Between Hierarchy and Collective Action: The Architecture of Collaboration in Planning the UK’s New Railway Network (HS2)

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This inductive study asks why a traditional hierarchy would want to add elements of collective action and theorises how this hybrid form of organizing works. The research is grounded on the UK Government’s strategic choice, in planning the country’s first railway network in 120 years (HS2), to share decision rights with the local authorities for the cities on the route – creating an interorganizational context lacking the selective pressure and information-generating capabilities of a competitive market, well-defined property rights, and enmeshed in democratic politics. We reveal how, once this hybrid structure is set up – in an environment that punishes the state if it reneges on promises – rivalrous choices hinge on building consensus. We show this collective strategy is effective to motivate autonomous stakeholders, not bound by contracts, to cooperate and volunteer complementary resources towards the system-level goal. But we also show concomitant risks of common losses and exploitation of the hierarchy as the stakeholders compete for their share of value. We trace the sustainability of this hybrid structure to the hierarchy’s capacity to leverage its authority to select when, and to whom, to grant decision rights, protect some resources while sharing others, and mobilise slack for coordinated adaptation. We contend this strategic choice reflects a context-sensitive judgment that the net returns of collaborating are higher than those flowing from leveraging regulation to contract for resource exchanges and property rights. We add to strategic management research on new forms of organizing that are aligned with environmental and resource exchange conditions by focusing on the public sector.
Original languageEnglish
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Publication statusSubmitted - 2019


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