Co-evolution of an emerging mobile technology and mobile services : a study of the distributed governance of technological innovation through the case of WiBro in South Korea
Suh, Jee Hyun
This thesis is a study of the development and uptake of an emerging infrastructural technology: the mobile Wireless Broadband technology and service known as WiBro in South Korea, and Mobile WiMAX internationally. WiBro has emerged through a national development effort since the early 2000s. The commercial service was launched in 2006. However, uptake fell far below initial expectations, only succeeding in niche markets. This study was motivated by concerns about the perceived gulf between development and diffusion and the ‘failure’ of WiBro. However, this study seeks to go beyond the technology-driven perspective that informs conceptions of diffusion gap: it aims to explicate the sociotechnical factors leading to such a gap. This study draws on Science and Technology Studies (STS) and in particular the Social Shaping of Technology (SST) perspective, which provides tools to scrutinize the interactions among the various interests and factors involved in the process of technological innovation. The SST perspective goes beyond approaches that treat technology as a static object to be developed and diffused. It provides tools to examine the complex and dynamic forces that develop technical capacity towards particular forms and uses. The ‘social learning’ perspective extends SST and provides concepts to explore the changing dynamics over multiple cycles of innovation. Here, Jørgensen’s concept of ‘development arena’ helps examine the interlinked, yet dispersed and multiple spaces in which differing goals, motivations and strategies of innovation players together shape technological innovation. Through comprehensive analyses of a longitudinal study of WiBro, a broader view of the process and the outcomes of technological innovation have been achieved. Rather than viewing the technology as a stable object that would progress in a linear manner through the stages of design, development, and diffusion, it has focused on the process of shaping of WiBro through multiple cycles of innovation. Several arenas of innovation were identified as diverse players sought to align their interests towards exploiting the resources, capacities, and tools for innovation that seemed to be available. In these spaces, conflicting and yet coevolving dynamics were observed: one involving coordination through alignments of multiple interests, and the other incorporating tensions and misalignments among the differing concerns, aims and commitments towards the innovation. The complex dynamics involved a multi-level game where the collective actions among the innovation players and their individual strategies diverged to a degree. Furthermore, changing contingencies, linked to shifting choices of innovation players, resulted in the deviation of the innovation from the initial visions and aims. The study thus illustrates the outcomes of highly divergent interactions at play in innovation process and the mutual enrollment efforts of players that constituted the distributed governance of innovation. Here the complex interplays among the innovation players involved in multi-level games produced a gap between the generic vision and the actual uptake of WiBro. Changing contingencies, especially linked to broader and evolving structures and relations - brought about the reshaping of the generic vision of WiBro. This research therefore suggests the concept of the ‘distributed governance of innovation’ as a new mode for governance: that accommodates not only differing knowledges and interests but also the shifting choices and visions through the various cycles of technological innovation. The boundary of social learning is thus extended to incorporate diverging choices over time and across the multiple spaces of innovation. Its implications for policy include achieving reflexivity by incorporating into the policy framework the learning process that takes place as the innovation players go through the varying stages and cycles of technological innovation.