First Advisor

Connie P. Ozawa

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning





Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 199 pages)


Infrastructure organizations are notoriously conservative and resistant to change, even when faced with wicked problems that cannot be solved with the same thinking used in the past. In the water sector, this resistance to change has been linked to an industry culture that is based in a single, engineering-oriented knowledge system. Scholars have suggested that diversification of knowledge systems is necessary for implementation of innovations that will move the sector forward to solve wicked problems.

This research used a qualitative case study approach comparing two water sector organizations in Portland, Oregon. One organization included members who shared an engineering knowledge system, and the other had members oriented toward engineering as well as members with an ecological knowledge system. This research focused on implementation of a common innovation at both organizations, asset management. Asset management in the water sector developed within an engineering context and is seen by people within the sector as being compatible with an engineering way of thinking. Implementation of asset management prompts the reexamination of the assumptions, management structures and decision processes of the organization. This research found that implementation has been faster and more straightforward at the organization with only the engineering knowledge system because it was compatible with the organizational culture. Implementation at the organization with the more diverse knowledge system has been slower, more contentious, and has involved a reinvention process. The research examines how the underlying assumptions and orientations of these two knowledge systems are influencing adoption of asset management and reinventing what asset management means.

This research shows that the relationships between innovation, culture, and expertise at organizations are more complex than the literature proposes. Contrary to the innovation literature, it suggests that an organization cannot be judged to be more or less innovative outside the context of what types of innovations are being discussed. Organizations with a stable knowledge system based in one professional orientation may be more likely to implement some innovations, ones that are compatible with their knowledge system. Organizations with a more heterogeneous knowledge system may be more likely to adopt radical innovations and engage in reinvention processes, but adoption of the innovation can be slower and more contentious.


© 2022 Alice Brawley-Chesworth

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