Societal problems and industry reorientation: Elaborating the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model and a case study of car safety in the USA (1900–1995)by Frank W. Geels, Caetano C.R. Penna

Research Policy


Research Policy 44 (2014) 67–82

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Research Policy jo ur nal ho me page: www.elsev ier .com/ locate / respol

Societal problems and industry reorientation: Ela

Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model and a case the USA

Frank W a Sustainable C hester b King Abdulaz c SPRU, Science a r t i c l

Article history:

Received 5 Sep

Received in re

Accepted 21 S

Available online 18 October 2014


Societal problems

Industry reorientation

Car industry

Auto-safety pr the r

The p res t st, th from social movement theory, political science, public attention, issue management, corporate political strategy, and innovation management. Second, a ‘cyclical’ lifecycle pattern is explored, in which a social problem does not linearly progress through successive phases, but can also move ‘backwards’ if public attention or political will decrease. We explore these contributions with a longitudinal study of the car-safety problem and responses from American automakers (1900–1995). We use a combined 1. Introdu

This pap of firms-inin technolo been under (2009: p. 57 still don’t h ity to impro not know w many socie ing increasi societal cha safety, and ∗ Correspon

Innovation Res

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E-mail add (C.C.R. Penna). http://dx.doi.o 0048-7333/© oblem quantitative–qualitative method that employs coupled time-series analyses as support for an in-depth case study. The case study showed that the industry long denied the influence of car design on fatalities, and reluctantly changed its position in the mid-1960s (under pressure from public opinion and policymakers). In the late-1980s, when markets emerged because safety became part of consumer preferences, the industry implemented comprehensive changes in technology, beliefs and mission. © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license ( ction er deals with societal problems and the reorientation industries to address these problems through changes gy, belief systems, and industry mission. This topic has -studied in innovation studies, as Morlacchi and Martin 5) note in an evaluation of progress in the field: “We ave a very satisfactory theory of social change. Our abilve social problems remains rather limited, and we do hy we appear to have only modest gains in relation to tal problems”. This relative knowledge gap is becomngly pertinent with the rise of the new agenda of grand llenges such as climate change, energy security, food obesity. ding author at: University of Manchester, Manchester Institute of earch, Harold Hankins Building Room 6.01, Oxford Road, Manchester el.: +44 1612757374. resses: (F.W. Geels),

While Foray et al. (2012) made an important step by addressing the topic of societal problems from the perspective of innovation systems and mission-oriented R&D, we aim to further develop the

Dialectic Issue LifeCycle (DILC) model (Penna and Geels, 2012), which focuses on the strategic decisions of firms-in-industries to develop and deploy technical solutions to societal problems, and highlights the dynamics of societal problems in terms of social, political, and cultural mobilization. So, the DILC-model warns against the reification of societal problems and the assumption that we all agree about the definition and importance of societal problems. It also warns against the idea that addressing them is merely an engineering or managerial challenge of developing and implementing solutions. Instead, the DILC-model emphasizes the co-evolution between the dynamics of societal problems and the emergence and application of (technical) solutions, and the struggles, disagreements, and conflicts involved in this co-evolution process.

Penna and Geels (2012) developed the DILC-model as an outline framework in the context of greening of industry debates, providing a brief description of the model’s five phases and an illustrative case study of interactions between the air pollution rg/10.1016/j.respol.2014.09.006 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license ( (1900–1995) . Geelsa,b,∗, Caetano C.R. Pennac onsumption Institute, Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, University of Manc iz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK e i n f o tember 2012 vised form 27 March 2014 eptember 2014 a b s t r a c t

Addressing societal problems requires nology, belief systems, and mission.

LifeCycle (DILC) model, which captu problems and industry responses. Firborating the study of car safety in , Manchester, UK eorientation of firms-in-industries, including changes in techaper aims to make two contributions to the Dialectic Issue he dynamics of socio-political mobilization around societal e five phases in the DILC-model are elaborated with insights 68 F.W. Geels, C.C.R. Penna / Research Policy 44 (2014) 67–82 problem and strategic responses from the American car industry (1943–1985). The model’s core logic is that social, cultural and political mobilization processes around a problem gradually lead to increasing pressures on an industry and that firms-in-industries reluctantly reorient towards more substantive technical solutions.

Firms initially resist substantial reorientation, because they are ‘locked in’ by industry regimes which contain four core elements (Geels, 2014): (a) technical capabilities and routines (i.e. technological regimes), (b) industry beliefs and mindsets, (c) mission and identity, and (d) formal policies and regulations. Because of various lock-in mechanisms, firms-in-industries initially tend to downplay the importance of societal problems or resist substantial technical changes. The ‘un-locking’ of firms and the move towards reorientation therefore tends to require increases in socio-political pressures, resulting from mobilization processes.