From symbolic commitment to "skin in the game": Collective action and institutional formation through problem solving

This is an event in the Corporate Social Responsibility series taking place on 27 November 2018

Creating institutions that deliver collective benefits cannot be managed by any single entity; but requires collaboration for collective action across multiple organisations. To overcome a key challenge in the formation of collective action – finding common ground amidst conflicting interests – a degree of ambiguity through setting wide-ranging, inclusive goals is needed to induce collaboration. But the initially enabling characteristics of ambiguity are likely to become problematic when institutionalising agreements, leading to symbolic commitment.

Based on a longitudinal process study of the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety, a global multi-party agreement to end the series of deadly accidents in the Bangladesh garment sector, this research draws from a pragmatist perspective to understand how collective action is created and sustained over time despite conflicting interests.

Findings highlight the ongoing problem-solving nature of institutional formation in a complex, evolving and politically contested field. Participants continually confront ambiguity – known and unknown unknowns – as they attempt to translate the agreement into a new institutional practice. Contrary to traditional expectations that conflicting interests lead to symbolic commitment, we examine how political conflict led parties to grow “skin in the game”, which led commitment to escalate beyond initial self-commitment. 

For further information, please contact Dr Matthew Davis at

About the speaker

Professor Juliane Reinecke

Juliane Reinecke is Professor of International Management and Sustainability and Associate Dean (Impact & Innovation) at King’s Business School, King’s College London.

She is a Fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Research Fellow at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, from where she received her PhD. She is also a Visiting Professor in Sustainability at the University of Gothenburg.

Her research interests include process perspectives on global governance, sustainability, practice adaptation and temporality in organisations and in global value chains. Her work has been published in the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, Organization Science, Organization Studies, and Research Policy, among others. Juliane serves as Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly and on the Editorial boards of Organization, Organization Studies and the Journal of Management Studies.