A socio-cognitive model of technology evolution: The case of cochlear implants
Garud and Rappa present an examination of the social and cognitive processes involved over the course of the development of cochlear implants. The authors present a model that focuses on, "the relationship between the beliefs researchers hold about what is and is not technically feasible, the technological artifacts they create, and the routines they use for evaluating how well their artifacts meet with their prior expectations."
Their model is essentially a triangle with two interactions between each of the three nodes. They describe how this interaction between beliefs, artifacts, and evaluation can lead to different technological paths. Essentially, they argue for the following processes:
- Beliefs externalized as evaluation routines (B->ER)
- Routines shape beliefs (ER->B)
- Routines legitimize and select forms (ER->A)
- Artifacts dictate standards (A->ER)
- Beliefs guide creation of artifacts (B->A)
- Specific competencies result in the escalation of commitment (A->B)
The authors show each of these processes using a very rich longitudinal dataset from the cochlear implant industry. In addition to extensive archival data, the authors make extensive use of interviews and public information on approval.
Essentially, there are two technological paths pursued: single channel and multichannel. Each technologies had certain safety and usability benefits and both were subject to strict regulation. Of course, the regulation itself was unclear because the technology was so new and so this was pushed through beliefs as well.
A large debate was over safety (multichannel devices go much deeper into the cochlea) and usefulness based on whether recognizable speech was necessary or whether a device that could not allow a wearer to recognize speech was worth it. Due to FDA regulations, and a highly political environment over what this should entail or require, the role of evaluation routines took on a strong role.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
The paper has been cited several hundred times, particular in the literature on organizational cognition where it has been reasonably influential. Although the dataset used is extremely rich, there are lingering questions about the generalizability to fields where safety is not an issue and where the role of evaluation routines takes on a very different level of importance.