Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Oana Branzei


This dissertation consists of three studies that collectively examine the genesis and dynamics of collaborative cross-sector partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations. The overarching question that frames the papers is how cross-sector partnerships organize across sectoral interfaces to advance social innovation. This thesis makes three contributions: 1) the standpoint of the beneficiaries needs to be explicitly discussed when exploring social innovation in cross-sector partnerships; 2) neither success nor failure are absolute but rather cross-sector partners deliberately and iteratively adjust their roles to sustain momentum towards success or rebound from temporary failure in pursuit of social innovation; and 3) despite largely non-overlapping sectoral frames, social innovation is possible when partners learn how to negotiate and fuse their value frames.

In the first paper, we develop a critical theory of social innovation in cross-sector partnerships by recasting value creation from the standpoint of the beneficiary. We review and contrast the principles, relations and relational processes underpinning the Marxist, pragmatist and Frankfurt schools of thought to unpack the role the beneficiary may (or may not play) in value creation. Such critical theorizing enriches the conceptual foundation of the Resource Based View by reinstating the beneficiary as an essential contributor to value creation through voice-receiving, voice-making and/or voice-taking. This paper concludes that beneficiaries are essential to social innovation in cross-sector partnerships: they create and sustain generative tensions within each value creation cycle.

In the second study, we explore the relational processes that underpin social innovation within cross-sector partnerships. Using four longitudinal narratives in healthcare, we explain how partners navigate the duality of success and failure: deliberate role (re)calibrations help the partners sustain the momentum for success and overcome temporary failure or crossover from failure to success. Three factors moderate the relationship between role recalibrations and the momentum for success or failure: relational attachment, partner complacency, and partner disillusionment.

The third and last study uses the same four longitudinal narratives to explore how cross-sector partners come to recognize and reconcile their divergent value creation frames in order to co-construct social innovation. We argue and find that partners initially contrast their sector-embedded diagnostic frames and then work together to deliberately develop partnership-specific prognostic frames. The study develops a four-stage grounded model of frame negotiation, elasticity, plasticity and fusion which unpacks the relational process of value creation in cross sector partnerships.

Taken together, the three studies advance the cross-sector partnership project by fleshing out the (largely neglected) role of relational processes in social innovation.