Research project

Research on the Governance of Interorganizational Project Networks

BI Norwegian Business School
KHEOPS International Research Consortium of the Governance of Large Infrastructure Projects
University of Technology Sydney
Dalian University of Technology
University of Iceland
ISM University of Management and Economics

Projects are the dominant delivery mechanism for assets, services, and other forms of value-add. They range from relatively small short-term product improvements to the delivery of large national icons like airports or space exploration missions.

Studies show that projects grow in average size and number of contributing organizations, such as individual entrepreneurs, companies, public institutions or NGOs. These contributing organizations often work together in some projects over time, but not in others. Hence, one can perceive them as an interorganizational network that executes joint projects over time. However, we know little about the ways these networks are governed (steered) over time and the impact of this governance on the performance of these networks. This study addresses this knowledge gap by asking:

How are longer-term interorganizational networks governed for a series of joint projects?

As governance approaches are idiosyncratic for their particular setting, we also aim to identify the contextual contingencies of the different network governance approaches, and ask:

Which theories, structural designs and governance practices are used in different contexts?

The study aims to develop a framework of interorganizational network governance practices and theories, and their situational contingencies, for improved governance of these networks. 

Through that, it

  • Identifies the variety of network designs and their governance approaches for long-term interorganizational networks established for multi-project execution over time.
  • Identifies the situational and contextual contingencies in the design of these networks and their governance approaches, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as related performance implications.
  • Develops a practitioner-ready framework of practices and theories, together with their contextual contingencies, to better understand, design, adjust, and govern these networks for the benefit of the organizations and their projects.

The findings will improve the understanding of the nature of network governance in the realm of cross-organizational projects, provide governance design options and their contextual contingencies for organizations, as well as identify the governance dimensions and quantify their impact on the performance of networks, allowing to fine-tune governance settings to maximize organizational performance.

The investigation is done by a team of renowned researchers from universities around the world, specialized in the governance of temporary undertakings, such as projects, and networks of projects. The study is lead by Professor Ralf Müller, from BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway as Principal Investigator and the team consists of:

  • Professor Nathalie Drouin, University of Quebec in Montreal and Executive Director of KHEOPS, Canada
  • Professor Fangei Zhu and Dr Linzhuo Wang from Dalian University of Technology, China
  • Associate Professor Inga Minelgaite, from the University of Iceland
  • Associate Professor Anne Live Vaagaasar, from BI Norwegian Business School
  • Dr Yongjian Ke, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
  • Professor Raimonda Alonderienė, Margarita Pilkienė, Dr Saulius Šimkonis, and Associate Professor Alfredas Chmieliauskas from ISM University of Management and Economics in Lithuania

The Project Management Institute (PMI®) has awarded its prestigious 2020 Research Grant to fund parts of this study.

The study will be conducted in three steps:

Step 1

A systematic literature review on the topics of structural designs, approaches and practices of network governance and their contextual contingencies. This develops a theoretical understanding of the phenomenon and refines the research questions. Systematic literature reviews are especially appropriate for structuring findings by contextual differences. Hence, this step identifies “what works in which context” and allows to develop the propositions for the subsequent qualitative study.

Step 2

Using a multiple-case research design, the country teams will conduct a series of in-depth case studies. The sampling will primarily focus on networks in the construction industry as this industry practices networking frequently. However, networks from other sectors will also be analyzed in order to identify indicators for possible sector contingencies. Variety sampling will be used for the cases, as this allows identifying generic patterns in the data, with the final number of interviews and cases being determined by theoretical saturation of the findings (thus a theoretical sampling approach within each case). A case-study protocol was developed upfront to ensure data comparability, validity and reliability across the cases. The data are analyzed using within-case and cross-case analyses.

At this step, a set of hypotheses and their integration into a model are developed. Hence, this step will test and expand the propositions developed in step 1 and convert them into a set of testable hypotheses to be used in step 3. The goal of this test is to identify the nature, scope and situational contingencies.

Step 3

A worldwide web-based questionnaire will globally and quantitatively test, validate, and expand on the hypotheses developed in Step 2. The questionnaire will target project managers and managers in network governance roles, contacted through the professional organizations for project management (such as PMI, IPMA, APM etc.) and through the researchers’ existing networks. This implies a cross-sectional snowball approach to sampling, and the collection of demographic data to assess demographic differences (e.g. national cultures). The questionnaire will cover the topical areas of network governance design, practices and performance, together with respondent and network demographics. This step will end with theory development, where the results from the three studies (literature review, qualitative, and quantitative) will be integrated to an overall theory, using contemporary theory development techniques to derive at a framework of governance approaches and their situational contingencies.

Findings and their dissemination

Workshops for participating organizations, articles in academic journals and professional magazines, as well as presentations at conferences and other events are planned to communicate and disseminate the findings. A further communication channel will be this website, which will be updated regularly to reflect the status of the project and its findings.

: April 2022: