Surfing the Hype Wave: Intermediary Organizations Shaping Expectations in Emerging Technologies.

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.1.03 (Tower Two)
Carla Alvial Palavicino, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands
Konrad Kornelia, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands
Economic growth relies strongly on innovation, particularly innovation based on the development of new technologies. These new technologies often promise prosperity, (economic) wellbeing and to solve society’s grand challenges. However, both the further development of new technologies as well as their actual effects are usually quite uncertain. Thus, innovation actors refer to expectations, promises and visions related to a technology, which circulate in innovation communities and are produced by ‘expectation experts’ who have a particular “expertise”and broad knowledge of the field, such as consultancies.

In fact, it is not uncommon that new technologies become subject to ‘hype’ – high-rising expectations which often turn out as exaggerated by hindsight. The pattern of a ‘hype cycle’, as coined by the consultancy organization Gartner group, has become a shared belief or “folk theory” among innovation actors (Rip, 2006). According to this hype cycle pattern, for every new technology, there is a degree of exaggeration that is followed by disappointment, before the real potential of a technology is achieved in the “plateau of enlightenment” (Fenn & Raskino, 2008). However, the “hype” is also the result of strategic activities of actors (Konrad, Markard, Ruef, & Truffer, 2012; Ramiller, 2006), but the consequences can go beyond any individual efforts, and actors respond to hypes to avoid disappointment (Ruef & Markard, 2010).

The Sociology of Expectations has extensively analyzed the role of expectations, and hypes, in new technologies, arguing that these particular fictions of the future (as discourse, also embodied in reports, prototypes, patents, etc.) are performative (Brown & Michael, 2003). That is, promises turn into requirements to which actors align their activities and strategic choices (van Lente & Rip, 1998) . Furthermore, the relevance of these promises is acknowledged by actors in the field, as reflected by the proliferation of methods to know and to assess the future, such as forecasts, scenarios or roadmaps. In many cases these activities are mediated by specialized intermediary organizations (Åm, 2013). These organizations release market reports and overviews of the (emergent) fields, organize and participate conferences and seminars, maintain blogs and newsletters and also give direct advice to innovation actors. Through these activities they actively help to construct the governance landscape of emergent fields (Bünger, 2008; Pollock & Williams, 2010).

In this paper we analyze the role of intermediary actors, particularly technology consultant(s) and organizations, in articulating the expectations of new technologies and making sense of an ongoing “hype”. We focus on the following research question: What is the role of technology consultants in making sense of technology hypes? In particular, we focus on the practices and strategies that technology consultants deploy to make sense of ongoing expectation dynamics in a specific field, and what effects they have on other innovation actors and the governance of an emergent field.

Specifically, we compare how consultants associated to the emerging fields of graphene and 3D printing gain legitimacy, create and share their “knowledge” about the future, and how their activities have an effect on coordinating efforts/patterns in the field. These two fields have been recognized as undergoing ‘hype’; in recent years they have received increased (media) attention and high expectations circulate, to the point of overpromising. This research is based on 2 comparative case studies performed between 2012 and 2014 in graphene & 3D printing. In both cases, the data collection included semi structured interviews, document and social media analysis as well as attendance to conferenced and meetings

In both cases, these high expectations have been accompanied by the expansion of these fields into new application fields and potential markets. In this movement, new actors engage in innovation process, from policy to financial actors (Konrad et al., 2012; Wüstenhagen, Wuebker, Bürer, & Goddard, 2009). In both cases consultants and consultancy organizations emerge as central actors to make sense of ongoing dynamics. We argue that these organizations take a dual position: on the one hand they are critical about (over) promising and exaggerations; while on the other hand they actively keep expectations high about the technology ‑ and ultimately about themselves.

This paper contributes to understand how visions and expectations are constituted and mobilized by innovation actors, particularly to understand the role of specialized “expectations” actors in this process. 


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