How city administrations use collaboration to tackle the challenges of the future


Global pandemics, migration, climate change: Complex problems cannot be tackled by individual organizations and collectives all by themselves. Collaboration is imperative. Dennis Jancsary has teamed up with fellow WU researchers Renate E. Meyer and Markus A. Höllerer and Douglas Creed (University of Rhode Island) to investigate how city administrations are trying to motivate different stakeholder groups to work together to make cities more resilient in the face of major challenges. In recognition of his work, WU is naming Dennis Jancsary Researcher of the Month.

The study looks at so-called “wicked problems” – problems that are so complex that they can only be addressed based on forms of social organization that are highly inclusive and combine the skills and resources of diverse groups. Organizational research in this area consistently emphasizes the importance of collaboration, engagement, and participation across social divides. The collective as a whole is only as resilient as the weakest link in the chain.

In practice, however, we often see that the very challenges that would require a high degree of participation and collaboration actually deepen existing rifts in society. A current example: the protests against measures for fighting the Covid pandemic.

The study shows that city administrations are aware of this problem. Key barriers to collaboration across social groups include:

  • No common ground for cooperation due to the unequal distribution of resources and social exclusion

  • A lack of mutual trust or appreciation

  • Inadequate institutional and cultural conditions for sustainable collaboration on a broader scale (e.g. lack of experience with participatory processes, no formalized structures to involve marginalized groups)

Collaboration under difficult conditions

The city administrations studied have developed strategies to eliminate these barriers: They openly address social inequalities, signaling to marginalized groups that they are willing to engage in a dialog, while at the same time convincing privileged groups that collective problems can only be addressed through collaboration. These strategies also do not put the blame for specific problems on individual groups. Instead, the “blame” is placed on abstract circumstances or external factors, as well as past mistakes.

In their strategies, city administrations go to great lengths to establish an inclusive “we” as the winner benefiting from the proposed measures, rather than creating the impression that it is all about zero-sum games.

About Dennis Jancsary

Dennis Jancsary is an assistant professor at the Institute for Organization Studies at WU Vienna. In 2011, he received his PhD in economics and social sciences from WU, where he also obtained his venia docendi in business administration in 2021. Between 2014 and 2015, he conducted research at Copenhagen Business School (CBS). In 2016, as a SCANCOR visiting fellow, he completed a research stay at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University in Boston.

His research focuses on institutionalist approaches in organizational studies, specifically the role of language and communication in institutional dynamics at the organizational and field levels. He is looking closely at the role of visual and multimodal communication in management-relevant rhetoric, narratives, and symbols. His work includes theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions and innovations in these areas.

Dennis Jancsary’s work has been published in prestigious academic journals such as Academy of Management Annals, the Academy of Management Review, Organization Science, and Organization Studies. Dennis Jancsary also serves on the editorial review boards of Organization Studies and Organization Theory.

Researcher of the Month

With the Researcher of the Month series, WU presents outstanding work by researchers who have made important contributions to solving key economic, social, and legal issues. Our monthly Researcher of the Month video provides insights into the work of our researchers and offers glimpses behind the scenes of WU’s diverse research activities.

Further information

W.E. Douglas Creed, Dennis Jancsary, Renate E. Meyer, Markus A. Höllerer: Inequality, political opportunity structures, and the challenges of robust action: An analysis of city resilience strategies

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