In this section we present our research methods and the qualitative analyses and graphs for all 19 case studies.
The underlying research of the Owls Project is a study of the generic factors that play a role in innovation and breakthrough processes. By processes we mean the trajectory in stages from idea to realisation. In this research project we seek to determine whether generic factors played a part in the successful execution of these innovation and breakthrough processes, and if so which ones. We carried out nineteen case studies by descriptive and semi-structured research, and analysed them with additional qualitative research. Our starting hypothesis was that the assumed generic factors exist and that their role in an innovation and breakthrough can be observed and tested.
The case studies are the result of desk and field research, with the field research carried out in qualitative semi-structured interviews. We carried out an additional qualitative analysis for each study with the aid of software. For these analyses, the theories of Juliet Corbin and the late Anselm Strauss (2008) were used, as well as QI Macros® software (KnowWare International, Inc). By applying this specific software, it was possible to unambiguously examine large data sets in a short period of time. For this it was important to make use of an open and proper coding of the data.
To ensure that the semi-structured interviews for each case study were carried out with the same qualitative approach, they were guided by a template that focused the interview on the generic factors involved. This template provided a structure for the desk and field research (interviews) with open questions. Therefore, the template did not influence the content of the research.
Our starting point and hypothesis was to use the elements of a conventional production/implementation process as the generic factors. In the first version of the hypothesis, six generic factors were chosen for the research: innovation and breakthrough; idea and vision; concept; planning and strategy; implementation; and the iterative process. In order to make sure that the correct choices were made, five cases were tested and it turned out that the defined generic factors worked well. In the course of the research, it also became apparent that three additional factors also play a frequent role. We call these the enablers: human factors, environmental factors, and the window of opportunity. The generic factors were grouped into three parts: the creative phase, the operational phase and the enabling factors.
SOFTWARE ANALYSIS AND THE ASSESSMENT GROUP
On the basis of open and axial coding the generic factors were enriched with related terms, so that all case studies could be equivalently analysed by the software. Next, the chapters and complete interview transcripts were inserted and analysed by the software. To ensure the integrity of the interpretations, three case studies were analysed on the basis of either the chapter or the interview transcripts. This comparison showed similar patterns and no significant differences in the results. We could therefore assume that the write-ups of the case studies were faithful representations of the interviews.
The software analysis measured the presence of generic factors (enriched with related key terms) as described in the case studies and interviews.This analysis computes the extent to which the factors are named and discussed, which implies the presence or importance of a given generic factor. To compare the different case studies, the software examined the extent to which a given generic factor, including the related key terms, occurs in each case study per 1,000 words.
The advantage of this is that all case studies are analysed in the same way and are comparable, regardless of the length of the chapters and transcripts. The extent of the impact of each factor, however, is not fully demonstrated in this way. The software analysis supplements a human qualitative analysis by an assessment group who assessed the case studies with understanding of their full context.
An assessment group of six members analysed the cases for the extent to which the generic factors have influenced the innovation and breakthrough process. This analysis reflects the averaged assessment from the members of the assessment group. In principle, this was a subjective interpretation: each member judged the extent of influence that each generic factor had in each innovation and breakthrough process case study by entering a number on a scale from 1 to 5. The different assessments were compared and discussed and the members strove to arrive at a shared assessment.
The results of the software analysis and the final judgment of the assessment group are translated to a graphical model in which these results are represented separately. These two different research methods have produced two separate data sets, which in turn can be compared. In this graphical comparison between the software analysis and the assessment group, we can observe some correlations in the patterns of the generic factors, which imply their importance or influence in the innovation and breakthrough process.
The results of both the research and the analysis of the data are verifiable. All data has been stored and analyses have been carried out unambiguously, and can be made available for review to anyone interested.
The project does not aim to determine absolute truths, but to provide information on and insights into the development of innovation and breakthrough processes in which the defined generic factors have played a part. The generic factors we chose to focus on are not meant to be exhaustive, but they emerge from a process-centric analysis of innovations and breakthroughs. These analyses offer some universal insights into the role that the generic factors played in each process, without prejudice. The aim of this project is to stimulate further discussion around innovation and breakthrough processes and to make organisations aware of their importance so they can use this to their benefit.
For the graphical representation of the results we made use of a model. In the model we placed the generic factors on the horizontal axis, and on the vertical axis the extent to which each generic factor played a role in the innovation and breakthrough process. Both the software analysis and the analysis by the assessment group are overlaid on the same scale, so that they can easily be compared.
Looking at two breakthroughs: the creation of and the release of the internet.
An overview of an innovative process that is over 200 years old and is ongoing.
The global influence of the concept of agricultural optimisation.
The case of an innovation forced by the demands of the natural world.
Including a look at alternative energy sources such as shale gas, carbon capture and hydrogen technology.
A look at a technology innovation with potential to decentralise electricity generation.
A look at how a breakthrough was thwarted by lack of international governmental will.
How a clear vision led to a clear concept.
The unification of two countries was a breakthrough in three spheres: political, legal and military.
The factors involved in the Oslo Accords, which led to a new phase of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
Identifying the factors involved in transferring geo-economic potential from the USA to China.
How a new space was created for a national debate on democratic values.
Tracing the political decision-making of privatisation policies of the 1980s and 1990s.
The factors involved in the breakthrough creation of a broadcast station.
Looking at eight non-governmental organisations providing innovative approaches to healthcare.
How the development of a long-term vision has driven innovation in a large organisation.
Examining the work of VitaValley, who bring parties together in an unorthodox way.
Looking at how an organisation used innovative relationships to address difficult social problems.
How the concept of impact investing and social venturing drives a new vision of business.