Panel 1. Systems Change towards What? How Cross-Sector Partnerships shape (or not) Socio-Ecological Resilience and Transformation

The business and society literature increasingly recognizes the importance of socio-ecological systems (SES), highlighting how business organizations need to take into account the interrelatedness across market, social and ecological systems at multiple scales. The perspective of SES promises to help business organizations - and their stakeholders – in assessing their impact on society and the natural environment by supporting or hampering multi-scale processes of sustainable change. Despite the increasing awareness on the role of SES in assessing business contribution to sustainable impacts, we still have a limited understanding of when, why and how business organizations and their stakeholders orient – or fail to orient – processes of SES change. Understanding how businesses can collaboratively orient SES change is particularly relevant given the urgent, complex socio-ecological crises that we currently experience. One of the main approaches for business organizations to achieve sustainable impacts involves cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) with government and civil society actors We still know relatively little about how CSPs orient – or fail to orient – processes of SES change. In particular, we know very little about how and when companies, through CSPs, support or hamper processes of socio-ecological resilience and transformation at either local or global scales. Therefore, this Panel proposes to focus on bridging two fundamental – and, so far, too disconnected – conversations in the business and society literature: one on SES, and the other on CSPs. We propose to connect these two conversations by inviting scholars to study the linkages that may take place, at multiple scales and in multiple directions, between the organization of CSPs and processes of socio-ecological resilience and transformation. Socio-ecological resilience generally refers to the ability of socio-ecological systems to tolerate shocks and crises without collapsing, while transformations entail fundamental, path-breaking changes in systems at multiple scales. The management and organization literature has widely sought to explain processes of organizational, institutional and societal maintenance and change. More recently, it has borrowed from interdisciplinary socio-ecological studies to understand how organizations steer pathways of socio-ecological resilience and transformation. In this Panel we are particularly interested in how business organizations collaborate with other societal stakeholders (or fail to do so) to collectively envision, narrate and enact pathways of socio-ecological resilience and transformation. We invite research and practice contributions on questions like:

  • How do CSPs recognize and strengthen the synergies (or fail to do so) between socio-ecological resilience and transformation, that is, between an ability to “bounce back” after a crisis and also to positively transform SES?
  • How do actors in CSPs frame and communicate aspects of resilience and transformation as either “ethical” or “unethical”, and how do these frames and discourses evolve?
  • How do CSPs respond to differences in power and values among partners and other stakeholders in grappling with tensions related to orienting SES change?
  • From a normative perspective, how should actors in CSPs organize to support equitable resilience and/or transformation processes in socio-ecological systems?
  • When, why and how do CSPs and/or their members unintentionally trigger undesirable socio-ecological transformation processes? When, why and how do CSPs assess or make sense of who wins, who loses, and who is left out from processes of socio-ecological resilience and/or transformation?
  • When, why and how do CSPs support cultural, educational, organizational and personal changes en route towards socio-ecological resilience and/or transformation?