Antonie J. Jetter

Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Technology Management


Engineering and Technology Management

Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 222 pages)


Social capital (Sociology), Organizational change, Technological innovations -- Management




In today's open business environments, innovation happens in globally dispersed organizations that exchange technological knowledge across increasingly permeable boundaries. Innovation intermediaries play an important role in these technology transfer processes. They operate as middle-men between solution seekers (companies seeking technological knowledge for solving their problems) and problem solvers (experts with specialized knowledge and solutions) and thus help to connect suppliers and customers of technological knowledge. Currently, clients that select an intermediary organization and managers of intermediary organizations that assign agents to a project have very little guidance as to what type of an intermediary they should select to guarantee that the intermediation process is successful. This study will provide much needed guidance.

Successful technology transfer is operationalized as gains in efficiency and/or improved innovativeness, though it is likely that a trade-off exists between these two goals. This is commonly referred to as the productivity dilemma. To be successful, intermediaries need to understand the solution seeker's problem (problem framing) and reach into their networks of contacts or connections with various experts (social capital) to match the right expert to the problem. The literature on technical problem solving states that problem solvers that frame a problem as the need to reduce uncertainty solve the problem by reaching for readily available resources and tend to provide solutions that are similar to previous solutions. These incremental improvements are efficient, but not very innovative. Problem solvers that frame a problem as the need to reduce ambiguity do not expect the solution to be found in readily available sources and reach further. The outcome of this problem solving is likely to be dissimilar to the previous outcome, resulting in radical changes and high innovativeness.

I argue that an innovation intermediary's choice in problem framing is likely to be dictated by two different focuses (bonding versus bridging) in the social capital of the agent. The agent with a high level of bonding social capital generally reinforces existing relationships (deepening the connections) and can easily access the appropriate experts. Consequently, bonding social capital is related to uncertainty reduction problem framing and, in turn, efficiency improvement outcome. As for the agent with a high level of bridging social capital, the agent tends to build and seek new contacts from different fields of expertise and specialization (broadening the connections), thus the agent can always reach different experts in different fields of specialization. Consequently, bridging social capital is related to ambiguity reduction problem framing and, in turn, innovativeness improvement outcome.

The aim of this study is to contribute to the body of knowledge in technology management by exploring the relationship (that has never been explicitly identified in the past) between problem framing, social capital and the outcomes of innovation intermediation process. This indeed provides a much needed means to match intermediaries and projects in ways that lead to the desired levels of innovativeness and efficiency. In this study, the research model that identifies the relationship between problem solving, social capital and outcomes of the intermediation process is developed from the literature review of three different streams of research, namely technical problem solving, social capital and innovation intermediary. The hypotheses are set according to the relationship identified in the research model. Then, the data on the innovation intermediation process is collected from an intermediary organization in Thailand called iTAP which provided full access to its intermediary agents and archival records of its projects, resulting in a rich data set that is thoroughly analyzed by appropriate statistical models to explore the relationship in the research model.

The results indicate that there are strong relationships between social capital and the outcomes of intermediation process. Specifically, ease of reach is a dimension of social capital that has a positive impact on both the outcome with efficiency improvement and the outcome with innovativeness improvement; while trust and mutual understanding show a negative relationship with the outcomes. The results also support the linkage between social capital and ambiguity reduction in problem framing. However, the other linkages between social capital and uncertainty reduction in problem framing, and between problem framing and outcomes, do not have statistical evidence but the data are in favor of the research model. An additional alternative theory of temporal and dynamic problem framing variables is introduced and thoroughly discussed to explain the innovation intermediation process.

In summary, this study suggests that while more is better for bridging social capital, there should be a balance in bonding social capital. By bridging the relationships with different and diverse groups of people, the intermediary agents gain greater benefit in broadening their network of contacts that can help in solving the problems with both efficiency improvement and innovativeness improvement. On the other hand, by deepening the relationships with their existing network of contacts, the intermediary agents may also benefit by gaining more trust from the network but the closeness of their relationships may also hinder them from looking for better answers to the problems due to the false assumption (groupthink) and familiarity with the network (not-invented-here syndrome). The key to success for managing the successful innovation intermediation process is to promote strong bridging social capital and balanced bonding social capital of the innovation intermediary agent.

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