Call for Proposals: Collaborating with Competitors for Sustainability


Question: How can business collaborate with competitors to identify and implement sustainability solutions?

Funding: The research team will propose the budget, which we estimate to be CAD$15,000 (Amounts exceeding CAD$15,000 can be considered with appropriate justification in the budget)

Proposal Deadline: January 7, 2015

Project Timeline: The project will begin in January 2015. The final report will be due in September 2015 and dissemination will occur through Fall 2015.

Contact: Please direct questions and submit your proposal to Garima Sharma,

Scope of Research

Collaboration and partnerships are vital to address complex, systemic sustainability challenges. NBS conducted a systematic review of research on multi-sector partnerships in 2013.  This project addresses same-sector collaborations, variously termed co-opetition, non-market strategies, and industry self-regulation.

Such collaborations involve collaborating with industry peers on some activities, while competing on others. They promise fast, cutting edge solutions in a resource-constrained world. Yet same-sector collaborations raise challenges, such as the tension between transparency for knowledge generation and proprietorship for competitive advantage. Whereas considerable empirical research exists on multi-sectoral partnerships, there is very little research on same-sector collaborations. Yet, this is where new models of sustainability are likely to emerge.

This project will investigate how businesses collaborate effectively with competitors to generate solutions for common sustainability issues.

Key questions include:

  1. What are the enablers, inhibitors and outcomes of same-sector collaborations?
  2. What structures and processes support collaboration with similar others?
  3. How does the sustainability context attenuate or amplify the tension between competition and collaboration?

Research products can take a variety of forms, but should include a research report, frameworks and guides usable by managers.

The scope of these questions is intentionally wide and spans academic disciplines, offering the research team latitude. Multidisciplinary teams are encouraged to apply.

Past research on collaboration with competitors has investigated governance issues (e.g., network, market, hierarchy), interdependencies (e.g., R & D cooperative, equity joint ventures, temporary organizations), facilitators such as technology and geographical clustering, and process issues such as equitable value appropriation. Little of this research has addressed sustainability directly, although many sustainability related same sector collaborations exist in practice: e.g. the Tire Industry Project and the European Automotive Working Group on Supply Chain Sustainability. Sustainability provides a unique context for such collaboration: it is generally based on industry-specific sustainability issues, provides additional benefits (e.g., reputational), and can navigate competition-collaboration tension by focusing on value-based goals. Existing research has not fully addressed sustainability’s unique opportunities and challenges.

Research Design and Process

The core deliverable of this project is a research report that reviews current research, identifies gaps and uses primary data to fill the gaps. This approach departs from NBS’s past emphasis on systematic reviews.

Researchers should propose a research design appropriate for answering initial key questions. The design should be oriented toward elucidating important processes and/or identifying and testing causal relationships. Questions should determine methods, which can be qualitative (e.g., field observations, interviews) or quantitative (e.g., surveys, content analysis).

Types of data might include interviews with participants in such collaborations, content analysis of structures adopted by successful and unsuccessful industry collaborations, and interviews/focus groups with relevant academics to refine a framework.

A Guidance Committee comprising managers and researchers will guide the research team. The research team will retain intellectual property rights to the work and are encouraged to publish in academic and industry journals. Any publications or presentations stemming from this work must acknowledge NBS.

NBS will facilitate connection of the research team with its Leadership Council organizations as potential sites for data collection, but the research team is encouraged to find the right sources for data.  NBS will also provide administrative, editing, communications, and design guidance and support for project deliverables.

Proposal Requirements

All communications will be in English, including the proposals and project deliverables. Proposals must have one lead researcher, who is solely accountable for the deliverables and communications. We encourage applicants to involve students in the project. Proposals should be limited to the following sections:

a) Impacts, Knowledge, and Activities (no more than 1,500 words)

i) The envisioned impacts from the project. For example, who will be the audience for deliverables? How will they be impacted by the knowledge? What will they do with it?

ii) Details of the body of knowledge that you feel are relevant to the questions. Applicants are encouraged to briefly review the existing literature that can inform initial research questions and which can also inform their proposed research design. 
iii) A preliminary research design for the project including kinds of data needed to answer the questions, and a plan for data collection and analysis. Please provide a rough initial timeline.

iv) Budget linked directly to research activities and outcomes. Amounts exceeding CAD$15,000 can be considered with appropriate justification. Possible items include (a) salaries for research assistants, (b) data costs: buying large data sets, fees paid to research participants, travel for data collection, and other expenses directly related to data collection, (c) analysis costs: statistical software and books, and (d) miscellaneous expenses such as travel to conferences, or printing.

b) Team Expertise (no more than 500 words per researcher): Description of each team member’s experience and expertise related to this project. Please show that the research team has the skills 
necessary both to conduct academic research and communicate effectively to practitioners.

c) Curriculum Vita for the lead researcher.

Proposal Evaluation

A Guidance Committee composed of NBS Leadership Council members will evaluate each proposal. Leadership Council members are executives at leading Canadian firms. Because they are not academics, they will respond most favorably to proposals that are clear and have the greatest potential to impact practice.

The evaluation criteria are:

  • Understanding of the project question and knowledge of the relevant literatures
  • Appropriateness of preliminary research design
  • Ability to design and execute rigorous research
  • Ability to communicate with, and impact, practitioner audiences


Please contact NBS to discuss potential proposals: Garima Sharma,

About NBS

The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) funds research projects based on the top priorities for business sustainability identified by its Leadership Council. These projects have two objectives:

  1. Inform business sustainability practice and policy by providing decision-makers with rigorous, research-based solution to the questions of sustainability
  2. Facilitate the development of business sustainability knowledge by describing the state of the existing body of literature, identifying important gaps, and filling those gaps by generating frameworks based on real-time data from the field.

The outputs from past NBS knowledge projects are available here.

These projects provide an opportunity for researchers to interact with leading companies and to shape practice by addressing a topic that is of significant concern to executives. The final deliverables are disseminated worldwide to researchers and managers through NBS and its partner institutions. NBS’s network includes our Industry Association Council, through which associations representing 40,000 firms work together on challenging sustainability issues; and our network of more than 75 academic sustainability centers around the world. Project researchers have also gone on to publish their research in high quality academic journals, and have presented to and collaborated with practitioner audiences.