at point Y, but the mechanism operating at point X may lead to unintended (or being unaware of) consequences cumulating into that mission drift at point Y. This paper is based on an empirical, longitudinal study covering a period of 13 years and leverage this rich data over time for our theorizing. If we had just ignored time or examined a shorter period (e.g., the early years of this organization), our story would be a different one (concluding that the organization can balance its missions). However, even if we assume a research question fit, it is undoubtedly neither always possible nor feasible to examine such long time spans. Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves: if we can expand the temporal horizon of studying our phenomenon of interest, what could we learn?

Fellow Austrian Academy of Sciences and more updates

After finishing my dissertation and doing research on crowdwork (see previous blogpost), the Austrian Academy of Sciences awarded me with a Post-DocTrack-Pilotprogram-fellowship of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (19.000 Euro) for continuing to my work on journal manuscripts focusing on crowdsourcing. I will not be able to complete the entire 6-month program, since I will start an assistant professorship (“Juniorprofessur) in digital transformation at the Leuphana University beginning 1st of April 2018 (more on that in my next posts).

In the winter term, I also taught a master course on digital transformation at Leuphana University and took part in activities of the new Digital Transformation Research Center.

I also gave talks on my research at the BI Business School and the University of Innsbruck. Sascha Naderer and I organized a “Food for thoughts” session at the Axis co-working space in Linz, where we sought to transfer our gained insights on crowdfunding to practitioners. I also participated in a discussion on how society can cope and shape digital transformation at the “Das Progressive Zentrum” in Berlin (look at a report of the discussion, I´ve also written a blog post here).


Conferences in 2017 and research project Hans-Böckler-Stiftung on crowdwork

I attended several conferences this year, the Academy of Management conference in Atlanta (paper presentation and participation in the OMT doctoral consortium), co-host of a sub-theme at this years SASE meeting, the Open and User Innovation workshop in Innsbruck (with two papers), the EGOS Conference (participation in the doctoral consortium) in Kopenhagen and the Early Scholars Workshop at WU Vienna.

Research Project Crowdwork

Together with Max Ellmer and Claudia Scheba, I am conducting research on what participation mechanisms crowdsourcing platforms deploy to inform, seek feedback, engage in a dialogue with the crowd or include the crowd in decision making. I am grateful to the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung to fund this research.

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Crowdsourcing in the public sector: Why people participate in the urban maintenance platform schau.auf.linz.at

How can we use technology to improve the interactions and relationship between (local) governments and their citizens? This question guided my research when working for a Toronto-based think-tank led by Don Tapscott in 2010. Coming back from Toronto, I contributed to theorizing an online platform (web- and app-based) for reporting urban maintenance issues in Linz. Following a motion of former vice-mayor of Linz, Christian Forsterleitner, the administration implemented this idea and launched schau.auf.linz.at. Other cities are now adopting the Schau.auf.Linz platform too, such as the City of Bregenz.

This project also resulted in numerous research activities such as publications and conference submissions (e.g., poster at the MIT Collective Intelligence Conference, HICCS 2017, a book chapter). Most recently, Lisa Schmidthuber, Dennis Hilgers, myself and Stefan Etzelstorfer have a paper forthcoming in Government Information Quarterly with the title: „The emergence of local open government: Determinants of citizen participation in online service reporting.“ This paper examines why people participate in public crowdsourcing platforms (also called citizensourcing), such as Schau.auf.Linz. The dataset for this paper is a survey sent to 2200 registered users (773 completed questionnaires, a response rate of 35.14 %). One finding is that people who already reported urban maintenance issues via traditional channels (e.g., telephone, e-mail) are more active on the platform.

Doctoral studies completed

I completed my doctoral studies at Johannes Kepler University Linz in July. The hard work in the last five years paid off, my cumulative dissertation, titled „Cultural Entrepreneurship: Making Audiences Attend, Understand, and Value“ is a witness to that. My supervisors of the dissertation were Robert Bauer (JKU Linz) and Michael Lounsbury (University of Alberta); Johann Füller (Universität of Innsbruck) served as the third examiner of my defense.
Cultural entrepreneurship has two meanings: first, it is generally associated with entrepreneurship in the creative industries, and second, it refers to a sociologically-grounded concept within management research seeking to shed light on the socio-cultural dynamics of entrepreneurial efforts (see Lounsbury and Glynn, 2001). I situate my dissertation in the latter sense.
The starting point of my dissertation is that a functioning product or service is not sufficient to establish a new venture in the marketplace. Why? New ventures suffer from the liability of newness – crucial external audiences such as media, consumers, and investors face uncertainty whether a new venture deserves their support. To address this challenge, a new venture seeks to manipulate its environment through cultural entrepreneurship efforts such as storytelling, impression management, and symbolic action that serve as identity claims aiming at influencing external audiences’ perceptions. These cultural entrepreneurship efforts support a venture in overcoming the liability of newness because it helps external audiences to understand who the new venture is, what it does and what it seeks to achieve. In response to such efforts, external audiences may perceive the venture as legitimately distinct (i.e. socially accepted and desirable) within a social context.
My cumulative dissertation consists of two major parts. In the first part, I review the intellectual journey that brought me to this point. The cumulative dissertation consists of six manuscripts, three published in well-respected international journals, the other three were submitted to reputable conferences.
Building on the insights of the first part, I develop a dynamic cultural entrepreneurship framework in the second part of my dissertation. The framework takes stock on how a new venture utilizes cultural entrepreneurship efforts with the aim to receive audience endorsements. An endorsement is a social evaluation predicated on three steps: an audience must attend to a venture, understand who the venture is and what it does, and, make some kind of value judgment, such as a pragmatic judgment regarding the value of a venture’s product offerings. I demonstrate that as a new venture evolves (i.e. launch, growth and maturity phase), it ought to address specific subtypes of an audience category (media, consumers, and investors) relevant to the current development stage of a venture (e.g. crowdfunders as investors in the launch phase, angel investors in the growth phase). I also consider the interactive effects among audiences, for instance, media stories positively affect investor decisions. At the start, a new venture can draw on its resources at hand (e.g. a founder’s social capital) to convince external audiences. As the new venture evolves, it can build on the audiences’ endorsements of previous phases in its cultural entrepreneurship efforts. These efforts are further influenced by three field level factors, namely, norms and rules of an industry, industry structure, and industry competition.
With this framework, I enrich conversations on new venture legitimation in general and the culture entrepreneurship literature specifically. I address three current gaps in the literature: first, the role of various audiences at a particular time of a new venture’s development, second, the role of openness or involvement of audiences in co-constructing legitimacy, and third, integrating the attention construct.

If you want to have a read my dissertation, please write me an e-mail to thomas.gegenhuber[a]jku.at

What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

The next annual meeting of SASE (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics) dedicates its attention to the digital economy. The internet and web-based technologies enable forms of organizing that are innovative and beneficial for our society, yet, these forms can also be disruptive, challenging and a potential source for (new) inequalities. Elke Schüßler (JKU Linz), Robert Bauer (JKU Linz), Stefan Kirchner (Universität Hamburg) and I are hosting a mini-conference at the conference, where we want to discuss the role of regulation in the context of digital intermediaries  (Regulating Platform Capitalism: The Emerging Role of Digital Intermediaries). For more information see the SASE Homepage.


Drowning in data?

What happens after you collected your data? Rest assured, whether you are a PhD student or a more experienced researcher, facing the data behemoth is always overwhelming. Every time. Yet, the task is likely to be even more intimidating for early scholars.
It is at this very point – approaching your dataset after collection – where Leanne Hedberg and I hope that our blog post, that was just published on the blog of the Organization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management, will be helpful.
The insights provided in this post (based on a workshop held by Prof. Trish Reay, University of Alberta), aimed to help answer the questions of “What now?” and “Where do I possibly begin?”. You can access the blog post on the OMT blog, or from the JKU Homepage (Institute of Organization) as a pdf.-file


Making an Impression with Openness

Open Innovation, Open Strategy, Crowdsourcing, Co-creation – all these firm-centric concepts have their roots in an open systems perspective and emphasize the value of interacting with and leveraging external actors. Arguably, there is a growing interest in research and practice to understand openness. But what is openness? Organizational openness towards external actors is associated in the literature either with, first, including external actors by seeking their input; second, exercising transparency by revealing internal information; and third, combining these approaches in a coupled mode.

Most research foregrounds substantial openness functions, such as getting useful suggestions from external audiences or using transparency to increase commitment and understanding of a firm’s strategy. Building upon the work of Whittington and colleagues (2016), Leonhard Dobusch and I sought to shed further light on how openness can be used as an impression management instrument (i.e using openness as an instrument to influence external audiences’ perceptions). From an open strategy perspective, on the one side, we know little about the underlying mechanisms driving the impression management effects of openness. On the other side, the impression management literature has paid openness scant attention.

In our article forthcoming Long Range Planning Special Issue on Open Strategy („Making an impression through openness: How open strategy-making practices change in the evolution of new ventures“) we were intrigued by two new ventures’ radical openness approach on their respective blogs and the positive blog and media audience reactions to this organizational practice (the time-tracking application Mite and the social media management and sharing tool Buffer). Both firms broadcasted relevant strategic information (e.g. user statistics, financial numbers), actively engaged in a dialogue with their blog audiences and even included them into decision making. While such openness may also substantively contribute to organizational outcomes (e.g. getting useful suggestions), we examined its impression management function.

Drawing on a comparative, longitudinal case study of the two new ventures communication on strategy-related issues over a four-year period, we demonstrate that openness enables firms to tap into a repertoire of proactive impression management strategies in novel ways. For instance, dialoguing with users and soliciting their opinions can be leveraged as flattery (ingratiation) and organizational self-promotion (projecting an image of competence).  Further, we show that open strategy-making contributes to new ventures’ quests for legitimacy (i.e. social acceptance) as they evolve. In the launch phase, dialoguing with blog audiences helps a venture attract endorsements for its organization and products. As the venture grows, concentrating on broadcasting relevant strategic information may attract media audiences’ additional support for pursuing openness as a desirable organizational practice.


Further information 

The University of Innsbruck published a news article on their website (in German). For further information on open strategy, check out the open strategy network.