Organizing Technological Innovations at the Grassroots: The Case of the Honey Bee Network - Seminar

Event Date: February 23, 2012
Speaker: Prashant Rajan
Speaker Affiliation: Doctoral Student, Brian Lamb School of Communication
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Forney, G124
Contact Name: Dr. Demetra Evangelou
Contact Phone: 494-4158
Contact Email:

Prashant Rajan is a fourth-year doctoral student at the Brian Lamb School of Communication. His dissertation, “Organizing Technological Innovations at the Grassroots: The Case of the Honey Bee Network,” directed by Prof. Lorraine G. Kisselburgh, is an ethnographic study of how technological innovations are designed, developed, and implemented across grassroots communities in India. Prashant is interested in situating communities as the sites for research on innovation and knowledge sharing.

Prashant spent three months from June through August 2011 conducting field work across 25 rural, semi-urban, and urban communities in India. During this time, he conducted open-ended interviews and guided conversations with grassroots innovators and their collaborators from local communities, universities, non-profit, and for-profit organizations about the motivations for and the organizing processes involved in the design and development of grassroots innovations. He also engaged in participant-observation of grassroots innovators working on developing and implementing innovative technologies in their local communities.

As a participant-observer, Prashant lived with grassroots innovators and learnt about the ways in which they develop novel, affordable technological solutions for problems in their local communities. Preliminary findings indicate that the stakeholders involved in the design, development, and use of grassroots technological innovations comprise multiple discourse communities which are organized around specific communication media, and distinct communicative practices pertaining to knowledge sharing. The development process for an innovative grassroots technology serves as a longitudinal indicator of the extent to which multiple discourse communities have converged in their interpretations and expectations during collaboration.

The maturity of grassroots technological innovations is a function of the motivations for, and the extent to which innovators participate across multiple discourse communities. Grassroots innovators express the need for innovation and its diffusion in terms of a perceived responsibility toward their local communities. They frequently eschew potential monetary benefits which might be attained through the protection and sale of their intellectual property. Instead, many grassroots innovators favor open innovation through free revealing of their designs to user communities and support the imitation of their designs by others. The preference for open innovation is associated with the adoption of an empathic design process in which innovators leverage their embeddedness in local communities to observe and reflect on users’ technology-related behavior in naturalistic settings.

Grassroots innovators engage with human needs in specific geographical, economic, social, and cultural contexts and embody the potential for knowledge-rich, resource-poor communities to develop successful indigenous solutions to local problems. Grassroots innovations represent a community-based and user-driven model of innovation based on empathy and social responsibility which problematizes rational, economic models of competitive innovation for profit that are prevalent in the industry and the innovation literature.