Negotiating Meaning Systems in Multi-stakeholder Partnerships Addressing Grand Challenges: Homelessness in Western Canada

Sarah Easter*, Matt Murphy, Mary Yoko Brannen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


While multi-stakeholder partnerships are emerging as an increasingly popular approach to address grand challenges, they are not well studied or understood. Such partnerships are rife with difficulties arising from the fact that actors in the partnership have different understandings of the grand challenge based on meaning systems which have distinct and often opposing assumptions, values, and practices. Each partnership actor brings with them their individual values as well as the values and work practices of their home organization’s culture, alongside the wider meaning systems present within the sectoral spaces in which each organization is situated—public, private, or nonprofit. Yet, there is little understanding of how actors in multi-stakeholder partnerships negotiate multi-level meaning systems to reach partnership goals. In this 16-month ethnographic study, we take up a negotiated culture perspective to holistically examine the negotiation of multi-level meaning related to a focal grand challenge in a multi-stakeholder partnership established to end homelessness in Western Canada. Based on our findings, we contribute a process model to explain the ongoing negotiation of multi-level meanings in multi-stakeholder partnerships working to address grand challenges.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)31-52
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Published online: 23 February 2022.


  • Grand challenges
  • Multi-level meaning negotiation
  • Multi-stakeholder partnership
  • Negotiated culture

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