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AOM 2015 Theme: Opening Governance

Theme for the 75th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management

Vancouver, BC, Canada
Opening Governance
Program Chair: Anita M McGahan

Opening Governance, Vancouver, BC

The theme of the 2015 conference, Opening Governance, invites members to consider opportunities to improve the effectiveness and creativity of organizations by restructuring systems at the highest organizational levels. The term 'governance' refers to leadership systems, managerial control protocols, property rights, decision rights, and other practices that give organizations their authority and mandates for action. Opening governance involves revisiting these practices especially in light of big data, crowdsourcing, and other emerging digital technologies that expand the information and expertise available to organizational leaders. How and when should managers open governance practices to involvement by engaged stakeholders? What advances and problems arise from transparency in decision making? The Opening Governance theme also points to fundamental questions about how various types of organization forms compete to govern valuable resources. What are the tradeoffs associated with pursuing a specific value-creation opportunity under the governance structure of an investor-owned corporation as opposed to a privately held corporation, a B Corporation, or even a licensing arrangement or non-profit organization? How can organizations work more effectively with governmental agencies and foundations to create value?

Organizations operating under all kinds of governance structures - including companies, non-governmental organizations, hospitals, schools, and governments -- will be pressed over the next generation to make better decisions; respond more quickly to information; coordinate better; disseminate important information faster; waste less; operate more cleanly and fairly; cultivate trust through transparency; and mobilize expertise more efficiently. Digital analytics are already generating new types of insights about personal and organizational behavior. As a result, questions about the control and ownership of behavioral data will become acute. Innovation in systems of governance over massive amounts of this machine-enabled data will be central to taking up the opportunity for innovating at the levels required to address the biggest problems of our time - such as climate change and the fragility of financial systems. Organizations will be compelled to confront the interests of stakeholders in their most important information assets and, at the same time, only be able to develop and use these assets through collaboration and partnership.

The opportunities for new approaches to value creation are also extensive. Important new resources are available at scale for managing more effectively in the face of large problems: digitized information, data (big and small), communication technologies, new analytical techniques, extensive networks of relationships, and knowledge of all sorts. We know relatively less about effective mechanisms for deploying these resources effectively, and we know little about management techniques for conceptualizing and designing resources to address such problems as the informal economy or massive migrations of people into the world's cities.

The challenge of governing across organizational boundaries is as complex as governing within organizations. We must develop systems that put the right organizations at the forefront of problem solving at the right times. Governmental bodies must have the intelligence and governance structures to regulate private organizations while at the same encouraging rather than discouraging decentralized initiative to solve pressing problems. Organizations of all forms must work together flexibly, such as when pharmaceutical companies distribute essential medicines to non-governmental agencies through public hospitals in settings of poverty. Responding to public emergencies and innovation opportunities will become a hallmark of effective cross-organization management in the 21st century.

What will opening governance involve as a practical matter? It may involve new functions for organizations, such as creating innovation platforms and sponsoring the creation of digital standards. It also may create opportunities for new types of public-private collaboration, such as when multilateral agencies subcontract critical health-delivery and educational functions to private companies. For private organizations, it may involve pooling knowledge to create new datasets and then competing over the opportunities created by the data. New business models may emerge, such as when companies license technology to rivals, or when companies seek to create networks of entrepreneurial actors that compete for control rights over information. Companies may also benefit from differences in information rules across jurisdictional boundaries, such as when companies test new products in one country and then introduce them in other countries. As these practices disseminate, Boards of Directors will need to become more engaged in their firms' information technology practices. NGOs, health-care providers, educators and governmental actors may collaborate to exchange data and commit to mutual collaboration in the face of system failures. The implications are almost endless - too extensive to list.

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For our meeting in Vancouver, Opening Governance raises questions that AOM members of various divisions and interest groups may tackle differentially:

  • Identifying how large-scale problems are defined and understood. What kinds of public conversations are required to identify a problem such as climate change and to establish its legitimacy? When and how do individuals act entrepreneurially to institutionalize a problem such as climate change or environmental pollution in the public consciousness? What are the paths to legitimacy for organizations addressing problems as they arise and as solutions unfold over time?
  • Examining the tradeoffs associated with different ways that corporations deploy resources effectively and sustainably in response to large-scale crises such as the stock-market decline of 2007/2008 or a breakout of epidemic disease. Can firms plan effectively for crisis response? What kinds of governance issues do firms face as crises unfold and as their resources are recognized as essential to the public interest?
  • Identifying other types of institutions that compete with corporations over the governance of resource deployment. When are governments and NGOs, for example, more effective than corporations at managing the deployment of a resource? When are corporations more effective? How do firms work effectively in partnership with public-oriented institutions? What novel approaches to managing public-private partnerships are emerging? When are non-hierarchical institutions such as open-source networks and markets more effective for allocating resources to solve large, public problems? What are the tradeoffs between scaling up quickly and sustaining investment in critical resources across institutions?
  • Exploring cognition about big problems at the levels of the individual, the organization, a society, and the international community. How do ideas about important managerial problems develop over time? How does the process of idea development shape the kinds of solutions that emerge? What unique problems arise from the scope and scale of large, complex problems for cognition at each of these levels, and what are the implications for effective organizational design?
  • Investigating how chief executives and top-management teams innovate in their decision-making and resource-allocation practices in the face of large-scale social problems. What kinds of information do CEOs need? How do organizations (including NGOs, healthcare providers, educational institutions, and governments as well as corporations) function when the expertise required to make good decisions is not available internally? When can an organization crowdsource expertise effectively? How do top-management teams verify the quality of crowdsourced expertise?
  • Exploring aspects of organizational behavior to address large social problems. What is the role of advocacy, justice-based logic, and social movements in encouraging private organizations to pursue solutions to public problems? What about in a public organization? How does individual and team behavior depend on the problems that an organization seeks to confront?
  • Investigating how value creation is best measured when the best solution to a public problem may be to prevent the problem in the first place. How do we know whether a health clinic with no patients is a success because it has prevented illness or a failure because nobody trusts its physicians? Or whether a police department that reports no crime has been successful in securing its community or unsuccessful in catching criminals?
  • Demonstrating new methods of analysis for understanding big problems and the scope of opportunity for addressing them. How is big data managed effectively? When structural modeling is impossible, what alternative approaches for establishing causality and making inferences are reliable? How are organizations getting into trouble through bad analysis of big data? When do we know whether the inferences purported to arise from big data constitute facts?
  • Considering the implications of complex problems and the challenges of addressing them for job design, training, career planning, and human-resource practices. What kinds of communication technologies and controls are necessary for managing organizations that respond quickly to public crises? When are individuals with experience in both the public and private sectors better equipped to lead organizations with missions to address social issues? When does a job design that integrates specialized expertise in big data and data analytics with general-management capabilities lead to superior performance?
  • Identifying structures for establishing organizational goals and communicating them effectively. What kinds of practices ensure quality in the delivery of public services? When corporations act as subcontractors to government (such as in the operation of schools or clinics or prisons or militaries), how do authorities ensure consummate performance by the contractor? How is consummate performance identified in the first place? What kinds of agency problems arise? How are the unintended consequences of public-private relationships identified and addressed effectively?
  • Examining the trade-off between transparency and negotiability as leader-managers seek to establish a strategy for creating value in the face of large social problems. When does transparency in top-management decision-making improve organizational performance, and when does it engender distrust and inaction among employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders?
  • Investigating interactions between authorities from diverse organizations such that each has a stake in addressing complex social problems. Who governs the governors? How do the governors interact? How are organizations using tools such as social media to discipline and constrain rivals for authority in the pursuit of public problems? Which stakeholders are justifiably excluded as organizations compete to solve big problems? What is the role of the legal and political environment in the effectiveness of governance to address social problems?
  • Assessing norms of competition and cooperation in the pursuit of public goals. What strategies are effective for claiming value – for profiting -- from contributing to the resolution of a complex social problem? When is the legitimacy of pursuing profits from the public interest challenged? Do firms and other organizations compete differently to claim value when their mission is to address a public problem?
  • Identifying how the diffusion of digital technology both creates complex social problems and enables solutions to the problems. What are the limits to social media for galvanizing action on an agenda? What is privacy when individual behavior can quickly be identified and analyzed through digital media? What innovative mechanisms of organizational control have emerged from social media and other digital technologies?
  • Investigating implications of property, decision and managerial control rights over information, data, and intellectual property for solutions to complex problems. How are companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft and Facebook constructing pro-privacy arguments in the face of governmental efforts on digital surveillance? How are they responding to judicial decisions to extend privacy rights? How does variation in intellectual-property rights across national and sub-national boundaries influence the productivity of organizations in creating knowledge?
  • Comparing the real and perceived incidence of large, complex problems and solutions across international boundaries. Why did the 2011 hurricane that hit Hispaniola do so much more damage in Haiti than in the Dominican Republic? What was the organizational response in each country? How were resources in each instance deployed, and what were the consequences of coordination mechanisms across international boundaries for reconstruction? In general, how do cultural, political, and economic differences between countries influence their capacities for innovative organizational solutions to complex local problems? When and how do companies in different jurisdictions capitalize on local conditions to develop global advantages?
  • Shifting the unit of analysis to the problem to identify the resources required to obtain a solution, and then exploring the implications for the field of management. What new theories, tools, ideas and practices are required for understanding large complex problems and their solutions?

Opening Governance is an invitation to think broadly and creatively about the ways in which organizations take action to address the most important management problems and opportunities of our time. For our meeting in Vancouver, Opening Governance raises questions that AOM members of various divisions and interest groups may tackle from many different perspectives. Thank you for considering the invitation and for engaging on this theme. Each of the nearly 19,000 members of our Academy has insights that are welcome at the AOM's 75th meeting. It will be great to see you there.


Anita M McGahan

2015 Program Chair

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