The literature on cross-sector partnerships has increasingly focused attention on broader systemic or system-level change. However, research to date has been partial and fragmented, and the very idea of systemic change remains conceptually underdeveloped. In this article, we seek to better understand what is meant by systemic change in the context of cross-sector partnerships and use this as a basis to discuss the contributions to the Thematic Symposium. We present evidence from a broad, multidisciplinary systematized review of the extant literature, develop an original definition of systemic change, and oe ff r a framework for understanding the interactions between actors, partnerships, systemic change, and issues. We conclude with some suggestions for future research that we believe will enhance the literature in its next phase of development. Keywords Systemic change · Transformation · Partnership Introduction The broad interdisciplinary literature that has subse- quently emerged around cross-sector partnerships has Cross-sector partnerships—by which we mean relatively addressed a range of conceptual, empirical, practical, and intensive, long-term interactions between organizations methodological issues. These have been comprehensively from at least two sectors (business, government, and/or civil mapped in a series of systematic reviews of the cross-sec- society) aimed at addressing a social or environmental prob- tor partnerships literature including those by Bryson et al. lem—are now a fixture in management research and prac- (2006, 2015), Gray and Stites (2013), Branzei and Le Ber tice. They have become a central theme in research about (2013), Laasonen et al. (2012), Austin and Seitanidi (2012a, the social role and responsibilities of business (Seitanidi and b), and Selsky and Parker (2005). Crane 2009, 2014), the emergence and effectiveness of new A key theme in this literature has been an examination forms of private governance (Auld et al. 2015; Cashore et al. of the performance or effectiveness of cross-sector partner - 2004; Crane 2011; Hahn and Pinkse 2014; Pattberg 2005), ships, particularly with respect to achieving specific organi- and the shifting practices, performance, and legitimacy of zational and societal goals and having meaningful impact civil society (Baur and Palazzo 2011; Baur and Schmitz on supposed beneficiaries (Clarke and Fuller 2010; Clarke 2012; Dauvergne and LeBaron 2014; Herlin 2015). and MacDonald 2016; Seitanidi et al. 2010; Van Tulder et al. 2015). A range of issues have been explored within this stream of the literature from analyses of different types, * Andrew Crane metrics, or meanings of performance, to exploring the mana- A.W.Crane@bath.ac.uk gerial challenges of aligning or accommodating divergent Amelia Clarke goals among partners, and the challenges of devising effec- Amelia.Clarke@uwaterloo.ca tive assessment methodologies. Given that one of the key drivers of partnerships is the Master of Environment and Business Program, School need to address complex social and environmental prob- of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo, Room 4229, Environment 3 Building, 200 lems that are too large or intractable for one organization University Ave. West, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada or sector to tackle alone (Waddock 1989), much attention Centre for Business, Organisations and Society (CBOS), has focused on partnership performance at a macro-level. School of Management, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, That is, rather than seeing partnerships simply in terms of UK Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 304 A. Clarke, A. Crane organization-level outcomes, scholars have increasingly can lead to conceptual confusion and imprecision in theory focused attention on broader systemic or system-level development and testing, as well as inhibiting cross-disci- change. For example, Senge et al. (2006, pp. 421–422) plinary fertilization. discuss the “growing severity of systemic issues” and the Beyond these important definitional problems, there is realization that “eradicating the systemic causes of poverty a host of further challenges that need addressing in explor- was not going to happen through NGO and governmental ing cross-sector partnerships for systemic change. However, actions alone” as key drivers for business and civil society these all rest on establishing a better conceptual foundation actors to “overcome the reluctance to enter into deeper work- in terms of enhanced construct clarity. For instance, it has ing relationships”. Likewise, Austin and Seitanidi (2012a, p. yet to be determined how to design effective partnerships 952) in their review of the outcomes of cross-sector partner- for achieving systemic change, or perhaps more critically, ships state that “at a broader societal level the collaboration under what conditions they can achieve such change and may also contribute to welfare-enhancing systemic change under which they cannot. To answer such question though in institutional arrangements, sectoral relationships, societal requires that we are clear on what kind of system we are values and priorities, and social service and product innova- talking about, and what form of systemic change we are tions, as well as improving the environment with multiple concerned with. Likewise, the critical question of how societal benefits”. to balance or coordinate system-level changes with more The interest in systemic change as a potential outcome micro- and meso-level changes (or even other macro-level of cross-sector partnerships speaks both to the enthusiasm changes) is dependent on refining our conception of systemic among researchers and practitioners for exploring the poten- change and delineating it from other similar but different tial of partnerships to effect deeper-level impact on the social forms of change. and environmental systems in which partners are embed- Our goal in this paper is therefore to understand better ded, and to the unease among critics regarding the negative what is meant by systemic change in the context of cross- effects such transformations might wreak. Extant research, sector partnerships, and use this as a basis to discuss the for example, has explored the ways in which cross-sector contributions to this Thematic Symposium and to elaborate initiatives can enhance the system-level governance of social some potential pathways for further research. To do so, we and environmental problems (Cashore et al. 2004; Auld et al. present evidence from a broad, multidisciplinary review of 2015), while critics have pointed to the corporatization of the extant literature. We analyse this to explore some of the activism (Dauvergne and LeBaron 2014) and societal imbal- different ways that systemic change has been considered in ance (Mintzberg 2015) as adverse system-level problems cross-sector partnership, both explicitly and implicitly, and that partnerships might contribute to. to develop a definition of systemic change and a framework Despite this growing attention to the role of cross-sector of cross-sector partnerships for systemic change that can be partnerships in systemic change, research has to date been used by future researchers to position their research in rela- partial and fragmented. To begin with, the very idea of sys- tion to competing approaches and definitions. temic change remains underdeveloped in the literature. The question of what exactly is meant by “systemic change” in the context of cross-sector partnerships remains some- Methods what unclear, and has often been left unspecified in stud- ies that invoke the term. Similarly, how (if at all) “systemic To get a better sense of how systemic change has been dealt change” differs from other terms used in the literature such with to date in the cross-sector partnership literature, we as “system change” (Selsky and Parker 2005), “transforma- conducted a systematized, interdisciplinary review. Systema- tive change” (Linnenluecke et al. 2017), and “institutional tized reviews include elements of a systematic review, but do change” (Vurro and Dacin 2014) has yet to be established. not aim for complete comprehensiveness (Grant and Booth To date, there seems to be little clarity or consistency in 2009). That is, we were looking to provide a structured, usage of the terms, and there appears to be little by way of indicative review of a very broad and ill-defined literature common definitions across the literature. These problems are base but without necessarily seeking to analyse everything compounded when we look beyond the management litera- that has been written on the subject of cross-sector partner- ture to other disciplines such as politics, health, geography, ships for systemic change. We searched for relevant literature development studies, and environmental science where the in three databases, namely Google Scholar, ProQuest, and systemic effects of cross-sector partnerships have also been Scopus. Each of the three databases offers different search explored. In such disciplines, the types of systems under functionality. To get the widest range of potential literature, examination and the relevant conceptions of what constitutes we used the most inclusive search fields available for each “systemic change” potentially differ even more. Such ambi - database. Therefore, with Google Scholar we were only able guity both within and beyond the management literature to search by title, with ProQuest we could search by title and 1 3 Cross‑Sector Partnerships for Systemic Change: Systematized Literature Review and Agenda… 305 abstract, and ProQuest allowed the widest scope, offering As can be seen from the table, our search found relevant search by title, abstract, and keywords. For convenience, we articles in numerous disciplines. Management is the high- limited the search to journal articles only, but included all est with 27 articles, followed by public administration/pub- articles published up to and including August 2017. lic policy, then health, and then environment/sustainability With respect to search terms, we treated both “cross- and information technology. Discipline was determined sector partnership” and “systemic change” as non-exclusive based on the title of the journal. In terms of search results, labels delineating the relevant literature. We therefore used “transformation + public–private” is by far the highest, and a number of synonyms and related terms across a series of it returned articles in almost every discipline (except law). searches, including those that we knew from experience Institutional change is also found in nine of the disciplines. were likely to be featured in disciplines beyond management. Systemic or system change is only found in four disciplines For cross-sector partnership, we searched “cross-sector part- (management, social work/sociology, health, and environ- nership”, “public–private”, “business–NGO”, “collaborative ment/sustainability). For the other synonyms, public–private governance”, and “collaborative planning”. When combined is found in all disciplines, cross-sector is found in five dis- with “AND systemic change”, this resulted in 15 articles ciplines, collaborative governance in four disciplines, and (including duplicates) across the three databases. Includ- collaborative planning in three. ing “AND system change” yielded an additional 26 articles While articles were selected for matching the keywords, (including duplicates). Therefore, to generate a larger dataset their content sometimes only focuses on one or two sectors. we expanded beyond these two core terms to also include Articles that focus on both the private and public sectors are “system-wide change” (0 results), “major social change” found in all disciplines. Tri-sector interactions are written (0 results), “institutional change” (84 results), and finally about in eight disciplines, public and civil society in four, “transformation” (737 results). public in four, private and civil society in one, and private The inclusion of the latter two terms clearly encapsulated in one. a range of articles with little or no correspondence to sys- temic change, but they also yielded a number of studies that Overview of the Articles by Year did indeed engage with ideas of change at a system level. A variety of “institutional change” studies, for example, There is no particular pattern to the content over time that explicitly considered institutional fields of interconnected can be discerned from this sample, but as can be seen in organizations as a system, while some of the “transforma- Fig. 1 there are more papers in recent years. The oldest two tion” studies considered transformational change in social articles use transformation and private–public. The two in and environmental issues in terms of systems. Altogether, 1999 use systemic change and system change. The first insti- the combined searches yielded 862 articles in total (includ- tutional change in the sample is from 2000. ing duplicates), heavily weighted towards the search term “transformation”. We then removed duplicates and made Overview of the Articles by Systems and Scales an initial assessment of relevance by reading the abstracts. This led to the removal of a large proportion of the “institu- In terms of the scale of systems studied in these articles, 50 tional change” and “transformation” articles. Following this, are focused at the national scale, 13 at the local scale, and six we selected the top 100 most relevant articles—i.e. those more at the sub-national (state/region/province) level. Eight that explicitly appeared to deal with some kind of systemic more are at a multinational or global scale. These account for change, broadly defined, through cross-sector interactions— 75 of the 100 articles. There are four articles on multi-actor as our corpus of literature to analyse. supply chains that focus on the transformation of a product/ material (e.g. Azevedo et al. 2004; Kubde and Bansod 2010) and two focus on transformation of a specific organization Approaches to Systemic Change in the Cross‑Sector (e.g. Wieters 2016). The remaining 17 articles had less obvi- Partnership Literature (Results) ous scales; for example, they consider institutional change in the context of partnerships (e.g. Matos-Castaño et al. 2014), Overview of the Articles by Discipline or in the structure of an organizational field (e.g. Montgom- ery and Oliver 2009), or in a conceptual piece about new The 100 articles ranged from 1994 to 2017. The citation institutionalism (Ingram and Clay 2000). counts ranged from 0 to 406. Three of the four most cited At the national scale, the types of systems studied are articles use institutional change. Table 1 shows the summary diverse, including economic empowerment programme of results by discipline, indicating the number of articles in system in South Africa (Hamann et al. 2008), the wine each discipline, the search terms that resulted in those arti- sector in Argentina (McDermott et al. 2009), water sector cles, and the sectors engaged in those articles. in China (Lee 2010), the Food and Drug Administration’s 1 3 306 A. Clarke, A. Crane Table 1 Summary of results Discipline # of articles Search terms (some articles appeared in more than one search) Sectors engaged Anthropology/history 3 Transformation + public–private (2) Public and private (2) Institutional change + public–private (1) Public and civil society (1) Communications 2 Transformation + public–private (2) Public and private (2) Economics 5 Transformation + public–private (3) Public and private (4) Transformation + cross-sector (2) Tri-sector (1) Institutional change + public–private (1) Education 3 Transformation + public–private (3) Public and private (2) Tri-sector (1) Engineering 1 Transformation + public–private (1) Public and private (1) Environment/sustainability 8 Transformation + public–private (7) Public and private (5) Transformation + cross-sector (1) Tri-sector (3) System change + collaborative planning (1) Geography 5 Transformation + public–private (4) Public and private (3) Institutional change + public–private (1) Tri-sector (2) Health 10 Transformation + public–private (7) Public and private (7) System change + public–private (2) Public and civil society (3) Systemic change + public–private (1) Transformation + collaborative governance (1) Information technology 8 Transformation + public–private (6) Public and private (6) Transformation + collaborative governance (2) Tri-sector (2) Law 2 Institutional change + public–private (2) Public and private (2) Management 27 Transformation + public–private (21) Public and private (16) Transformation + cross-sector (5) Private (5) Institutional change + public–private (3) Tri-sector (3) Transformation + collaborative governance (1) Private and civil society (2) Transformation + collaborative planning (1) Public and civil society (1) Systemic change + cross-sector (1) Systemic change + public–private (1) Political science 6 Transformation + public–private (3) Public and private (3) Institutional change + public–private (2) Tri-sector (2) Transformation + cross-sector (1) Public (1) Transformation + collaborative governance (1) Public administration/public policy 12 Transformation + public–private (8) Public and private (7) Institutional change + public–private (2) Tri-sector (2) Institutional change + collaborative governance (2) Public and civil society (2) Transformation + cross-sector (1) Public (1) Transformation + collaborative governance (1) Social work/sociology 4 Transformation + public–private (2) Public and private (3) Institutional change + public–private (1) Public (1) Systemic change + public–private (1) System change + public–private (1) Urban planning 4 Institutional change + collaborative planning (2) Public and private (2) Institutional change + public–private (1) Public (2) Transformation + public–private (1) Public and private (65) Totals 100 Transformation + public–private (70) Tri-sector (16) Institutional change + public–private (14) Public and civil society (7) Transformation + cross-sector (10) Public (5) Transformation + collaborative governance (5) Private (5) Systemic change + public–private (3) Private and civil society (2) System change + public–private (3) Institutional change + collaborative governance (2) Institutional change + collaborative planning (2) Systemic change + cross-sector (1) Systemic change + collaborative planning (1) Transformation + collaborative planning (1) 1 3 Cross‑Sector Partnerships for Systemic Change: Systematized Literature Review and Agenda… 307 Fig. 1 Number of articles per year regulation of markets in the USA (Frohlich 2012), the Definition of Systemic Change health system in Saudi Arabia (Alonazi 2017), the higher education systems in the UK (Hagen 2002), telecommu- Even with a specific search for articles on systemic change, nications policy in South Korea (Larson and Park 2014), there is no clear usage of the concept. Many articles use e-government in Canada (Langford and Roy 2006). As a term without ever defining it (e.g. Heikkila and Gerlak can be seen from this sampling, cross-sector partner- 2005). In fact, despite our best efforts, our review of the ships and interactions are studied in countries all over the relevant literature did not reveal a single specific definition world. The most frequent topic is health, with 11 articles of systemic change that might be considered fit for the pur - at the national or sub-national level. pose of capturing the phenomenon in a comprehensive and At the local scale, the systems include homeless ser- precise way. We can, however, elucidate some general infer- vices system (Mosley 2014), local public health delivery ences about what is meant with respect to systemic change system (Ingram et al. 2012), water system or watershed in the literature, and from these inferences build our own (Gopakumar 2014; Weber 2009), urban development definition, which follows at the end of this section. (Zhang et al. 2016), land management (McCauley and In general, the articles consider systemic change (or trans- Murphy 2013), urban governance (Guarneros-Meza 2009; formation or institutional change) in relation to the system Meijer and Bolívar 2016). This is only a sampling of the under study. The actual transformation might be indicated articles which focus at the local scale, but shows the by a signic fi ant change in an institutional e fi ld’s structure, in diversity of topics. Water is the most frequent topic area a policy, or in the system’s function. Here is a sampling of with eight articles focusing on this topic. representative definitions for each of our search terms (insti- tutional change, transformation, systemic/system change). Institutional change articles are grounded in the core con- Types of Partnerships Considered cepts of institutional theory and therefore consider change over time in an institutional field, or by an actor on an insti- Given the search criteria, not all the articles are focused tutional field. This meaning of institutional change is exem- on cross-sector partnerships. Some are focused on cross- plified by this quotation: sector interactions more generally, including the bounda- …questions remain on how the process of institu- ries of the public and private sectors (e.g. Ruane 1997). tional change occurs in the context of PPPs, why That said, the majority of those screened into the top 100 and how different environments react differently to articles consider a collaboration or partnership, with the the same set of stimuli and how institutional environ- most frequent being around public–private partnerships ments affect and are in turn affected by the PPP pro- (PPP). Of the 100 articles, 16 use the term public–private jects that are undertaken. Answers to these questions partnership (or PPP) in their title. 1 3 2017 308 A. Clarke, A. Crane could aid policy makers as they attempt to design and Ordonez-Ponce 2017). From the articles in our sample, the alter institutions to foster PPPs in their environments. following quotation exemplifies this meaning: (Matos-Castaño et al. 2014, p. 48) Regions can be analyzed as dynamic and coupled From this quotation, it can be seen that the change being social-ecological systems, which can vary in their abil- studied might be within the PPP as a result of the environ- ity to incorporate and adapt to change… This ability ment’s influence, or it might be within the environment contributes to the resilience of a social-ecological sys- as a result of the PPP’s influence. The focus in this article tem … Anthropogenic and biophysical influences can is not on the social, environmental, or economic problem also transform a region, which implies a fundamental to be solved through the PPP, but rather on the structural and potentially irreversible alteration of the system changes to the institutional field or to the partnerships attributes and function … (Smajgl et al. 2015, p. 15) (Matos-Castaño et al. 2014). For systemic change, this is focused on making major Transformation has a very broad usage of the term, social or environmental improvements in a system, such as from transforming a product to transforming an industry eradicating poverty or addressing unsustainable food sup- to transforming an ecosystem. The next quotation shows ply (Senge et al. 2006). Another example of this term is transformation of the structures within a system. This is the following quotation on child adoption systems, which from an article about transformation of public health deliv- talks about process improvements that will lead to improved ery system structures (Ingram et al. 2012). impacts. Four key determinants of structural change emerged: Most importantly, SWAN has achieved long lasting availability of financial resources, interorganizational systemic changes, including an increase in the number relationships, public health agency organization, and of private agencies providing special needs adoption political relationships. Systems that had changed services, new standards for best practice in adoptions, were more likely to experience strengthened partner- and a network that collaboratively identifies solutions ships between public health agencies and other com- to emerging problems. (Jones 1999, p. 594) munity organizations and enjoy support from policy makers, while stable systems were more likely to be While the search terms—institutional change, transforma- characterized by strong partnerships between public tion, systemic change, and systems change—are hardly syn- health agencies and other governmental bodies and onyms, they are used for similar meanings in many of the less supportive relationships with policy makers. articles within our final sample of 100 (but different mean- (Ingram et al. 2012, p. 208) ings in other articles we excluded). Transformation, in par- ticular, also is used for other meanings such as change (with The next quotation on transformation uses a meaning no relation to a system). Clearly though, there is no precise somewhat similar to the last, focusing on the structure of specification within the literature on what makes change the entities involved, but also adding content about the “systemic” in the context of cross-sector partnerships. impact of this new structure as the goal. It is from an arti- Despite this lack of precision in the literature, the infer- cle on transformation in the wine industry (McDermott ences discussed above suggest that there are a number of et al. 2009). This quotation provides a definition on what relatively common characteristics across the ways that sys- transformation means: temic change is discussed in the literature, and that should [the firm] has led this change, pioneering a new con- form the basis for any definition going forward. Therefore, stellation of institutions and interfirm networks that we propose that systemic change in the context of cross- appears to have facilitated widespread product up- sector partnerships should be defined as follows: grading. (McDermott et al. 2009, p. 1271) Systemic change: the result of actions that lead to a signif- icant alteration within a system, potentially leading to sub- Transformation is also used in the literature on social–eco- stantial impacts. The system can be at any scale. Examples logical systems. From a negative perspective, it is the of systemic change include a fundamental change in policy, result of a change that impacted on a biophysical system transformation of the structure in an institutional field, and or a social system in a way that is undesirable and likely significant change in system attributes or function. irreversible (Smajgl et al. 2015). From a positive perspec- Figure 2 offers a depiction of systemic change that dif- tive, it is a change that significantly improves the situation. ferentiates it from the actor’s actions and from the impact For example, from a climate perspective moving from a on the issue or function. carbon-intensive economy to a low-carbon economy Studies on systemic change can focus on: the actors’ requires a transformation of many systems (Clarke and actions that lead to systemic change; the systemic change (and the role of actors); the impacts and the systemic 1 3 Cross‑Sector Partnerships for Systemic Change: Systematized Literature Review and Agenda… 309 seeking to achieve change in. This, for example, is evident in Actors' / Impact on Systemic the article by Van Tulder and Keen (2018) entitled “Captur- Partnership's Issue or Change Acons Funcon ing Collaborative Challenges: Designing Complexity-Sen- sitive Theories of Change for Cross-Sector Partnerships”. Here, the authors conceptualize systemic change in terms of change that occurs in relation to issues across sectors, or Fig. 2 Systemic change more broadly speaking, “complex” change. They argue that partnerships focused on such complex, systemic issues need changes that led to those impacts; the overarching issue and to be configured differently to those aimed at relatively sim- how it relates to any of these steps; the institutional environ- pler issues. They offer a roadmap for designing such partner - ment and how it relates to any of these steps; or any number ships, centring on the development of a theory of change that of other study boundaries. For this Thematic Symposium, is sensitive to the level of complexity involved. the focus is in the first two boxes of Fig. 2 with some papers Dentoni, Bitzer and Schouten (2018) in their article, being more centred on the partnership’s actions and oth- “Harnessing Wicked Problems in Multi-Stakeholder Part- ers more focused on the relationship between actors and nerships”, are also concerned with how change is effected systemic change, but all relate to cross-sector partnerships in what they variously describe as “complex” or “wicked” for systemic change. While our review did not distinguish problems. Like Van Tulder and Keen (2018), they are con- between socially oriented partnerships and partnerships cerned with how to achieve “deep-level change” or “deeper more generally, this Thematic Symposium is particularly processes of systemic change” in relation to wicked prob- interested in collaborative arrangements aiming for systemic lems. In the article, they address cross-sector partnerships change that is intended to lead to positive social, environ- through the lens of “collaborative governance” (one of the mental, or economic impacts. search terms we used for our review), specifically in the context of multi-stakeholder initiatives designed to address Introducing the Thematic Symposium complex problems. Interestingly, their analysis of the gov- ernance processes of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm The articles in the Thematic Symposium were all originally Oil focuses on two dimensions of systemic change: (1) the presented at the fifth biennial International Symposium on depth of systemic change, which they equate with changes Cross-Sector Social Interactions (CSSI 2016) hosted by the in power structures; and (2) the breadth of systemic change, University of Waterloo and York University in Toronto in which they relate to changes in practices across sectors and April 2016. The theme of the CSSI 2016 conference, which spheres of action. This distinction is quite novel in the litera- subsequently became the title of this Thematic Symposium, ture on cross-sector partnerships and systemic change and was “Cross Sector Partnerships for Systemic Change”. Our provides a useful platform for examining in slightly more goal in choosing this theme was to explore the potential and sophisticated ways what we mean by some of these deeper- limits of cross-sector collaboration for forging deep-level level objects of systemic change. change in social, economic, and/or environmental systems. Quarshie and Leuschner (2018) in their article “Cross- All papers presented at CSSI 2016 were eligible for Sector Social Interactions and Systemic Change in Disaster submission to the Thematic Symposium, but in selecting Response: A Qualitative Study” consider how the United those that went out for peer review, we prioritized those that States National Preparedness System has evolved as an directly addressed the theme. In all 12 papers were submit- example of systemic change. They study how the processes ted, of which six were finally accepted following double- of cross-sector social interactions and systemic change inter- blind peer review. link. The article offers a model to explain how cross-sector As with the broader literature that we have reviewed interactions (specifically the social mechanisms of learn- above, the six papers that follow take a variety of perspec- ing, regulating, interconnecting, and re-engineering) lead tives on systemic change and the role of cross-sector partner- to systemic change. ships in achieving such change. Here we introduce each by explaining briefly their approach and conclusions. Actors as the Focus for Partnerships and Systemic Change Relationships Between Cross‑Sector Partnerships As we have already explained, systemic change in the and Systemic Change context of cross-sector partnerships can also refer to the subjects of systemic change, namely the actors involved Half of the papers in the Thematic Symposium focus on in partnerships and in the systems addressing social and the relationships between the partnerships and systemic environmental problems. Shumate et al. (2018) with their change—bound by the issues or problems that actors are article on “Does Cross-Sector Collaboration Lead to Higher 1 3 310 A. Clarke, A. Crane Nonprofit Capacity?” provide an example of a study that system that are addressed, how they are defined, and their is almost entirely focused on the partnership actors box in scale. Going forward, there is clearly much work to be done Fig. 2. This study asks if cross-sector partnerships actually in developing this stream of literature and ensuring that it enable a non-profit organization to better contribute to sys- has meaningful scholarly and practical impact. We believe temic change (from the perspective of increased internal that, in particular, four key issues need to be addressed by capacity). Through a large-scale quantitative study of 452 future researchers in this space. non-profit organizations, they showed that being involved First, scholars interested in systemic change in the con- in more cross-sector partnerships does not increase the text of cross-sector partnerships need to pay much greater organization’s capacity. That said, some types of enduring attention to defining what they mean by the term and devel- cross-sector partnerships improve strategic planning capac- oping clear constructs to conceptualize and operationalize ity within the organization. The boundary of this study is systemic change for theoretical and empirical work. The on the partner, and not the partnership or the issue to be lack of construct clarity to date potentially undermines the addressed, all in the context of cross-sector partnerships for important work that is taking place exploring the broader systemic change. changes sometimes associated with partnerships. It has Klitsie et al.’s (2018) article “Maintenance of Cross- been extremely difficult for researchers to build upon each Sector Partnerships: The Role of Frames in Sustained Col- other’s work because there is no clear sense of what it is laboration” focuses on a partnership as the unit of analysis, they are actually examining and whether subsequent studies and within that partnership the role of framing mechanisms are exploring something similar or different. As Suddaby in ensuring successful collaboration. The study considers (2010, p. 347) explains, “constructs are the building blocks 8 years of a large cross-sector partnership (30+ partners) of strong theory”, and without better construct clarity, cross- that exists to create a market for recycled phosphorus (a sector research on systemic change runs the risk of con- nutrient in crop growth) to address concerns about food tinually proliferating without making meaningful theoretical security. The Nutrient Platform (the partnership) has been advancement. We hope that our definition presented earlier able to achieve significant regulatory reform (i.e. systemic will be helpful in this respect, even though we recognize that change). The article considers how collaboration is sustained this is but a first attempt and that there is considerable scope over time by allowing an optimal number of frames about for more fine-grained delineation of specific types and forms the issue by a diverse array of partners. They argue that pro- of systemic change. gress on agreements can be thwarted by too many frames. Second, we believe that future research could and should Trujillo (2018), in her article “Multiparty Alliances and better acknowledge and embrace the inherent interdiscipli- Systemic Change: the Role of Beneficiaries and their Capac- narity in the field. When we seek to understand systems, ity for Collective Action” focuses specifically on the effects we are typically required to deal with a range of different of partnerships on beneficiaries and specifically on their actors, activities, and impacts, many of which may not be capacity for collective action. She explores regional cross- the usual subjects of scholarly research in our discipline. For sector partnerships in Colombia addressing poverty and vio- this reason, it behoves scholars of cross-sector partnerships lence but rather than conceptualizing poverty or violence as interested in systemic change to consider the wide range a complex, systemic problem, she examines how the partner- of research that has been conducted on the subject, with ships lead to a transformation in the system of actors them- a view to getting a clearer sense of what has already been selves around the issues. Drawing on a rich multiple case accomplished and understood about the phenomena they analysis, she identifies the processes through which benefi- are interested in and to prevent pointless replication. Again, ciaries can develop and acquire collective action capacity hopefully our review will provide an initial insight into what and how this enhanced capacity can in turn lead to increased some of this base of literature is, and where it can be found, potential for further transformative change. but there is still a long way to go to build effective bridges across these disciplines. Third, for management researchers in particular, there Conclusion is understandably a considerable amount of attention on the actors and partnerships involved in seeking to achieve As is clear from our review of the literature and the arti- systemic change and how they interact with such change, cles in this Thematic Symposium, there is growing interest not least because management research typically engages among scholars in the subject of systemic change within in research at the level of individual and especially organ- research on cross-sector partnerships. It is also evident that izational actors. However, there is considerable scope the debate is a transdisciplinary one, with research on these for new research that more explicitly also addresses the issues published in a wide variety of disciplines. Partly as impact of systemic change on the issue itself. While work a result of this, there is tremendous diversity in the types of is underway linking cross-sector partnerships to different 1 3 Cross‑Sector Partnerships for Systemic Change: Systematized Literature Review and Agenda… 311 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Crea- types of impact (e.g. Clarke 2011; Clarke and Ordonez- tive Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creat iveco Ponce 2017; MacDonald et al. 2018; Van Tulder and Keen mmons.or g/licenses/b y/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribu- 2018; Van Tulder et al. 2015), the question of how we can tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate address the interactions between different levels of actors, credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. systems, and actual change for the issue itself remains a key challenge for the future. 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