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Innovation between municipality and market: Re-imagining the self, the other and the link in-between.

Conference contribution
Authors Jon Williamsson
Anders Sandoff
Christian Jensen
Published in NFF 2017, 23 -25 August 2017, Bodø Norway.
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Business Administration, Industrial and Financial Management & Logistics
Department of Business Administration, Management & Organisation
Language en
Keywords Innovation management, innovation systems, municipal innovation
Subject categories Public Administration Studies, Industrial organisation, administration and economics


Innovation is often postulated as panacea for a diverse number of organizational and societal ailments. While innovation is often hailed in the private sector the public sector is less familiar with the concept, even though innovation is far from rare within that context. Currently there is tentative work conducted by the Swedish government to establish competence around innovation in municipal organizations. Innovation does entail change and in the case of municipal innovation support it implies a pursuit of transformation in relation to not only the attitudes and behaviors of public and private actors but also change in the terms that regulate the relationship between them. Since the public and private realms are driven by different normative value sets the question of what it is that should change is contentious. The problem of assigning change is thus a key issue that the involved individuals have to manage in relation to their own institutional realities. The purpose of this paper is to explore how members of a municipal innovation project and a governmental agency infuse meaning into the idea of innovation for sustainable and attractive cities by discussing change in themselves, their organization, their counterparts and the relation between them. The study shows how the sensemaking conducted by the interlocutors relies on reimagining “the other” in a game of representation in which the sensemaker postulates often conflicting needs and desires of the private and the public. Despite presenting the project as a success, particularly in relation to individual and organizational learning about innovation and sustainability, the project members experienced considerable dissonance when trying to manifest innovation as change in ways of organizing and behaving. In the end the initial goals of innovation that required a high degree of change were mitigated so that they conformed to existing institutional agendas. This was done in order to maintain or build alliances that could survive beyond the limited timeframe of the project. In order to remain innovative the obligation to change shifted away from the self, the other and their relationship, i.e. change in behavior and organizing, towards the physical space that these actors cohabited. This way of defusing change by shifting the focus of innovation was elevated as a way to manifest success outwards but was internally seen as somewhat of a failure. The study shows the danger of using innovation as a driving idea behind change without a strong connection between project members and parent organizations.

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