Plausibility and power in commercialization of knowledge

Commercialization of knowledge shakes the traditional practices in the universities throughout the world. Traditionally, universities have focused on teaching and research aiming to peer reviewed academic publications. However, the external pressure in terms of ever tightening research funding as well as universities’ internal interests have been transforming universities towards commercially oriented sources of public welfare since Bayh Dole Act in 1980.

In Finland, this change has been slow and driven often by engineering sciences or sporadic commercialization projects. In my Doctoral Thesis (link), I focused on a two-year commercialization project aimed at developing university-industry co-operation and generating a general commercialization model for the Science Faculty of a Finnish university. The main objective was to analyze how the sense of commercialization is produced over time and how it unfolds and changes through social interaction.

Social interaction in board meetings

According to Karl Weick’s sensemaking framework, people try to understand novel situations through their identity, according to extracted cues from the ongoing events, in a relation to their experiences, and with other people involved. In short, actors try to find a plausible explanation for the things happening around them.

In my data, the board meetings of the project served as a key site where the interaction between various actors took place and where the meanings of commercialization were negotiated, created, and maintained. The data for the study consisted of observations made in the board meetings, board member interviews, and project documents.

This socially constructed understanding of commercialization changed throughout the study, however, leaning little by little towards plausible explanation where challenges in commercialization were caused by a number of factors external to the project.

More plausible than others

The sensemaking framework focuses on socio-psychological properties of understanding, thus it sparsely provides tools to analyze, why a certain plausible meaning exceeds others. Albert Mills and Jean Helms Mills of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, have introduced critical approach to sensemaking bringing formative context, organizational rules, power, and discursive practices into sensemaking process.

Through this extended heuristics, I found that the meeting and project rules, substance experts’ competence, and power relations between the board members guided a sense of commercialization, and it unfolded and took shape as a plausible commercialization story. The plausible story condensed into a local rule influencing the unfolding understanding of commercialization.

Scientific knowledge in front

In practice, those with academic background led the unfolding plausible story by bringing forth the academic principles and practices, and thus exercising discursive power to determine the commercialization process.

But, the power wasn’t only related to positions but socially constructed, negotiated and maintained in discourses. It was relational to issues considered, the phase of the project, the events, and the actors present in meetings.

Commercialization as a social process

My Thesis indicates that commercialization is a social interaction of which content and plausibility are constructed through making sense of events happening during the process. In academia, scientific knowledge is so dominant (see Montonen 2014) that it might even bypass or overshadow the economic aspects in commercialization process.

Therefore commercialization of academic knowledge might be easier to organize by such organizations of not directly involved to university (see e.g. Maia & Claro 2013; Isabelle 2013).

Photo of Outi-Maaria Palo-ojaOuti-Maaria Palo-oja, D.Sc. (Econ. & Bus. Adm.)

Uskottavaa kaupallistamistarinaa punomassa (written in Finnish)
Weaving plausibility into commercialization

Professor Päivi Eriksson, University of Eastern
Lecturer Teuvo Kantanen, University of Eastern Finland
Postdoctoral Researcher Marke Kivijärvi, Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics