The history of Information Systems knows numerous examples of IT-enabled innovations which fail to get adopted due to social, political and legal issues. This is especially the case in highly regulated environments, where regulation or existing industry practices need to be changed first, in order to establish grounds for the further adoption of the innovative IT-based solutions. In this paper we explore the domain of customs (with a focus on cross-border trade) as an example of a highly regulated environment. Our main objective is to provide insights into how such institutional practices can be changed by using the lens of “the collective action model for institutional innovation” (Hargrave and Van de Ven, 2006). The collective action model builds on the dialectic theory of change, where an established thesis is confronted with an anti-thesis to lead to a synthesis, which becomes the thesis for the new dialectic cycle (Van de Ven and Poole, 1995). We applied the model to a specific kind of eCustoms innovation project for cross-border trade, the Beer Living Lab, to see whether it is helpful to explain the attempts of the innovators to bring their ideas further. We found out that the dialectic theory of change, which is the basis for the model, as well as the key concepts: framing contest, construction of the networks, enactment of institutional arrangements (and specifically the notion of political opportunity structures) were very helpful sensitizing devices and useful in understanding and discussing in a structured way the developments that we observe in the Beer Living Lab. Even though we did not have sufficient data with respect to the fourth concept of the model, i.e.“collective action process”, we consider the concept was helpful as it stimulated us to think and formulate a number of questions that we can further explore during the forthcoming stages in the Beer Living Lab. Based on the case analysis, we came to a number of insights which may be used to further develop the collective action model, as well as for developing strategies for bringing IT-based innovations in highly regulated environment.

First of all, we observed that the notion of construction of networks proposed by Hargrave and Van de Ven is very general and we proposed further conceptualization by using the analytical categories: levels, horizontal interaction and vertical interaction. This further conceptualization allowed capturing, in a structured way, the diversity of actors and interactions that play a role in the mobilization of the network in the Beer Living Lab.

Second, from the case analysis we found out that the Beer Living Lab solution was framed very closely to the relevant problems that the EU struggles to address and states in its strategic reports. This indicates a clear linkages between the categories “Framing contests” and “Political opportunity structure” (the latter being part of “Enactment of institutional arrangement”) proposed by Hargave and Van de Ven. A possible field for further research is to provide extension of the collective action model by explicitly explore further the linkage between “Framing” and “Political opportunity structures”. It may be that the innovative solutions have better chance to be institutionalized if they are properly framed according to the existing political opportunity structures.

Third, from the case we also gained insights that it may be worth exploring the linkage between the categories “Framing contests” and the “construction of networks”. In the specific networks that we explored in the Beer Living Lab it is not sufficient that only one type of actors commit to the solution, rather all the actors involved in the transaction will need to commit. The further exploration of such linkages may provide insight on strategic choices that can be made when mobilizing a collective action for institutional innovation in the context of cross-border trade.

While we applied the model in the specific context of eCustoms, we consider that our findings may be relevant for bringing IT-based innovations in other highly-regulated domains (e.g. energy and heath care). The explorations of these other domains can be a subject for further research.