Successful Practices for Voluntary Innovation Teams Crossing Scientific and Professional Fields

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[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Zack Kertcher of the University of Illinois, and Dr. Erica Coslor of the University of Melbourne. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Boundary Objects and the Technical Culture Divide: Successful Practices for Voluntary Innovation Teams Crossing Scientific and Professional Fields,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they recount the motivations and innovations of this research.

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research

Zack:

What drew me to this work is my intrigue with a “big” question and an opportunity.

The “big” question

Whether it is “The Web”, “Mobile”, “Cloud Computing,” or most recently “AI,” technology constructs appear to drive much of what we do, and how we think about our work. They also appear to start by being highly interpretable and open to changes, followed by a period in which they are more stable. The latter is when mass adoption occurs. Much less is known about the former stage. How can people from different organizations and fields of practice adopt a new technology that still has an elusive meaning, and yet use it to make a significant impact in their area of work? As this paper shows, while such efforts exhibit distinct challenges, they also show common solutions.

The opportunity

During my graduate program at the University of Chicago, I had the rare opportunity to interact with the innovators and early adopters of exactly this type of technology construct, “Grid Computing.” By many accounts, it paved the way to today’s “Cloud Computing.” The article reports findings from a part of this project that analysed the experience of three teams in three fields of science that tried to adopt “The Grid” to drive change in their fields.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

Zack:

The most challenging aspect of this research was its reach. While still being negotiated at the time when I started my research, there were already many adopters of Grid Computing. These adopters spanned hundreds of organizations, running across all continents, and many fields of scientific and commercial practice. To study an evolving construct, it is best to study it up-close from the perspective of participants. However, performing a qualitative study on such a distributed scale was not trivial. I spent several years examining this community. To make things worse, these individuals came from different fields of practice, which meant understanding all perspectives was particularly difficult.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Both:

This research contributes to the field in two ways:

  1. Innovation management. We examine the development and adoption of “big” technologies from the perspective of the groups working in the trenches to advance these innovations. When successful, such technologies end up impacting our everyday lives. But to be successful, innovators and early adopters need to overcome a set of challenges in how to approach and integrate the new technology into their working practices.
  2. Interdisciplinary collaborations. These collaborations are based on a paradox. On the one hand, interdisciplinary projects are the most innovative, because they involve people with multiple—often radically different—perspectives. But working with such distinct approaches and objectives can be disabling. This paradox is more pronounced when the projects are voluntary and involve an “object” (technology) that is still very much open to interpretation, as was the case here.

 

 

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Team Photo attributed to Free-Photos  (CC)

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