Beyond the pro-innovation bias

The Project 'Beyond the pro-innovation bias' emerged as a response to a concern about unintended and undesirable consequences of innovation amongst a group of researchers at the Department of Management and Organisation. Although innovation is one of the most commonly mentioned concepts in social science unintended undesirable consequences of innovation are rarely studied. This project addresses this shortcoming and implications following from it.


Exploring alternatives: On consequences of innovation

Why is this important?
In his review of innovation literature twenty-five years ago, Rogers (1983) noticed that only 0.2 % of innovation research articles addressed consequences of innovation. To follow up this study this project (Sveiby et al., 2009) conducted a study including a literature review of all articles in the EBSCO database, with innovation in the title and which study undesirable consequences. Although 'innovation' hits reach hundreds of thousands, refining searches into 'negative or undesirable consequences' decreases the hits radically. The study found only 26 articles on unintended and undesirable consequences of innovation; 1 per 1000, a proportion that has not changed since the 1960's. Hence it seems important to ask why this is the case, what the implications are and how excluded or silenced voices can be promoted in the research field of innovation.

What does the project explore?
The project attempts to go beyond the 'pro-innovation bias'. Innovation research seems to be built on a fundamental assumption that 'innovation is good', which limits the ability of decision makers and change agents to anticipate unintended and undesirable consequences. Hence, a central theme is to develop an understanding of how this bias is constructed in order to explore how it could be deconstructed.

Another central theme of the project is the separation of discourses on desirable and undesirable consequences. More specifically, undesirable consequences of innovation can potentially follow from all types of innovation. These consequences are to some (unknown) degree studied in disciplines such as biology, medicine, environmental studies and sustainable development, and theories are constructed within perspectives drawing on sociology, CMS, STS, etc. Innovation research, however, seems to have implicitly isolated itself from considering them. The separation of discourses in this manner can have dangerous implications. One is that innovation studies have become "routinized". Another is a case of self-defeating purpose; as change agents receive little practical guidance from innovation researchers on how to consider undesirable consequences, they may cause unnecessary suffering among stakeholders, thereby reducing the net value of an innovation. Yet another is a self-feeding vicious circle; unless undesirable consequences are highlighted by innovation researchers, funding bodies see little point in funding such studies, thereby further reducing research.

Project information
Site of research

Hanken School of Economics/Department of Management and Organisation

December 2008-

Research Team
Professor Karl-Erik Sveiby (karl-erik.sveiby (at), +358 (0)50 4320 160)
Ph.D. Pernilla Gripenberg (pernilla.gripenberg (at) , +358 (0)40 3521 338)
M.Soc. Sc. (Social Psychology), Doctoral candidate Beata Segercrantz (beata.segercrantz (at), +358 (0)40 3521 500)

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Workshop May 5-7, 2010
The aim of this workshop was to encourage researchers to undertake research on consequences of innovation. In this field of research both theoretical and methodological development are needed due to the in-built pro-innovation bias in innovation theory. Undesirable consequences of innovation are notoriously complex, multi-faceted and multilevel and they transcend artificially created scientific boundaries. They require multi-disciplinary research and cross-boundary dialogue. They are difficult, but not impossible to study.

The objective of the workshop was to bring together a group of 15-30 innovation researchers to explore alternatives to mainstream innovation research by addressing how unintended and undesirable consequences of innovation could be brought into the research agenda of the innovation research field. Over 20 researchers took part in the workshop. We wanted to go beyond the 'pro-innovation bias'. To do so another important aim of the workshop was to produce a publication. Inspired by two keynote speakers, Professor Nancy Harding and Professor Jan Fagerberg, the participants worked in small groups throughout the workshop brainstorming, planning and partly writing the future publications. The approach will be critical but the contributions can draw upon a variety of perspectives ranging from mainstream approaches to critical realist and postmodern thought. Topics include contributions on, for example:
• dominant discourse of innovation research that marginalize discourses of unintended and undesirable consequences
• policy
• corporate social responsibility
• any other relevant topic brought forth by participants

Location: Hanken School of Economics, Department of Management and Organization,
P.O. Box 471, 00101 Helsinki, Finland

More about the workshop.

Inquires: Please contact beata.segercrantz (at)

The researchers' papers and bios can be downloaded.

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Selected Publications

Sveiby, K.-E., Gripenberg, P., Segercrantz, B., Eriksson, A. & Aminoff, A. (2009). Unintended and Undesirable Consequences of Innovation. ISPIM Conference The Future of Innovation. Vienna, June 21-24, 2009. (Available on

Sveiby, K.-E. (2009). Aboriginal Principles for Sustainable Development as Told in Traditional Stories, Sustainable Development 17 (6): 341-356. (Available on

Segercrantz, B. (2009). Towards a (more) critical and social constructionist approach to New Product Development projects. Ephemera 9 (2): 182-194. (Available on

Gripenberg, P. (2005). ICT and the shaping of society: Exploring human-ICT relationships in everyday life. Ph.D. thesis, Hanken School of Economics. Helsinki: Edita Prima Ltd. (Available on

Gripenberg, P. (2002). Living with IT: Uses and interpretations of computers in the home and family context'. Proceedings of the Xth European Conference on Information Systems, in Gdansk, Poland 6-8.6.2002.

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