Informal boundary-spanning links and networks in successful technological innovation

  • Steve Conway

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The sources of ideas embodied within successful technological innovation has been a subject of interest in many studies since the 1950s. This research suggests that sources external to the innovating organisation account for between one and two-thirds of the inputs important to the innovation process. In addition, studies have long highlighted the important role played by the personal boundary-spanning relationships of engineers and scientists as a channel for the transference of such inputs. However, research concerning the role and nature of personal boundary-spanning links in the innovation process have either been primarily structurally orientated, seeking to map out the informal networks of scientists and engineers, or more typically, anecdotal. The objective of this research was to reveal and build upon our knowledge of the role, nature and importance of informal exchange activity in the innovation process. In order to achieve this, an empirical study was undertaken to determine the informal sources, channels and mechanisms employed in the development of thirty five award-winning innovations. Through the adoption of the network perspective, the multiple sources and pluralistic patterns of collaboration and communication in the innovation process were systematically explored. This approach provided a framework that allowed for the detailed study of both the individual dyadic links and morphology of the innovation action-sets in which these dyads were embedded. The research found, for example, that the mobilisation of boundary-spanning links and networks was an important or critical factor in nineteen (54%) of the development projects. Of these, informal boundary-spanning exchange activity was considered to be important or critical in eight (23%).
Date of Award1994
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFred Steward (Supervisor)


  • Informal boundary-spanning links
  • networks
  • technological innovation

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