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Learning to collaborate: a study of business networks

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2010
JournalJournal of Business and Industrial Marketing
Number of pages15
Original languageEnglish


Purpose – This paper seeks to give empirical examples of the processes whereby networks learn to collaborate. Specifically, the authors aim to examine efforts to learn to collaborate in response to the challenge of climate change.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses case study research methods to examine concepts previously developed in the literature and propose a conceptual framework of barriers to learning to collaborate.

Findings – Existing research on collaboration over environmental issues highlights the prevalence of cognitive deficiencies, an abundance of conflicts and disputes and the ignorance of exchange opportunities among interdependent actors. Based on a theoretical review and an empirical case study, the authors put forward a framework that involves three stages. The paper proposes that networks learning to collaborate undergo a process of: framing the problem; negotiating; and achieving wise trades.

Practical implications – At all three of the stages given above, there are significant cognitive biases, which can lead to failure to learn to collaborate. The paper gives examples that should help businesses and regulators to understand and avoid in-built barriers that could lead to a failure of the network to learn to collaborate.

Originality/value – The paper reviews a number of research disciplines linked to collaboration and gives an empirical case study that explores their links. The authors then propose a conceptual framework of barriers to learning to collaborate, which can be used to help guide practitioners. Failure to learn to collaborate can be found in the many contemporary cases of conflicts and disputes; such as in the areas of intellectual property rights, international trade, inter-firm alliances and vertical marketing systems.