Past Tracer Studies
Innovation: idea, practice, or object
that is perceived as new to an individual or
another unit of adoption.
process: decisions and activities that
occur from the recognition of a need, through
research, development and diffusion of it.
Need or problem
Starting point of the process
May be a future problem foreseen by a
Ex: Labor shortage for tomato farmers
May rise as a priority on a system’s agenda
Ex: Shift from an individual-blame
perspective to a system-blame view on
Basic and Applied Research
Technology: is a design for instrumental
action that reduces the uncertainty in the
cause-effect relationships involved in
achieving a desired outcome.
It has a material aspect (hardware) and a
Basic and Applied Research
Basic research: original investigations for the
advancement of scientific knowledge without
Applied research: scientific investigation that
are intended to solve practical problems.
Technological innovation: result of an interplay
of scientific methods and practical problems.
Measure of success of research is the number of
Sometimes, one invention is made while
pursuing a different innovation
Accidental discovery of a new idea.
Ex: Post-it!, Rogaine (hair-restorer) / Viagra
Innovation may be developped by users as
well as by manufacturers.
Innovation occurs when information is
exchanged on needs and technological
Ex: Warfarin (p. 150 / 151)
Process of putting a new idea in a form
that is expected to meet the needs of an
audience of potential adopters (p. 137).
Technology is shaped by social patterns, it
is influenced by social norms and values.
Ex: Gas refrigerator X Electric refrigerator
Skunkworks: Small and « subversive » units within
an organization that develop creative innovation.
Source of creativity outside the bureaocratic and
large R&D departments.
Traditional view of technological transfer: one-way
process through which (basic and applied) research
results are put into practice. (Technology mainly seen
Technology transfer: « exchange of technical
information between the R&D workers who create a
technological innovation and the users of the new
idea » (p. 140)
It is a two-way exchange and communication process.
Implies the arrival of practical information to the
research and development moment.
US X Japan
US R&D leader in creating technological innovations.
Japan: more effective in the transfer of technologies into
1950’s: Ampex clients were TV stations.
Ampex R&D suggested a miniaturized VCR for home use =>
Management sold the rights to Sony Corp.
Today, no American company produces the VCR.
It is the conversion of
an idea from research
into a product for sale
in the marketplace.
Technological cluster: two or more innovations
market together to ease diffusion
Ex: Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) – By
The PARC Example
Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center)
In 1970, it was created to develop the office of the
By 1977, the PARC had developped:
The world’s first personnal computer
Icons and pull-down menus
Ethernet technology - network
The PARC Example
What generated this amazing performance?
Outstanding R&D personnel sourced from:
the US Dep. of Defense’s Advanced Reserch Agency and
Universities (MIT, Stanford, etc)
a nearby computer company that failed
SRI International led by a visionary computer scientist
(invented the mouse)
PARC management style encourages innovation (favorable
Employees used innovation in their daily work
Microprocessor (crucial prior innovation) just invented in
the early 1970’s.
The PARC Example
But why Xerox was unable to commercialize
this technologies in the market place?
Company sees itself as in the office copier business.
Only the laser printing fits this business mission.
No effective mechanism was created for technology
transfer from PARC to the commercialization divisions
PARC in Palo Alto, CA and the Manufacturing center in
Technological transfer happened when Steve Jobs
hired several PARC engineers.
Diffusion and Adoption
Innovation gatekeeping concept: controls whether or not an
innovation should be diffused to an audience.
Role of the diffusion agencies in agricultural and medical
National Institute of Health (1978) => consensus
development: process that gathers scientists, practitioners,
consumers, and others to reach agreement on the safety and
effectiveness of an innovation.
Clinical trials conducted in the commercialization phase:
evaluate the innovation under real life conditions.
Changes to an individual or a community as a result
of the adoption (or rejection) of an innovation.
Initial needs / problems are solved or not.
Socioeconomic impact of innovations
Motivation for mechanical harvester
Risk of labour shortage: end of the bracero
program in 1964
Intented to save the tomato industry
Development of large harvesters to cope with
the size of the tomato production in
(bruises easily in
women / a few
(do not bruise
easily) – fewer
32,000 former hand pickers out of work
Reduction of the number of producers
What if the scientists had developed a smaller machine,
affordable for small famers? How the social impact would
Tracing the Innovation Process
Key learnings from tracer studies:
Applied research contributes more directly to
creation of an innovation than does basic research.
Major technological advances require a cluster of
innovations (Ex: The mechanical harvester and the
harder tomato type).
A relatively long period (10 to 20 years) is needed
between an innovation in basic research and its
practical application. Basic research results « need
to age ».
Reserch is often conducted without a practical
application to a certain problem in mind. A
considerable degree of serendipity may occur.
Weakenesses of tracer studies
Focus on important technological innovation: the
heart pacemaker, oral contraceptives. How it works
for less important innovations?
Should we trace non-successful innovations?
Accidental aspects are less likely to be fully
reported on data available.