9Engineering the Process of Institutional Innovation in Contested Territory

Russell C. Thomas and John S. Gero

9.1 Introduction

Typically, when we talk about an ‘engineering approach’ to a given social system, we are referring to the transformation of the current state of that social system to some future state that meets needs, requirements or goals. The ‘end product’ of social systems engineering is the transformed social system. But what if the social system is an innovation community and the ‘end product’ is innovation or discovery of new knowledge? In this case, we are no longer applying an established body of knowledge and methods to solve a given problem, but instead the social system is trying to expand the state of knowledge and generate inventions that are novel and distinctly beneficial. Given the fundamental uncertainties of innovation and discovery, we can’t reliably predict the end results or even the trajectory of innovation that will unfold.

Further, we consider settings that are contested territory (i.e., there are rival world views regarding the nature of the problems and the nature of the innovations needed to address those problems). With two or more rival views (‘schools of thought’), there might be diverging innovation trajectories where each school of thought develops and exploits knowledge that fits that school but not rival schools. For an example of this in scientific knowledge, consider the rival theories of infectious disease in the early to mid‐1800s: ...

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