When institutional logics meet: Alignment and misalignment in collaboration between academia and practitioners


The study examined how the different institutional logics of the cooperating actors affect the collaboration and the emergence of a common understanding, alignment and the achievement of the goal, especially in the circular economy. Institutional logic means that the behavior of an actor is determined by what the actor considers important. The study examined, through a number of cases, how universities, businesses and administrative actors can work together to create circular economy solutions – despite and because each of these actors has a different institutional logic that determines their actions.

Universities see the circular economy as an important area of research and want to work in this area, creating the latest new knowledge and making scientific contributions. Companies, on the other hand, see new business opportunities in the circular economy: they emphasize that with the circular economy, the company’s business needs to be developed and new skills are needed, but according to the company’s logic, this change and new business must be financially sustainable. Governmental actors, such as cities and regional developers, are again involved in promoting the circular economy because they focus on the long-term development of an region where sustainable development and the circular economy are an integral part. In order for co-operation in the circular economy to be possible, these actors, despite their different institutional logics, should find common ground and consensus on objectives, practice and cognition, and reduce misalignment.

Thus, the study empirically examined how the institutional logics of these three types of actors align and misalign in joint projects in the circular economy. The study was based on extensive qualitative data (over 80 interviews and over 30 workshops to promote the circular economy). In particular, this study looked at three cases of circular economy collaboration between universities, companies and administrative actors: the establishment of an eco-industrial park, the operation of a living lab for the environmental sustainability of the urban environment, and the increase of circular economy skills and training.

The main findings of the study are as follows: First, the study found that the institutional logics of companies, universities and administrations converge or diverge at three different levels: consensus and logic compatibility or incompatibility can occur at the system level (for example new circular economy is the shared aim by all actors and also practices achieving it are aligned); at the relationship level, at which time the two actors’ goals or practices are aligned (for example, technology companies and university aim developing a new, knowledge and technology that can be commercialized), and the actor level, in which case, for example, companies see each other synergies in the development business.

Second, the study found that co-operation in the circular economy is often not dichotomic black and white in the sense that there is either consensus or incompatibility between actors, but often a complex set of co-operations, such as a common goal or approach, but then a single area (such as organizational culture). or a different time span in different organizations) critically complicates the implementation of circular economy cooperation between actors. In order for circular economic co-operation to be possible, despite the different logics of the actors, it is important to identify each actor’s own goal, conventional practices and state of understanding/cognition and how they co-operate, and then to increase alignment and compatibility and facilitate in particular incompatibilities and reduce misalignments.

Authors: Mads Bruun Ingstrup, Leena Aarikka-Stenroos, Nillo Adlin

Published: Industrial Marketing Management