The Process of Networked Civic Innovation: Examining the Role of Values, Resources, and Power in Community-Based Technology Projects
Agarwal, Sheetal Doshi
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This dissertation examines the social organizational implications of community-based innovation processes. Expanding upon existing literature, I study new forms of organizing in new innovation contexts. I call this process community-based networked civic innovation. This comparative case study analysis is based on participant observation of the process of innovation as it occurred in four informally organized civic networks (Living Voters Guide, Occupy TempCheck, Puget Sound Civic Communication Commons, and the Tea Party Technology Collaboration). The aim of each project was to transform community communication practices through technology implementation. This dissertation aims to explain why some projects achieve intended adoption outcomes while others fail to do so. In particular, it investigates the role and interactions of values, resources, and power across the innovation process. Using ethnographic methods, qualitative network analysis, and value sensitive design methods I conducted process analysis to evaluate both social and technical components of innovation. Looking across both design and use stages of innovation, I found that the primary work of civic technology projects is the organizing of a diverse set of actors to effectively complete innovation tasks. I found that the process of innovation is shaped by a series of micro-processes: formation of the network, establishment of governance rules, visioning, translation, and encoding. Each of these micro-processes is both shaped by and shaper of conditions of values, resources, and power. The outcomes of these micro-processes, which occur in early stages, continue to affect and shape innovation outcomes at later stages as actors respond to conditions. Under certain conditions networks configure or reconfigure in a manner that either supports or undermines the organizing work of innovation. Analysis demonstrated the importance of engaging the intended user community throughout all stages. I found technological frames and community technology champions to be integral in supporting intended adoption outcomes. Findings also showed that projects that “failed” in one context found life elsewhere, suggesting the need to account for how ideas travel through civic networks and expand our definitions of success and failure. This study is relevant to scholars of communication and technology, organizational communication, innovation studies, and design studies. From a communication perspective, it reveals the communicative practices at the heart of innovation processes that support and inform the organizing work required to achieve intended outcomes.
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