Key research questions

The intersection among these three theories (RBV, NIE and organizational learning; section 3.1) and between these theories and the context of wicked problems provides the contours of a theoretical framework (Figure 2, here below) on how agribusiness organizations deal with wicked problems through partnerships. My goal for the years to come is to further develop and articulate this framework. At the intersection among these theories, the following key questions emerge:
  • How does partnerships among and within organizations adapt (or should adapt) to the nature of the wicked problems? Vice versa, how does the nature of wicked problems change depending on the strategic interventions? (Wicked problems-Strategic interventions link, Figure 1). 
  • How does organizational learning stimulate the establishment and the outcomes of inter-organizational partnerships that deal with wicked problems? Vice versa, how inter-organizational partnerships trigger organizational learning? (Strategic-human process interventions link, Figure 2). 
  • How do stakeholder resource needs and endowments influence the governance of intra- and inter-organizational partnerships that deal with wicked problems? Vice versa, how does the governance of partnerships influence stakeholder needs and endowments? (Strategic-structural interventions link, Figure 2). 
  • How does the governance of partnerships that have to deal with wicked problems influence organizational learning? Vice versa, how does organizational learning shape the governance of partnerships? (Structural-human process interventions link, Figure 2).

FIGURE 2. Theory development at the intersection of the three theoretical underpinnings: resource-based view (RBV), organizational learning and new institutional economics (NIE).

Legend: The organization and the eco-system (as in Figure 1) represent the two interconnected levels of analysis. Arrows indicate bi-directional relationships among strategic interventions, human process interventions and structural interventions that my research investigates. In red, the research questions are formulated: “to deal with wicked problems” is at the center of the figure since it provides the unique context to the research questions.

These research questions provide a unique line of investigation both within and outside Wageningen University. While most of the management literature per se works at the intersection across RBV, NIE and organizational learning theories, the nature of wicked problems provides a context that calls for a deep reformulation of the mainstream paradigm (as presented in section 3.1). Apart from few exceptions (Camillus 2008), only recently has management literature started taking such a problem-based perspective (Dorado and Ventresca 2013; Ferraro et al. 2015; Reinecke and Ansari 2015). Therefore, my research questions aim to contribute to this incipient strand in the literature.

Wageningen University & Research provides the ideal setting to tackle these research questions. As a world-class university for research on agricultural and food issues, Wageningen offers the unique opportunity of conducting empirical research to understand and test how organizations deal with the nature of wicked problems. As the university encourages faculty to manage interdisciplinary projects across social and life sciences, this constantly enriches the empirical evidence available to address my key research questions.

As a university fully embedded in complex agricultural and food systems, it is not surprising that many groups at Wageningen University undertake research on wicked problems and social partnerships from various disciplinary perspectives. In the Department of Social Sciences, a number of researchers focus on the governance of wicked problems from a public policy (Termeer et al. 2013), complex adaptive systems (Klerkx et al. 2010) and education perspective (Sol et al. 2013). Research on partnerships for addressing social issues is also conducted from an environmental policy (Bush et al. 2015), value chain governance (Vellema et al. 2013), and even plant and animal science (Mapfumo et al. 2013; van Bueren et al. 2014) perspective.

My research distinguishes and contributes to the rest of Wageningen University faculty by bringing a unique business perspective on wicked problems and social partnerships (as underpinned in section 3.1). With such a business perspective, I have first introduced the theme of wicked problems and social partnerships in my Management Studies (MST) Group with two Special Issues (Dentoni et al. 2012; Dentoni and Ross 2013) and by establishing collaborations with colleagues within and outside the MST Group (Dentoni et al. 2012b; Dentoni and Bitzer 2013 and 2015; Dentoni et al. 2016; Wesselink et al. 2016; Dentoni and Klerkx 2015).


Bush, S. R., Oosterveer, P., Bailey, M. and Mol, A.P. (2015). Sustainability governance of chains and networks: a review and future outlook. Journal of Cleaner Production, 107, 8-19.

Camillus, J.C. (2008). Strategy as a wicked problem. Harvard business review, 86(5), 98.

Cummings, T. and Worley, C. (2014). Organization development and change. Cengage learning.

Dentoni, D., Hospes, O. and Ross, R. B. (2012). Managing wicked problems in agribusiness: the role of multi-stakeholder engagements in value creation. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 15(B).

Dentoni, D., Blok, V., Lans, T. and Wesselink, R. (2012). Developing Human Capital for Agri-Food Firms’ Multi-Stakeholder Interactions. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 15(A).

Dentoni, D., Menozzi, D. and Capelli, M. G. (2012). Group heterogeneity and cooperation on the geographical indication regulation: The case of the “Prosciutto di Parma” Consortium. Food Policy, 37(3), 207-216.

Dentoni, D. and Ross, R.B. (2013). Towards a Theory of Managing Wicked Problems through Multi-Stakeholder Engagements: Evidence from the Agribusiness Sector. International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, 16(A), 1-10.

Dentoni, D. and Bitzer, V. (2013). Dealing with Wicked Problems: Managing Corporate Social Responsibility Through Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives. In Journal of Management Studies Workshop “Managing for Corporate Social Responsibility”, Copenhagen (Denmark) (Vol. 2).

Dentoni, D., Bitzer, V. and Pascucci, S. (2012). Cross-Sector Partnerships and the Co-Creation of Dynamic Capabilities for Stakeholder Orientation. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-19.

Dentoni, D. and Klerkx, L. (2015). Co-managing public research in Australian fisheries through convergence–divergence processes. Marine Policy, 60, 259-271.

Dorado, S. and Ventresca, M. J. (2013). Crescive entrepreneurship in complex social problems: Institutional conditions for entrepreneurial engagement. Journal of Business Venturing, 28(1), 69-82.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D. and Gehman, J. (2015). Tackling grand challenges pragmatically: robust action revisited. Organization Studies, 0170840614563742.

Klerkx, L., Aarts, N. and Leeuwis, C. (2010). Adaptive management in agricultural innovation systems: The interactions between innovation networks and their environment. Agricultural systems, 103(6), 390-400.

Mapfumo, P., Adjei-Nsiah, S., Mtambanengwe, F., Chikowo, R. and Giller, K.E. (2013). Participatory action research (PAR) as an entry point for supporting climate change adaptation by smallholder farmers in Africa. Environmental Development, 5, 6-22.

Sol, J., Beers, P.J. and Wals, A. E. (2013). Social learning in regional innovation networks: trust, commitment and reframing as emergent properties of interaction. Journal of Cleaner Production, 49, 35-43.

Termeer, C. J., Dewulf, A., Breeman, G. and Stiller, S. J. (2013). Governance capabilities for dealing wisely with wicked problems. Administration & Society.

van Bueren, E. M., van Bueren, E.T.L. and van der Zijpp, A. J. (2014). Understanding wicked problems and organized irresponsibility: challenges for governing the sustainable intensification of chicken meat production. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 8, 1-14

Vellema, S., Ton, G., de Roo, N. and van Wijk, J. (2013). Value chains, partnerships and development: Using case studies to refine programme theories. Evaluation, 19(3), 304-320.

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