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Harnessing digitalization for sustainable development: Understanding how interactions on sustainability-oriented digital platforms manage tensions and paradoxes

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Journal Article

Hellemans, Ilse, Amanda J. Porter, and Damla Diriker. 2022. “Harnessing Digitalization for Sustainable Development: Understanding How Interactions on Sustainability-Oriented Digital Platforms Manage Tensions and Paradoxes.” Business Strategy and the Environment 31 (2): 668–83.

In the digital age, interactions among heterogenous actors are increasingly mediated by digital platforms. While sustainability-oriented digital platforms (SODPs) have the potential to accelerate sustainability through increased connectivity, knowledge sharing, and co-creation, they also have a dark side, leading to unexpected tensions and paradoxical effects that may risk the creation of value for societal actors. Understanding how digital platforms can be designed to stimulate fruitful interactions among participants without succumbing to their paradoxical effects is still an unresolved puzzle. In this paper, we examine how the bright sides of SODPs can be brought to light while reducing their associated tensions and paradoxes through a qualitative study of micro-level knowledge integration interactions on an open platform to tackle food waste. Our analysis identified 11 distinct mechanisms and 3 main interactional patterns through which participants framed the scale of the sustainability problem, mobilized resources for their solutions, and generated breadth and diversity of knowledge on the platform to tackle the problem of food waste. Our study contributes to research on SOPDs by showing how participants can take on a “distributed brokering” role through their interactions on the platform. We also provide implications to policy-oriented practitioners regarding platform design choices to help manage known paradoxes and tensions of SOPDs.

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