The PhD thesis presents research conducted to understand the role of indicators in decisions of technology innovation. A gap was detected in the literature of innovation and technology assessment about the use and influence of indicators in this type of decision. It was important to address this gap because indicators are often frequent elements of innovation and technology assessment studies. The research was designed to determine the extent of the use and influence of indicators in decisions of technology innovation, to characterize the role of indicators in these decisions, and to understand how indicators are used in these decisions. The latter involved the test of four possible explanatory factors: the type and phase of decision, and the context and process of construction of evidence. Furthermore, it focused on three Portuguese innovation groups: public researchers, business R&D&I leaders and policymakers. The research used a combination of methods to collect quantitative and qualitative information, such as surveys, case studies and social network analysis.
This research concluded that the use of indicators is different from their influence in decisions of technology innovation. In fact, there is a high use of indicators in these decisions, but lower and differentiated differences in their influence in each innovation group. This suggests that political-behavioral methods are also involved in the decisions to different degrees. The main social influences in the decisions came mostly from hierarchies, knowledge-based contacts and users. Furthermore, the research established that indicators played mostly symbolic roles in decisions of policymakers and business R&D&I leaders, although their role with researchers was more differentiated. Indicators were also described as helpful instruments to conduct a reasonable interpretation of data and to balance options in innovation and technology assessments studies, in particular when contextualized, described in detail and with discussion upon the options made.
Results suggest that there are four main explanatory factors for the role of indicators in these decisions: First, the type of decision appears to be a factor to consider when explaining the role of indicators. In fact, each type of decision had different influences on the way indicators are used, and each type of decision used different types of indicators. Results for policy-making were particularly different from decisions of acquisition and development of products/technology. Second, the phase of the decision can help to understand the role indicators play in these decisions. Results distinguished between two phases detected in all decisions – before and after the decision – as well as two other phases that can be used to complement the decision process and where indicators can be involved. Third, the context of decision is an important factor to consider when explaining the way indicators are taken into consideration in policy decisions. In fact, the role of indicators can be influenced by the particular context of the decision maker, in which all types of evidence can be selected or downplayed. More importantly, the use of persuasive analytical evidence appears to be related with the dispute existent in the policy context. Fourth and last, the process of construction of evidence is a factor to consider when explaining the way indicators are involved in these decisions. In fact, indicators and other evidence were brought to the decision processes according to their availability and capacity to support the different arguments and interests of the actors and stakeholders. In one case, an indicator lost much persuasion strength with the controversies that it went through during the decision process. Therefore, it can be argued that the use of indicators is high but not very influential; their role is mostly symbolic to policymakers and business decisions, but varies among researchers. The role of indicators in these decisions depends on the type and phase of the decision and the context and process of construction of evidence. The latter two are related to the particular context of each decision maker, the existence of elements of dispute and controversies that influence the way indicators are introduced in the decision-making process.