Overcoming organizational lock-in in decision-making : Construction clients facing innovation

Abstract: The role of clients in construction innovation is receiving increasingresearch attention due to their perceived tendencies to adhere to conventional practices preserving the status-quo. The aim of this thesis is to improve understanding of construction client organizations’ behaviour that affects their ability to overcome organizational lock-in in their new-build decision-making processes, and thus their ability to adopt innovation. A more specific aim is to compare and contrast the behaviour and decision-making processes of innovation adopters and non-adopters. The theoretical frame of reference integrates organizational information processing and three discrete, but mutually dependent decision-making schools of thought. The methodological approach acknowledges the importance of human interpretation. Most of the empirical data are qualitative, and were collected mainly through in-depth face-to-face interviews with key decision-makers of professional Swedish multi-dwelling client organizations with a property portfolio, both private and public. The research addresses clients’ practices for information processing and new-build decision-making, and their impact on their adoption of more radical innovation, as well as their perceptions and behaviour when facing the radical innovations of industrialized construction of timber-framed multi-dwelling buildings (IB) that extends beyond their frames of reference. The results show that Swedish clients’ perceptions about IB innovations are affected by both uncertainty and equivocality (i.e. the human problem of managing multiple meanings of information and conflicting interpretations). Thus, managing equivocality appears to be essential for making judgments about radical innovation alternatives. Both individual- (cognitive) and organizational-level barriers to the adoption of IB innovations are identified. These barriers create an organizational lock-in to conventional a lternatives because they lead to decision-makers not recognizing the need to revise their heuristics, question given meanings and make different interpretations that would enable them to reach different conclusions. Finally, the results show that the behaviour of innovation adopters differs from that of non-adopters in terms of how they manage uncertainty and equivocality in their new-build decision-making processes. The conclusion is that to overcome the organizational lock-in that hinders radical innovation adoption, organizations must manage equivocality through information-processing practices that allow for multiple meanings and different interpretations to surface and interact with their new-build decision-making. The research findings show that practices that support decision-making on conventional alternatives can simultaneously present organizational lock-in. These findings indicate that the current research assumptions regarding the negative impact of uncertainty and positive impact of experience may have to be reversed in decision-making about radical innovation. They also encourage application of an interpretative approach. The research may contribute to further understanding of means to overcome barriers to the adoption of other types of radical construction innovations, such as sustainable building.