The book, Practices for Network Management – In Search of Collaborative Advantage, bridges the relevance gap in the area of network management by presenting 17 tools developed through a design science approach. All together 36 REBUS researchers were co-authors in this edited collection. Besides, dozens of boundary-spanning managers in the 22 innovative organizations in our consortium (and some adjacent ones) participated in the development work and shared their networking experiences and practices with us during the research effort. The book proposes a novel systems-framework and establishes a path towards a network-as-practice view on inter-organizational relationships.
In the network era we live in today, many managers or experts increasingly play important roles in building, organizing, coordinating, and developing business relationships, networks, or even entire ecosystems. In doing so, they face challenges for how to influence the actions of their partner firms as well as how to align their own firms with their business partners. These “boundary spanners” strive to build a shared understanding between the members in a network. Through a design science approach, the DIMECC REBUS research program aimed at concrete deliverables that would have practical value for network management, that is, network practices or tools that support developing and later studying relational business practices in industrial networks.
In real business life, relational network management practices are strongly connected to other business practices. One of the key problems, with applying network theories (and looking beyond the single-firm perspective), in practice and managing them as one entity is the fact that networks and their management are a multi-level and systemic phenomenon.The systems-framework builds on three institutionalized business practices: Networks-as-coordinated social systems, Networks-as-knowledge-creating platforms, and Networks-as-value-generating entities.
The research on tools-in-use opens deeper understanding on what is considered to be important when crossing inter-organizational boundaries at the network level and, conversely, what is not. Certain tools are selected for creating common language about networks’ goals as well as offering spaces for the negotiation of interests. This brings out new understanding on the relational business practices, i.e. instrumental aspects and institutional norms guiding the praxis of managers.In the spirit of engaged scholarship, we hope this book will inspire other academics to develop more and better tools for network management. Needless to say, we also think the reflective practitioner may find this book useful when dealing with external organizations and spanning inter-organizational boundaries.
Jukka Vesalainen, University of Vaasa,
Katri Valkokari, VTT
Magnus Hellström, Åbo Akademi University