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The Role of Professional Associations in the Diffusion of Technological Innovation

This project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Swinding, UK. Grant reference number R000235178 

Research on innovation diffusion has emphasised the importance of a variety of inter-organisational networks (e.g. technology suppliers, R&D institutions) for encouraging firms to learn about new technologies. This project, completed in mid-1997, involved a European comparison of the networks through which knowledge about new technologies diffused, focusing on the roles of professional associations (PA's) in the diffusion of computer-aided production management (CAPM) technologies. Members of PA's in UK, France, Netherlands and Sweden were surveyed (N=1846) and interviews were conducted with PA organisers, practitioner members, technology suppliers (consultants and software suppliers) and academics. 

The results showed that PA's were seen as one of the most useful networks for diffusing ideas relating to technological innovation. Moreover activities oriented towards informal discussion rather than formal presentations were more important in this respect, with involvement in informal PA activities predicting the development of CAPM technologies and networking with other PA members predicting perceived success. However, it was also clear that ideas spread through processes of 'fashion-setting'. A particular design of CAPM (known as MRP2) was diffused widely as the definitive 'best practice'. The PA networks played a role in this fashion setting, being used actively by technology suppliers as a way of selling ideas to practitioners. This was more evident in some countries (UK and Netherlands) than others (France and Sweden). 

The research also found country differences in the design of technologies. For example, standardised 'best practice' MRP2 packages had diffused more rapidly in the UK than in Sweden. That said, even firms claiming to use 'MRP2' designed these technologies in many different ways, suggesting that the notion of a fixed 'best practice' is problematic. Firms in Sweden were more likely to have developed customised CAPM systems in-house which were tailored to the organisation and rated as more successful than the standardised packages used in the UK. This highlighted the need to address tensions between supplier-interests in standard solutions, which can be diffused widely and upgraded more easily, and users' needs for context specific solutions. Theoretical frameworks drawing on societal effects, neo-contingency and neo-institutional perspectives have been developed to address these relationships between inter-organisational networking, the roles of PA's, and innovation design.

Research Output

Journal Articles

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (2000) 'The diffusion, design and social shaping of production management information systems in Europe', Special issue on Diffusion, Transfer and Adoption of Information Technology Innovations, Information Technology and People Management, 13, 27-45. 

Newell, S. Swan, J. and Galliers, R. (2000) 'A knowledge-focused perspective on the diffusion and adoption of complex information technologies: the BPR example', Information Systems Journal, 10, 239-259  

Swan, J.A., Newell, S., and Robertson, M. (1999). 'National differences in the diffusion and design of technological innovation: the role of inter-organisational networks', British Journal of Management, 10, S45-S61. 

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1999) 'The illusion of best practice in information systems for operations management', European Journal of Information Systems, 8, 284-293. 

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Galliers, R. (1999) 'Business Process Reengineering: Explaining why BPR  has diffused despite concerns about its effectiveness', Comportamento Organizacional Egastao, 5, 2, 367-388. 

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1999). 'Central agencies in the diffusion and design of technology: a comparison of the UK and Sweden', Organization Studies, 20, 905-932. 

Newell, S., Swan, J.A. and Robertson M. (1998). 'A cross national comparison of the adoption of BPR: fashion setting networks',  Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 7, 299-317 

Swan, J. (1997). 'Using Cognitive Mapping in Management Research: Decisions About Technological Innovation' , British Journal of Management, 8, 183-198.

Robertson, M., and Swan, J. (1996). 'The Role of Networks in the Diffusion of Technological Innovation', Journal of Management Studies, 33(3), 335- 361. 

Swan, J.A. (1995). 'Exploring knowledge and cognitions in decisions about technological innovation: Mapping managerial cognitions', Human Relations, 48(11), 1241-1270.

Swan, J.A. and Newell, S (1995). 'The role of professional associations in technology diffusion', Organization Studies, 16 (5), 847-874

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1995). 'The diffusion of knowledge and the role of cognitions in technology design', Management Research News, 18(10/11), 30-41. 

Newell, S. and Swan, J.A. (1995). 'The diffusion of innovations in sport organizations: An evaluative framework?', Journal of Sport Management, 9, 318-338. 

Newell, S. and Swan, J.A. (1995). 'Professional associations as important mediators of the innovation process', Science Communication, 16(4), 371-387. 

Swan, J.A. and Newell, S.N. (1994). 'Managers' beliefs about factors affecting the adoption of technological innovation: A study using cognitive maps'. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 9, 3-11. 

Book Chapters

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. & Robertson, M. (1998). 'Inter-organisational networks and diffusion of information technology: Developing a Framework'. T.J. Larsen and G. McGuire (Eds) Information Systems and Technology Innovation and Diffusion. Idea Publishing Group 

Robertson, M., Newell, S. and Swan, J. (1997). 'Professional associations as 'brokers', facilitating networking and the diffusion of new ideas: Advantages and disadvantages'. In J.L. Alvarez (Ed), The Diffusion and Consumption of Business Knowledge. EMOT Research Programme Publication, pp. 182-200. 

Swan, J.A. (1997). 'Professional associations as agencies in the diffusion and shaping of Computer-Aided Production Management Technologies in Britain and North America'. In C. Clausen and R. Williams (Eds), The Social Shaping of Computer-Aided Production Management (CAPM) and Computer-Integrated Manufacture (CIM). Technical University of Denmark, pp. 85-108.

Swan, J.A. (1996). 'Professional Associations and the Management of Expertise'. In: H. Scarbrough (ed), The Management of Expertise, Basingstoke: MacMillan, pp. 123-149.

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Robertson, M. (1996). 'The Role of Professional Associations in Operations Management: A Contested Knowledge Domain'. R. Fincham (ed), New Relations in the Organized Professions: Managers, Professionals and Knowledge Workers, Avebury, pp 171-198. 

Robertson, M., Swan, J. and Newell, S. (1996). 'Interorganisational Networks and the Diffusion Process: The Case of Networks not Working', K.Kautz and J.Preis-Heje (eds), The Adoption and Diffusion of IT. London:Chapman and Hall 

Conference Papers

Swan, J.A, Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1999), 'Explaining national differences in the adoption and design of collaborative technologies for operations management'.  32nd Hawaiian International Conference on Systems Sciences. IEEE Computer Society Press (10 pages).

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Robertson, M (1998). 'Explaining the diffusion of BPR: An interactive perspective'. Proceedings of 31st Hawaiian International Conference on Systems Sciences, IEEE Computer Society Press

Robertson, M., Swan, J. and Sorensen, C. (1998). 'Using Groupware to support knowledge management'. Proceedings of 21st conference on Information Systems Research seminar in Scandinavia - IRIS21, Denmark, pp735-741 

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1998). 'National differences in diffusion and design of production management information systems'. Proceedings of  6th European Conference on Information Systems, Aix en Provence, June., pp. 1591-1599 

Robertson, M., Sorensen, C. and Swan, J. (1998). 'Using groupware to support knowledge management in a knowledge intensive firm'. Proceedings of  6th European Conference on Information Systems, Aix en Provence, June., pp. 1663-1671. 

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Robertson, M. (1998). 'The diffusion of Business Process Reengineering: A conceptual model'. Proceedings of  6th European Conference on Information Systems, Aix en Provence, June, pp 467-482. 

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Galliers, R. (1998). 'Explaining the paradox of BPR diffusion despite limited success'. Proceedings of  IRMA Conference, Boston MA, USA, May, 8 pages. 

Swan, J.A., Newell, S. and Robertson, M. (1998). 'National differences in the diffusion and design of technological innovation: the role of inter-organizational networks'. Proceedings of British Academy of Management Conference (Refereed paper track), University of Nottingham, September, pp. 12 pages 

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Robertson, M. (1997). 'Exploring the diffusion of BPR across manufacturing firms in Europe'. In R.Galliers, C. Murphy, H. Hansen, R. Callaghan, S. Carlsson, C. Loebbecke (Eds), Proceedings of 5th European Conference on Information Systems, University of Cork: Cork Publishing Ltd, pp. 1155-1162. 

Robertson, M., Swan, J. and Newell, S. (1997). 'Why do IT consultants and European professionals join professional associations'. In R.Galliers, C. Murphy, H. Hansen, R. Callaghan, S. Carlsson, C. Loebbecke (Eds),  Proceedings of 5th European Conference on Information Systems, University of Cork, Cork Publishing, Ltd, pp. 1141-1148. 

Project Team:

Jacky Swan
Sue Newell
Maxine Robertson