Making decisions under uncertainty has always been challenge for R&D Management, but over recent years uncertainty has almost become the norm, prompting a number of leading academics to call for an ‘innovation system approach’ to tackling the issues facing R&D managers in a time of disruption.
Innovation is recognised as a powerful engine of economic growth, but technological developments themselves result in societal and environmental change. This raises a number of questions, such as ‘could undesirable impacts be predicted and mitigated’?
Xiaolan Fu from the University of Oxford is one of the guest editors for a special issue of R&D Management, R&D Management under disruption and uncertainty. She comments: “The normal fluctuations in market conditions always create a measure of unpredictable change, but over recent years we have entered a time of extreme global disruption, from both technological and non-technological factors such as the pandemic and climate change.
“Although R&D management is always characterised by disruption and uncertainty, we are seeing an opportunity for an Innovations System Approach that argues innovation does not happen in isolation but is influenced and impacted by the actions of numerous actors.”
The editors identify a number of types of disruption:
- Technological disruption – we are entering the era of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), with the advent of technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, Internet of Things and autonomous vehicles.
- Institutional disruption – we are seeing radical change in geopolitical status, in particular the relationship between the world’s largest economies China and the US; the rise or change in cross border collaborations such as those caused by Brexit or the Belt and Road initiative and currently the war in Ukraine which has global implications for energy and food security.
- Environmental disruption – this includes exogenous shocks from the natural environment such as the Covid-19 Pandemic and more frequent extreme weather events driven by climate change.
- Market disruption – unexpected changes in trade arising from other types of influence – for example the pandemic caused the cessation of travel and access to in-person meetings which accelerated the movement of services online.
Organisations respond to disruption in different ways – proactively to shape the innovation system; reactively to minimise its impact; or avoidance which may culminate in an exit strategy. This business strategy influences and is impacted by the R&D strategy and the editors identify a number of these.
There are a number of R&D strategies being adopted to manage uncertainty:
- Risk management practices – Raz et al 2002
- Fuzzy front-end – Kim and Wilemon 2002
- Balanced score card Bremser and Barsky 2004
- Prototyping – Tidd and Bodley 2002
- Feedback planning – Veganti 1997
However, many scholars working in this area think that the impact of these uncertainties now goes beyond the scope of individual companies and now requires systemic thinking at a macro, meso and microlevel.
The main goal of this special issue R&D Management under disruption and uncertainty is to call for more research in this area, and it welcomes submissions that address the intersection of disruption, uncertainty, and R&D management. More information about the special issue.
Call for papers
First date of the open call: March 2022
Online submission window: December 1, 2022 – January 31, 2023
Expected publication date: First half of 2024
R&D Management under disruption and uncertainty – guest editors
Xiaolan Fu, University of Oxford
Daitian Li, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China
Rajneesh Narula, University of Reading
Max von Zedtwitz, Copenhagen Business School
Beverly Wagner, University of Strathclyde