Coordinating Multi-Level Collective Action: How Intermediaries and Digital Governance Can Help Supply Chains Tackle Grand Challenges

Eugenia Rosca, Wendy L. Tate*, Lydia Bals, Feigao (Kelly) Huang, Francesca Ciulli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Purpose: Driven by increasing concerns for sustainable development and digitalization, intermediaries have emerged as relevant actors who can help supply chains tackle grand societal challenges. They can also trigger significant changes in structure, shape and governance models of supply chains. The goal of this research is to advance the understanding of supply chain intermediation and digital governance as coordinating mechanisms for enabling multi-level collective action to address the world's grand challenges.

Design/methodology/approach: This is a conceptual research paper that uses a vignette approach, where real examples are described to help question and expand theoretical insights and provide a basis for future research. The examples are drawn from past and ongoing extensive primary and secondary data collection efforts in diverse types of supply chains.

Findings: Three contexts are proposed to illustrate how intermediaries and digital governance can play a key role in helping supply chains tackle grand challenges. The first and second context highlight the differences between material and support flow intermediaries in a triadic supply chain relationship. The third context illustrates intermediation within a multi-level network which can be industry-specific or span across industries. The three contexts are evaluated on the level of intervention, the focus on material or support flows, and traditional or digital governance. The specific Sustainable Development Goals which can be tackled through intermediary intervention are also indicated.

Originality/value: Intermediaries are often hidden actors in global supply chains and have received limited attention in the academic literature. The conceptual foundation provided in this manuscript serves as the basis for future research opportunities. Three main avenues for further research in this domain are proposed: (1) novel forms of intermediation beyond economic and transactional arrangements; (2) novel forms of digital governance; and (3) translating multi-level collective action into sustainable development outcomes. Research on intermediation driven by sustainable development and digitalization trends can spur empirical advances in sustainable supply chain and operations management with important societal impact.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)1937-1968
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Published online: 17 September 2022.


  • Intermediaries
  • Digital governance
  • Sustainability

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