Communication between organisations has always been an important and beneficial form of collaboration. The interorganizational domain provides the setting for a mutual exchange of complementary competences with the prospect of building synergies if the collaboration is sufficiently wide-ranging and sustained. Unfortunately, many, perhaps most, interorganisational collaborations fail to satisfy the expectations of their initiators. Convenors argue that this is because most organisations underinvest in the complex and multifaceted task of external communication relative to the potential benefits it can yield, instead concentrating their resources upon the productivity and efficiency of internal operations.

While there is a fertile conceptual literature on interorganisational behaviour, there remains much to be learnt from drawing upon historical experience. In particular, we are interested in the development of different institutional traditions (customs, norms, modes of behaviour) that both motivate the nature of collaboration and are subject to modification under the influence of sustained interorganisational relations. Understanding the institutional norms that have evolved to shape interorganisational behaviour provides us with a sharper focus on the nature of underinvestment in communication and how this can be overcome.

Today, business draws increasingly upon strategic alliances and joint ventures to promote global expansion, while governments emphasise the fostering of contractual relationships between public agencies and private organisations to promote joint funding and closer community relations. A second use of history, therefore, is through the study of past collaborations. Historical studies of collaboration in Australia, however, have tended to focus upon outcomes and the implications for macroeconomic policy rather than the process of negotiation and collaboration itself.

Therefore, the aim of the workshop will be to increase our understanding of why interorganisational collaboration has a high failure rate by focussing on the development of institutional norms governing patterns of negotiation and through the examination of historical case studies of collaboration. The policy implications are three-fold. Understanding the reasons for failure provides a basis for improvement perhaps by encouraging organisations to invest more extensively in their ‘external architecture’, particularly in the form of social capital. Is there a role for organisations that can bridge the organisational divide such as industry associations, non-government-organisations, and not-for-profit enterprises? Finally, if path-dependent forms of institutional evolution drive negotiating behaviour this may invoke more careful consideration of the circumstances in which interorganisational collaboration is the preferred transaction mode compared with internal authority or market mechanisms.

The workshop will provide the opportunity to highlight the importance of work being undertaken in economic history and its broader contribution to the social sciences in Australia. The cross-disciplinary role of economic history is not very well known or closely understood within the social science community. The ASSA workshop, therefore, provides the opportunity to profile the discipline’s contribution to an important social science question, that of inter-organisational communication.