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The Life of a Project: Accomplishing Legitimacy in Sustained Innovation Renee Rottner.

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Presentation on theme: "The Life of a Project: Accomplishing Legitimacy in Sustained Innovation Renee Rottner."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Life of a Project: Accomplishing Legitimacy in Sustained Innovation Renee Rottner


3 Why this study? Sustained innovation is key to R&D projects of high scientific, economic, and political impact: –Pharmaceuticals, sustainable energy, aircraft design, military systems, basic research –Long development times, iterative innovation Little is known about how innovation is sustained –It is fragile (Cheng & Van de Ven, 1996; Dougherty & Hardy, 1996 Jelinek & Schoonhoven, 1993) –Legitimacy is important (Arndt & Bigelow, 2000)

4 Definitions Innovation: The creation and development of a new combination of materials or forces. (Schumpeter, 1934) Sustained innovation: management of multiple innovation efforts in coordination with past and future efforts (Bartel & Garud, 2009; Dougherty & Hardy, 1995) A longitudinal process involving… Legitimacy: perception that actions of an entity are appropriate or ‘right’ within some social system, assessed by stakeholders who have varying interests and criteria (Suchman, 1995; Reuf & Scott, 1998; Elsbach & Sutton, 1992; Zelditch, 2001) not a resource but a relation between power holders

5 Research Question How is legitimacy accomplished in an innovation project over time? Context: An innovation project at NASA, 1972-2003 Method: Inductive, grounded theory building

6 What do we know about legitimacy? Institutional TheoryInteractionist Sociology Level of analysis Organizational fieldsIndividuals Conception of legitimacy Characteristic of entityRelationship between entities Empirical focus OutcomeProcess Analytical focus Typologies (e.g., pragmatic, moral, cognitive legitimacy) Strategies Sources of legitimacy Components of institutions (cognitive, normative, regulative) “Gatekeepers of resources” * Deephouse, 1996; DiMaggio & Powell, 1993; Suchman, 1995; Ruef & Scott, 1998; Human & Provan, 2000 Fine, 1984; Strauss, 1978, 1982*, 1993

7 Blending the perspectives Inhabited Institutions Actions are embedded in organizations (Barley, 2008; Bechky, 2009; Hallett, Schulman & Fine, 2009; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006) Limited focus on legitimacy (Creed et al., 2002; Scully & Creed, 1997) Limited empirical work (Binder, 2007; Hallett, 2010) Not focused on innovation Need for building theory on legitimacy Structuring of legitimacy (Barley, 2008) Sequencing of legitimacy (Deephouse & Suchman, 2008 Suchman, 1995) Creating and restoring legitimacy (Powell & Colyvas, 2008) Across audiences (Suddaby, Hinnings & Greenwood, 2002)

8 “Selling it”: Strategies for legitimacy Creating shared meaning & managing stakeholders Storytelling (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001) Issue selling (Dutton & Ashford, 1993; Dutton et al., 2001; Howard-Grenville, 2007) Discourse (Phillips, Lawrence & Hardy, 2004) Rhetoric (Creed, Scully & Austin, 2002; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2005) Impression management (Bansal & Clelland, 2004; Elsbach, 1994; Elsbach & Sutton, 1992) Consensus of stakeholders (Neilson & Rao, 1987) Framing (Rao, Morrill & Zald, 2000; Swaminathan and Wade, 2001; Dowell, Swaminathan & Wade, 2002; Fiss & Zajac, 2006; Kennedy & Fiss, 2009) Technology also carries meaning (Orlikowski & Scott, 2009; Carlile, 2002; Suchman, 2007)

9 Research Design WHO ISDOING WHAT TO WHOM BY WHAT CRITERIA Actors Project team Power holders Strategies Rhetorical Material Audience(s) Resource providers Multi-level Shifting Rules/norms Technical Scientific Political Economic “Our biggest challenge was figuring out what to worry about and when to stop worrying about it.” —Deputy project scientist

10 Rhetorical vs. Material Material strategy: (Orlikowski & Scott, 2009; Latour, 2005) Rhetorical strategy: Persuasion through language Persuasion through structure or non-verbal actions

11 Audience / Criteria Rhetorical Strategy Material Strategy NASA HQ Buildable? Write project proposals Run tests Congress Affordable? Mention reuse of military tech Show prototypes Academics Usable? Publish articles on theory Build data centers

12 Data: Longitudinal, multi-level, process Actors/Period‘71-’83‘84-’89‘89-’96‘96-’03 Scientists3545 Engineers2326 Contractors112 Headquarters2332 Ext. Advisors3345 #’s: people interviewed 850 pages of interview transcripts 20,000 pages of archival documents Feasibility Studies, Decadal Surveys, Budgets Meeting Minutes, Decadal Surveys, Budgets, Meeting Minutes, Decadal Surveys, Budgets, Diaries


14 “Orphan moment”

15 33 inches Bigger is not better HQ: buildable?  Congress: affordable?  Academics: usable? 

16 Analysis steps 1.Longitudinal in-depth case history 2.Identify critical events in timeline 3.Examine actions before/after events 4. Code the data for strategies 5. Compare strategies of legitimacy over time

17 Contributions to Theory Legitimacy as: –a process (not an outcome) –at multiple levels –over time Foundation for identifying and measuring legitimation strategies Framework for sustaining innovation over time


19 Questions

20 Additional Slides Temporal analyses of strategies Legitimation Processes (Strauss, 1982) Social movement theory

21 Temporal analyses of strategies A. Event depth (major event or critical juncture in one period) B. Event breadth (one event that spans multiple criteria in one period) C. Frame depth (one event that spans multiple periods) D. Frame breadth (multiple events that span multiple criteria in one period) TIMELINES Political criteria Economic criteria Scientific criteria Technical criteria E. Diachronic  (one criteria that spans multiple periods)

22 Legitimation Processes (Strauss, 1982) Discovering and claiming worth Distancing Theorizing Standard setting, embodying, evaluating Boundary setting, boundary challenging Claiming, distancing, theorizing, standard and boundary setting

23 Social movement theory Actions and resources are embedded in organizations and stakeholders Framing (Snow et al., 1986; Snow & Benford, 1988) –Diagnostic framing (what is the problem) –Prognostic framing (what is the solution) –Motivational framing (why should we do it) Resource mobilization theory –Resources matter, they are variable and come from a variety of sources ( McCarthy & Zald, 1977, 2002)

24 Making the invisible visible “Innovation was not simply suppressed it was unseen. It was ignored and invisible [by those] that could not understand its role.” —Dougherty & Hardy (1995:___)

25 Bigger is better

26 Making meaning material

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