Institutional work at field-configuring events: shaping industry change within sustainable transitions

Gary Burke, Louise Knight

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Adopting an institutional approach from organization studies, this paper explores the role of key actors on “purposeful governance for sustainability” (Smith, Voss et al. 2010: 444) through the case of smart metering in the UK. Institutions are enduring patterns in social life, reflected in identities, routines, rules, shared meanings and social relations, which enable, and constrain, the beliefs and behaviours of individual and collective actors within a field (Thornton and Ocasio 2008). Large-scale external initiatives designed to drive regime-level change prompt ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ to perform ‘institutional work’ – “purposive action aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions” (Lawrence and Suddaby, 2006).
Organization scholars are giving increasing attention to ‘field-configuring events’ (FCEs) which provide social spaces for diverse organizational actors to come together to collectively shape socio-technical pathways (Lampel and Meyer 2008). Our starting point for this exploratory study is that FCEs can offer important insights to the dynamics, politics and governance of sustainability transitions. Methodologically, FCEs allow us to observe and “link field evolution at the macro-level with individual action at the micro-level” (Lampel and Meyer, 2008: 1025).
We examine the work of actors during a series of smart metering industry forums over a three-year period (industry presentations [n= 77] and panel discussions [n= 16]). The findings reveal new insights about how institutional change unfolds, alongside technological transitions, in ways that are partial and aligned with the interests of powerful incumbents whose voices are frequently heard at FCEs.
The paper offers three contributions. First, the study responds to calls for more research examining FCEs and the role they play in transforming institutional fields. Second, the emergent findings extend research on institutional work by advancing our understanding of a specific site of institutional work, namely a face-to-face inter-organizational arena. Finally, in line with the research agenda for innovation studies and sustainability transitions elaborated by Smith et al (2010), the paper illustrates how actors in a social system respond to, translate, and enact interventions designed to promote industrial transformation, ultimately shaping the sustainability transition pathway.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Event2nd International Conference on Sustainability Transitions - Lund, Sweden
Duration: 13 Jun 201115 Jun 2011


Conference2nd International Conference on Sustainability Transitions
Abbreviated titleIST 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'Institutional work at field-configuring events: shaping industry change within sustainable transitions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this