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Hopes, hypes and disappointments: the social dynamics of expectations and innovation - lessons from stationary fuel cell technology

abstract Expectations may have a decisive impact on the pace and direction of technology development. They guide strategic decisions of actors, they legitimise the allocation of resources, they motivate actors to engage in promising innovation fields and they serve to co-ordinate heterogeneous actor groups. Expectations and particularly socially shared expectations on innovative technologies are often subject to impressive dynamics. Typical examples are hype-disappointment cycles: expectations get widely accepted and continue to rise for a period of time, but then break down rather suddenly.
In this project we empirically analyse and illustrate these mechanisms in the case of stationary fuel cells. Stationary fuel cells as a means for electricity and heat production represent a worthwhile focus for two reasons. Firstly, they have received a high level of attention recently. Secondly, they represent a rather radical innovation in the field of electricity generation, since they break with the hitherto centralised electricity system. The role of expectations for innovation processes is all the more important, if radical innovations are concerned and the uncertainty is high. Moreover, recent market reforms and technological challenges in the electricity sector have created additional uncertainty for the actors involved.
The project aims at improving the understanding of the formation and dynamics of socially shared expectations and their influence on the introduction of new technologies in society. The project progresses in three analytical steps: First, expectation dynamics will be retraced by analysing the attention stationary fuel cells received in
specific arenas, i.e. professional journals, mass media, scientific publications and capital markets. Secondly, the interaction between expectations and innovation processes will be analysed at three levels, largely based on expert interviews: a) we will examine
the interfaces and sites by which expectations are mediated within and between various actor groups (media, conferences, foresight departments etc.); b) we will analyse the role of expectations in the formulation of strategies of different innovation actor groups with a special focus on manufacturers, utilities and venture capitalists; c) we will analyse how expectation dynamics interact with the course and shape of particular innovation projects. Thirdly, we aim at generalising the results beyond the realms of our case study, e.g. by comparing our results with results of a study on mobile fuel cells.
We will draw on evidence from different fields of social science based innovation research, mainly science and technology studies, innovation economics and financial behaviour. The project will thereby contribute to an emerging interdisciplinary research field dealing with social dynamics of expectations and innovation. Our results may also serve societal actors to deal more reflexively with social dynamics of expectations.
keywords Science and Technology Studies; Innovation; Venture Capital; Entrepeneurship; Behavioural Finance; Fuel Cell; Clean Energy
partner eawag (Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology), Department of Innovation Research in Utility Sectors
type fundamental research project
status completed
start of project 2007
end of project 2009
principal Schweizerischer Nationalfonds
additional informations
topics Science and Technology Studies; Innovation; Energy
methods Qualitative Interviews, Survey, Content Analysis
contact Rolf Wüstenhagen