TitleKnowledge Generation and Usage in Piloting
Publication Type04. Conference Papers
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsFritzsche, A., & Agarwal N.
Conference NameBritish Academy of Management
Conference LocationNewcastle

Modern information technology has changed the landscape of economic practice. It has not only changed the offerings that companies bring to a market, but also the nature of business activities, the structure of organizations and the forms of collaboration between them (Picot et al. 2008). In the future, the ongoing digitization can be expected to have an even bigger impact. Interconnected, responsive devices allow the creation of cyber-physical systems that integrate formerly disconnected processes on a common technical infrastructure (Lee 2008). As a consequence, the traditional distinction between economy and technology or manage-ment and engineering (e.g. Weber 1978) cannot be upheld. This also affects the way how business and management studies can proceed. They have to adopt methodological approaches that can give an appropriate account of both the economic and the technical aspects of business and management at the same time. In order to do so, it is necessary to establish closer connections to engineering research.
This is not as easy as it may seem. In comparison to business and management studies, engi-neering still has much stronger ties to craftsmanship and artistry. Instead of focussing on the creation of knowledge in formal representations, engineering creates artefacts for practical application in given contexts. As a science, engineering therefore can be said to follow an interventionist paradigm. Interventionist paradigms in business and management studies are usually connected to action research (Rapoport 1970; Gummeson 2000). Engineering, particularly in the context information systems, tends to prefer design science research as a methodological background, which is arguably rather similar to action research (e.g. Järvinen 2007), but more focussed on the artefact as a carrier of information and a catalyst for scientific insight. Design science research has lately received quite a lot of attention in various academic communities (Hevner et al., 2004; Van Aken, 2004). It is believed to provide a conceptual foundation that allows engineers to address their findings in a way that is methodologically acceptable for a scientific publication (Gregor & Hevner 2013). This creates the danger that it is only used as a framework to refine engineering practice to make it more presentable, and not because it meets the requirements of the respective subject matter and the research questions that are asked about it.
We therefore look at knowledge production in engineering from a different angle. Instead of discussing how scientific insight can be gained from an artefact, we address the artefact as a carrier of knowledge and look for ways how it can be designed and used as such, inde-pendently from the scientific claims that might later follow. To increase the rigor of our study, we look at a very specific form of artefact creation in engineering and many surrounding disciplines: piloting.
Piloting is very popular in many fields of activity, including automotive manufacturing as well as television. Nevertheless, its epistemic foundations are still hardly explored. Piloting is usually performed in the context of wicked problems, which are characterised by an inherent connection between problem solution and problem understanding (Rittel 1984; Conklin 2005). A distinctive characteristic of piloting is that it does not claim to provide a sustainable problem solution. The outcome of piloting, the pilot, rather has to be described as a proof of concept that gives evidence that a sustainable solution can be reached (Schwabe & Krcmar 2000). It is a point of reference which provides orientation for further activities. This orientation is what we want to understand better. For this purpose, we study two different cases of application for piloting.
In the first case, piloting is performed on the example of an open lab that allows companies to engage with external contributors during their innovation activities. In the second case, piloting is performed on the example of a complex service system to support the introduction of new software solutions in companies.  The characteristic element of piloting that applies to both cases is the fact that the created artefact is not expected to be a full solution to the problem that is perceived in practice. Unlike other artefacts created in the course of interventionist research, a pilot is only assumed to provide evidence for or against the applicability of a certain solution strategy. It shows that a certain effect can be achieved. Further work can then use this insight to ensure actual problem solutions. Piloting thus ensures relevance in scientific research by functioning as an incubator for further business practice.
First insights indicate that this function is elaborated differently in the two application cases. In the first case, the pilot artefact provides a prototypical reference for further innovation labs, similar to a piece of art which inspires further creativity. Other labs which are currently in the process of being created allude to it, quote it or criticize it, but they do not copy it. In the second case, the pilot artefact demonstrates a solution concept which can then be adopted as it is, similar to a technical device whose functional principle is later applied in other devices. Piloting can accordingly provide orientation in different ways, which need further elaboration in the future.

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