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Relationships for post-growth: Searching for patterns in post-growth pioneers’ stakeholder relations
Following the post-growth and degrowth debates, many pressing challenges of modern societies are closely related to, or caused by, a dominating focus on economic growth. Research in this area shows that when businesses experience growth imperatives, this often is related to the structures inherent in their stakeholder relations. For example, growth drivers may arise from power imbalances between external investors and firm management (Bocken & Short, 2016; Burlingham, 2005, chap. 2; Schumacher, 1973, chap. 19). By contrast, Khmara and Kronenberg (2018, p. 724) derived criteria such as “collaborative value creation” and “democratic governance” for assessing whether a company follows the degrowth paradigm. Still, today’s understanding of stakeholder relations suited for post-growth lacks depth as well as a uniform language for exploration and representation. Consequently, this submission sets a focus on what Joyce and Paquin (2016) consider the social part of a business model: the logic and impact of building stakeholder relationships. In addition, Christopher Alexander conceives patterns as generic solutions to reoccurring problems and has developed a specific pattern approach (Alexander et al., 1977). Describing patterns in the ‘Alexandrian form’ leads to knowledge that is re-usable and useful (Leitner, 2015, p. 67). Hence, the “Social Stakeholder Business Model Canvas” developed by Joyce and Paquin (2016) has been combined with Alexander’s conception of patterns to develop a framework that allows discovering and discussing patterns in organizations’ stakeholder relationships. Following this, the developed framework has been applied in a multiple-case study (Yin, 2014) on nine companies which emerged from a study performed by Gebauer, Mewes and Dietsche (2015). This study revealed SMEs that pioneer ways to abandon the path of ever-increasing economic growth. Altogether, this allowed investigating the fundamental research question: How, from a pattern perspective, do post-growth businesses built their relationships to stakeholders, particularly local communities, suppliers and partners, employees, and end-users? To be precise, semi-structured interviews with representatives of the management of each case were conducted. In addition, secondary literature on each case was gathered. This data was then analysed and synthesized in an iterative coding process. It is planned to confirm and refine the findings in a second interview round in which the unveiled patterns will be presented to the former interviewees. Evidence from the conducted case studies revealed seven patterns of post-growth businesses’ stakeholder relationships. These are: 1) ‘Values-guided focusing’, 2) ‘Relational engagement for sustainable business’, 3) ‘Forging relations on socialization and service’, 4) ‘Collaboration as an efficient team’, 5) ‘Building communities for social change’, 6) ‘Paving the way for new solutions’, and 7) ‘Getting in touch with society’. The conducted research reveals that pioneering post-growth approaches within today’s economic and socio-cultural environment induces external pressures and barriers. Yet, it also revealed insights on how to overcome and cope with these constraints when building stakeholder relationships. In fact, applying a uniform pattern framework allowed to make the knowledge gained tangible, transferable and reusable – like a toolbox that can guide and inspire both practitioners and researchers. Thereby, this paper contributes to gaining new and relevant insights on post-growth business.