SWG 07: Multi-Level Network Research



Leon A.G. Oerlemans, Tilburg University, The Netherlands Leon A.G. Oerlemans
Tiziana Casciaro, University of Toronto, Canada Tiziana Casciaro
Olaf N. Rank, University of Freiburg, Germany Olaf N. Rank
Julia Brennecke, Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Switzerland Julia Brennecke

Research on organizational networks has increased dramatically in the last fifteen years (Borgatti & Foster, 2003). This is exemplified by two special issues of the Academy of Management Journals on organizational networks in the 2000s, the two forthcoming special issues of Organization Science on organizational networks in the 2010s, and 38 papers on inter-and intraorganizational relations and networks in Organization Studies since the year 2000.

Research on organizational networks has increased dramatically in the last fifteen years (Borgatti & Foster, 2003). This is exemplified by two special issues of the Academy of Management Journals on organizational networks in the 2000s, the two forthcoming special issues of Organization Science on organizational networks in the 2010s, and 38 papers on inter-and intraorganizational relations and networks in Organization Studies since the year 2000.
Furthermore, several journals have published review studies on organizational networks and relationships, which indicates the relevance of the field. Relevant examples are Journal of Management (Provan et al.,2007; Phelps et al., 2012), Academy of Management Annals (Kilduff & Brass, 2010), Research in the Sociology of Organizations (Borgatti et al., 2014), and Public Management Review (Lecy et al., 2014).
Also, the continuously high number of submission to the EGOS Standing Working Group on organizational network research in the last several years is evidence for that trend. One reason for the popularity is the wide variety of theoretical frameworks that speak to inter- and intra-organizational ties and the networks functioning at different levels that emerge from such ties. At the macro level, the study of organizational networks is relevant to institutional theory, resource dependence theory, transactions costs economics, organizational ecology, and the resource based theory of the firm at a minimum. At the meso and micro levels, organizational network research is relevant to the social psychology of groups, social exchange theory, social cognition, the psychology of affect, and personality theory, and to mention but a few related lines of inquiry. In addition, the framework speaks to scholars who are interested in for-profit, non-profit and public organizations as well as interaction between organizations from all sectors. Little research crosses level boundaries and recent years have witnessed stronger calls for multi-level designs both theoretically and empirically linking structure and processes at different organizational levels (i.e., macro and micro) when investigating organizational networks (see, for example, Zaheer et al., 2010; Kilduff & Brass, 2010).
The plethora of theories informed by organizational networks also presents a danger, however: namely, fragmentation, segregation and consequently a lack of knowledge accumulation. To turn these potential dangers into an opportunity for higher-quality research, we believe that it is important to provide an institutional forum for participants representing various disciplines, theoretical orientations, and interests in networks at a variety of levels of analysis to exchange ideas and research results.

The specific goal of this SWG on “Multi-Level Network Research” is therefore to answer to this recent call in the literature and to encourage micro-macro, multi-level theorizing in organizational network research. This is a new and exciting research area, which was not addressed by previous versions of the Standing Working Group on Organizational Network Research (in previous years, the following topics were addressed: Networks in Social and Technological Innovation; Organization and Renewal of Organizational Networks; Bridging and Bridges in Organizational Networks; Emergence and Agency in Organizational Networks). Our SWG also fits nicely developments in related fields like organizational psychology, where multi-level approaches have gained ground (Klein & Kozloswki, 2000).
As already mentioned, the great opportunity presented by multi-level approaches to network theories of organizations has only recently crystallized in organizational discourse. In the last few years, several analyses have underscored that, while social network theory has been applied to organizational research across levels of analyses, and network constructs naturally lend themselves to micro-macro theorizing, drawing such multi-level connections in network analyses of organizations has been far less frequent (Labianca & Chung, 2006; Moliterno & Mahony 2011; Payne et al., 2011; Phelps et al., 2012).

This gap presents organizational scholars with a still largely untapped opportunity. Theorizing about organizational networks at either the micro or the macro level obscures insights that can be garnered by integrating the two. Significant advances are possible with research on inter-organizational networks that relates micro social-psychology to the emergence of social structure at the macro level. Likewise, macro-structural processes can influence the emergence, stability and evolution of interpersonal networks within and between organizations.

This SWG on “Multi-Level Network Research” aims to provide a uniquely integrated forum for organizational scholars operating at the micro and at the macro level of organizational research. The goal of such a forum is to facilitate an intellectual exchange between these insufficiently connected research communities with the objective of creating new opportunities for collaboration on multi-level network models of organizations.

The network scholarly community lacks such a forum with the reach that EGOS can provide. Typically, macro network scholars interested in interorganizational and interindustry networks interact little with micro/meso network scholars interested in interpersonal and intraorganizational networks. The disciplines on which these groups of scholars typically draw are also different, with macro researchers primarily rooted in economic sociology and organizational theory, and micro researchers primarily rooted in organizational behavior and psychological theory. Reflecting these scholarly foci, conferences are generally organized to allow researchers with either macro or micro/meso interests to exchange ideas within their intellectual community.
The SWG will counter this tendency by purposefully bringing together a diverse group of network scholars across the micro-macro spectrum with disciplinary roots in organization science, institutional economics, structural sociology, public administration, economic geography, health care, but also social psychology, social cognition, moral psychology, and organizational behavior. The goal is to expose these communities to each other’s theoretical and methodological approaches to uncover opportunities for cross-pollination, theoretical integration, and methodological triangulation. Thus, over time, the SWG will encourage collaborative projects between micro and macro SWG participants that will ultimately yield multi-level accounts of inter- and intrainterorganizational networks that link theoretical processes at the micro and macro levels.

Annual activities and program of the SWG

In the SWG life time, we will offer two Pre-Colloquium Development Workshops (PDWs; in the years two and four) in which we aim to help advanced PhD students and early-career academics develop their research ideas and papers towards publishable articles in close interaction with leading scholars in the field.

The workshop is targeted to improving participants’ skills in conducting high quality (multi-level) organizational network research and getting their work published in top-tier journals. Each accepted papers will be briefly presented and then discussed in a very constructive and supportive manner. All participants will be expected to have read the papers of their fellow session presenters and be ready to contribute to these discussions. Participants will also be expected to attend all sessions of the workshop.
The SWG’s EGOS Colloquium program. Network research has quite consistently shown that networks and the ties they contain facilitate the flow of knowledge and information leading to attitude homophily, contagion, and production of innovation. Furthermore, they help exchanges and collaboration between persons and organizations, whereas they also provide differential access to resources (Brass et al., 2004). More recently, researchers have begun to explore more difficult issues, taking into account network related questions across different levels of analysis (inter-personal, inter-unit, and interorganizational) from static and dynamic perspectives. The idea of this multi-level research is that networks and outcomes at the micro- and macro-level might be interdependent.

During the four years of the SWG, we are going to focus on different key aspects pertaining to multi-level networks within and between organizations.


  • Borgatti, S.P., Brass, D.J., & Halgin, D.S. (2014): “Social network research: Confusions, criticisms, and controversies.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 40, 1–29.
  • Brass, D.J., Galaskiewicz, J., Greve, H.R., & Tsai, W. (2004): “Taking stock of networks and organizations: A multi-level perspective.” Academy of Management Journal, 47, 795–817.
  • Hoffmann, W.H. (2007): “Strategies for managing a portfolio of alliances.” Strategic Management Journal, 28, 827–856.
  • Kilduff, M., & Brass, D.J. (2010): “Organizational social network research: Core ideas and key debates.” Academy of Management Annals, 4, 317–357.
  • Klein, K.J., & Kozlowski, S.W.J. (2000): “A Multilevel Approach to Theory and Research in Organizations Contextual, Temporal, and Emergent Processes.” In: K.J. Klein & S.W.G. Kozlowski (eds.): Multilevel Theory, Research, and Methods in Organizations: Foundations, Extensions, and New Directions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3–90.
  • Kleinbaum, A.M., & Stuart, T.E. (2014): “Network responsiveness: The social structural microfoundations of dynamic capabilities.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 28, 353–367.
  • Lecy, J.D., Mergel, I.A., & Schmitz, H.P. (2014): “Networks in Public Administration: Current scholarship in review.” Public Management Review, 16, 643–665.
  • Moliterno, T.P., & Mahony, D.M. (2011): “Network theory of organization: A multilevel approach.” Journal of Management, 37, 443–467.
  • Oh, H., Labianca, G., & Chung, M.-H. (2006): “A multilevel model of group social capital.” Academy of Management Review, 31, 569–582.
  • Payne, G.T., Moore, C.B., Griffis, S.E., & Autry, C.W. (2011): “Multilevel challenges and opportunities in social capital research.” Journal of Management, 37, 491–520.
  • Phelps, C., Heidl, R., & Wadhwa, A. (2012): “Knowledge, networks, and knowledge networks: A review and research agenda.” Journal of Management, 38, 1115–1166.
  • Provan, K. G., Fish, A., & Sydow, J. (2007): “Interorganizational networks at the network level: A review of the empirical literature on whole networks.” Journal of Management, 33, 479–516.
  • Provan, K.G., & Kenis, P. (2008): “Modes of network governance: Structure, management, and effectiveness.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18, 229–252.
  • Rogan, M., & Mors, M.L. (2014): “A network perspective on individual-level ambidexterity in organizations.” Organization Science, 25, 1860–1877.
  • Shi, W.S., Sun, S.L., & Peng, M.W. (2012): “Sub‐national institutional contingencies, network positions, and IJV partner selection.” Journal of Management Studies, 49, 1221–1245.
  • van Wijk, R., Jansen, J.J., & Lyles, M.A. (2008): “Inter‐and intra‐organizational knowledge transfer: a meta‐analytic review and assessment of its antecedents and consequences.” Journal of Management Studies, 45, 830–853.
  • Zaheer, A., Gözübüyük, R., & Milanov, H. (2010): “It’s the connections: The network perspective in interorganizational research.” Academy of Management Perspectives, 24, 62–77.


Leon A.G. Oerlemans is Professor of Organizational Dynamics in the Department of Organization Studies, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. He is also Extraordinary Professor Economics of Innovation at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. His research interests include multi-actor temporary organizations, green consumption, and inter-organizational relationships and networks.
Tiziana Casciaro is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Rotman School of Management and the holder of the Professorship in Leadership Development at the University of Toronto, Canada. Her research concerns the psychological mechanisms responsible for the formation of social networks within and between organizations.
Olaf N. Rank is Professor and holds the Chair of Organization and Human Resource Management in the Department of Economics and Management, University of Freiburg, Germany. His research focuses on the quantitative modeling of intra- and inter-organizational networks.
Julia Brennecke is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Management at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Switzerland, and an adjunct researcher at the Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. Her research focuses on networks within and between organizations, with the aim of creating a better understanding of how and why network ties form, and exposing the consequences of network connections for innovation.