Do innovation measures actually measure innovation? Obliteration, symbolic adoption, and other finicky challenges in tracking innovation diffusion

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Authors: A. Nelson, A. Earle, J. Howard-Grenville, J. Haack, D. Young

Publication Year: 2014


Journal: Research Policy

Volume: 43

Issue: 6

Categories: Innovation


Although innovation diffusion is a central topic in policy and strategy, its measurement remains diffi- cult – particularly in cases where the innovation is a complex and possibly ambiguous practice. In this paper, we develop four theoretical mechanisms that may bias diffusion markers by leading to the under- statement and/or overstatement of diffusion at different points in time. Employing the case of “green chemistry,” we then compare three different diffusion markers – keywords, database index terms, and domain expert assessments – and we demonstrate how they lead to differing conclusions about the mag- nitude and timing of diffusion, organizational demography, publication outlets, and collaboration. We also provide suggestive evidence of extensive “greenwashing” by particular organization types and in particular countries. Building on these findings, we point to potential challenges with existing diffusion studies, and we make a case for the incorporation of practitioners in construct measurement and for the integration of comparative metrics in diffusion studies.