Co-Evolution of Organizations in Infrastructure Planning: The Role of Communities of Practice as Windows for Collective Learning Across Project-Oriented Organizations

AuthorBert de Groot,Wim Leendertse,Jos Arts
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(7) 1328 –1356
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221100379
Co-Evolution of
in Infrastructure
Planning: The Role
of Communities of
Practice as Windows
for Collective Learning
Across Project-Oriented
Bert de Groot1,2 , Wim Leendertse1,2,
and Jos Arts1
Challenges in infrastructure planning require public infrastructure
administrators, responsible for providing adequate infrastructure facilities,
to be adaptive. These organizations evolve and interact with other
organizations in a complex organizational landscape. This paper explores
the contribution of inter-organizational communities of practice (CoPs)
to collective learning and co-evolution of organizations in infrastructure
planning. We conducted a case study of five inter-organizational CoPs in
the domain of a typical public infrastructure administrator. The results
suggest that inter-organizational CoPs enable, for example, policy and
practice to co-evolve. Inter-organizational CoPs seem to provide a
1University of Groningen, The Netherlands
2Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Bert de Groot, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, Landleven 1, 9700 AB
Groningen, The Netherlands.
1100379AAS0010.1177/00953997221100379Administration & SocietyGroot et al.
Groot et al. 1329
neutral ground where long-term sector benefits can overcome short-term
organizational interests.
co-evolution, collective learning, community of practice, adaptive capacity,
project-oriented organization, infrastructure planning
Public infrastructure administrators are responsible for providing adequate
infrastructure facilities for society. Besides public infrastructure administra-
tors, the organizational landscape in infrastructure planning comprises, for
example, contractors, engineering- and consultancy companies, knowledge
institutes, and different authorities. Moreover, public infrastructure adminis-
trators often manage by projects in order to efficiently build and improve
infrastructure facilities, thereby organizing themselves as project-oriented
organizations (Leendertse & Arts, 2020). This mixture of different perma-
nent organizations and temporary project organizations renders the organiza-
tional landscape in infrastructure planning complex.
Organizations in infrastructure planning are confronted with challenges,
such as climate change, aging infrastructure facilities, and developments in
data and mobility technologies (Brown et al., 2017; Hijdra, 2017). Such con-
tinuously changing environments require organizations to be adaptive to
maintain their performance levels and to continue to meet their objectives
(Barasa et al., 2018). Each organization learns and evolves as it responds to
changes. As organizations adapt, they change the landscape from the perspec-
tive of other organizations (Kauffman, 1993). In the complex organizational
landscape in infrastructure planning, organizations are increasingly looking
for other ways to interact, because they recognize their interdependence in
providing adequate infrastructure facilities for society.
A co-evolutionary perspective is considered adequate for studying com-
plex, interconnected, and continuously changing environments (Abatecola
et al., 2020; Breslin, 2016), such as the organizational landscape in infra-
structure planning. From a co-evolutionary perspective, change may be
driven by direct interactions between organizations and feedback from the
rest of the environment (Volberda & Lewin, 2003). This requires an arena
where different organizations can collectively build knowledge and learn
from each other. Research shows that inter-organizational communities of
practice (CoPs) may provide such an arena. For example, Soekijad et al.
(2004) concluded that the concept of CoPs is applicable in inter-organizational
contexts and de Groot et al. (2020) identified inter-organizational

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