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Managing in the collective: The practice of Big Science collaborations

Robinson, Mark and Braun, Susanne (2023) 'Managing in the collective: The practice of Big Science collaborations.', in Managerial Practice Issues in Strategy and Organization. . Research in Strategy Science.


The scientific results of Big Science increasingly hit the headlines as they provide welcome hope to address a range of complex cross-border problems. However, their collaborative style governance and managerial practice have gone relatively unseen. Collaborative leadership can be seen as an oxymoron, yet it regularly works in Big Science domains; a success that demands attention by scholars and practitioners alike. Through leadership-as-practice research in three iconic scientific communities (CERN, ISS, and ITER) we reveal effective collaborative managerial practice as well as counterfactual examples of ineffective practice. Our analysis is in line with the distinction between the emerging leadership-as-practice and traditional leadership research concerning conceptual agency. We show that the source of agency in Big Science is mostly collective and collaborative (rather than mostly about individuals), that power emerges through enactment of participants’ competing choices and practices (rather than through the influence of top leaders), and dialogue is used to focus on mutual learning, deep understanding and collaborative actions (rather than to convince the other of one’s point of view). Using Big Science collaborations as a site to explore these issues is exciting. It is an example of the very latest thinking on the key issues concerning the role and significance of managerial practice in strategic management and organization studies. We are bold in our conclusion by suggesting that the post-heroic, not-authoritarian view of leadership rooted in Big Science collaborations, which we term light-touch management, will inspire a wider critical and constructive debate of collective approaches to managerial practice.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:28 November 2022
Date of first online publication:No date available
Date first made open access:No date available

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