Coping with Change: The Re-Organisation of German Business Associations

Research question/goal: 

The German model of interest intermediation has been put under pressure by globalisation, Europeanisation, and technological transformation and is bound to fundamental change. However, the change in the organisation of business interests has been neglected in social science research for decades. The project analysed the multifunctional setting of German business interest associations (BIAs) and the heterogeneity of organisational structures and tasks. With a focus on industry associations, it investigated how BIAs perform in different environments and how they react as organisations to environmental changes. The project included 165 German BIAs from the regional, sub-sector, and sector level from six industry sectors: chemical industry, electronics, fashion and textile industry, food industry, mechanical engineering, and metal processing industry.

The investigation was based on a mixed-method approach using a theory-testing statistical analysis of large-N data and qualitative comparative case studies. To evaluate the trans-nationalisation of German associations, the analysis also took account of the European associational network. The project generated a set of relevant data from online resources and conducted a survey of managers (N = 127) and member companies (N = 280) of German industry associations as well as semi-structured interviews with association managing directors (N = 52).

The project findings support neither the expectation of a fundamental change in the system of German business associations, nor the thesis that the economy makes all the difference. In times of economic upheaval, individual associations (especially on the sub-sector level) are subject to fundamental organisational change and even may not survive, but the basic structure of the associational system will persist. The case and cross-case studies reveal how strong the economy of the respective sectors and sub-sectors shape and condition organisational identities and strategies, but they also provide insight into the variety of responses of how business associations cope with changing environments. There is no single logic of adaptation. In this respect, the project complements the dominant view of interest group research and highlights the need for combining different explanatory factors and including different levels of analysis, e.g. the organisation and population level.

Fact sheet

Fritz Thyssen Foundation
2015 to 2020
Data Sources: 
survey, interviews and document analysis
Geographic Space: 
Germany, EU



Kohler-Koch, Beate, Sebastian Fuchs and David A. Friedrich (2022): Verbände mit Zukunft? Die Re-Organisation industrieller Interessen in Deutschland. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. more