The social construction of technical innovation in the UK oil and gas industry.
Oyovwevotu, Joy Sunday
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Innovation and ‘creative destruction’ should thrive in the competitive, high risk and high cost environment of the North Sea. Paradoxically, uptake of new technology is slow. The focus of this research was to understand how new technology is developed and how end users make decisions about innovation. Innovation process in the literature can sometimes come across like a ‘black box’ without much explanation of what happens inside the box. This study seeks to explicate what transpires inside the ‘black box’ to improve our understanding of the innovation process. The linear models of technology-push and market-pull are too simplistic to account for the complexity of relationships and engagements that affect innovation at small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) level. Subsequent models of innovation are suited to how large corporations manage innovation but neglect patterns of social interactions at the micro level where SMEs operate. These innovation models are incomplete because they relegate the importance of context and how it shapes understanding, action and outcome. This study, rooted in a social constructionist paradigm, takes a process-relational stance on entrepreneurship and innovation, recognising the dynamic relationships between social actors and context. Taking Heidegger’s explication of how we relate to the world, this thesis submits that innovation occurs when actors move into the ‘occurrent’ mode. The happenings and doings in the innovation process are treated as the results of perpetual social constructions. This study is based on extended interviews with eleven individuals in relevant roles and with direct experiences of the technical innovation construction in the oil and gas industry. The purposeful sample of research encompasses a variety of roles including technology entrepreneurs, end users of technology and venture capitalists. This study makes a number of contributions. Firstly, the research improves our understanding of how different social constructions are welded together to develop shared understanding. Secondly, a conceptual framework is presented that bridges a number of theoretical concepts, which allows us to see that innovation cannot be properly understood using simplistic models that ignores the social constructions human actors instantiate. Thirdly, the research claims that problem framing is foundational to innovation construction, where social actors collaborate to develop shared understanding, and mentally represent in the present a future that is not totally knowable. Fourthly, an alternative model of innovation construction is presented that is relational and accounts for the social constructions of process participants. Finally, a number of research implications for academics and insights for practitioners engaged in the technical innovation construction are offered.