1 Case study

Technology policy analysis and research has historically focused either on issues of promotion or on issues of regulation. Technological promotion can take the form of initiatives to promote a whole technology (like IT or biotechnology, aerospace or renewable energy technologies), an industrial sector (like electrical engineering or construction), a section of industry (like small and medium enterprises), or even a specific firm. It can also take a regional perspective, such as when measures are proposed to address the uneven technological development across a country, or say the European Union.

We have seen in units 2 and 3 that the classic notion of technology policy meaning state policy for technology has broadened considerably – both to encompass the role of different interest groups in shaping public policy, and to take up the increasing use of initiatives that are mixed public/private.

The paper you will study shortly takes up some of these newer and broader issues of promotion of technology in quite an unusual way. The paper suggests, with research evidence, that a seemingly simple concept that academia and industry together can increase innovation, turns out to be much more complex. As an example of promotion, it involves national, regional and local government. It also involves players that are not obviously either public or private but could be either or both at the same time, like universities, as well as a range of companies. Although the study was of UK Science Parks, similar claims have been made for such initiatives all over the world.

The paper has two major parts: one empirical, one concerning re-conceptualization. The part ‘science parks in their own terms’ illustrates the popular conception of UK science parks, and then reports on the empirical research conducted to evaluate the popular conception. A multi-method methodology was adopted. The empirical research involved a comprehensive literature study, including unpublished policy documents (what are called ‘grey’ literature). It also involved a structured questionnaire survey of firms on all UK science parks. Before reading the paper, it is helpful to have an understanding of these methods; a literature study and structured survey.

Activity 25

Please read the following extract from ‘How to do a literature study’ by Stephanie Barrientos in ‘Research skills for policy and development: How to find out fast’ and answer the following question.

Question 17

What is the difference between a literature survey and a literature study?


A literature survey is a broad sweep through the relevant literature to learn what is available and to begin to set boundaries. After completing the literature survey, a literature study involves a more critical engagement with carefully selected literature from the broader literature survey. This includes examining the arguments in the selected literature and seeking answers to the research question(s) in a methodical way.

Activity 26

The next reading gives a brief description of structured surveys. Read it now and note the different applications of structured surveys and semi-structured interviews, both of which are used in the science park research. The results of the structured survey research (discussed on pp.412-414) cast doubt on the popular conceptualization of science parks and what science parks might achieve. An in-depth study was also undertaken of three different science parks as case studies. The parks studied were chosen because they appeared to be very different. This led to the second part of the paper ‘science parks in our terms’.


Structured surveys are used to generate descriptive detail or answers to ‘what’ questions. Questions are standardised and normally of the ‘tick-box’ variety for ease of analysis.

Semi-structured interviews are used to generate detailed, complex and varied data or answers to ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. There is the flexibility to ask supplementary questions to follow up interesting lines of enquiry for the research allowing the development of theories or hypotheses.

Activity 27

This third reading considers the use of case studies as a research tool. Read section 13.1 to get a sense of the advantages of the approach as an introduction to looking in more detail at the science park case studies. Thomas makes the point that choosing case studies is never like sampling, in the sense that it cannot be ‘representative’. Do you agree that the concept of ‘representativeness’ would not be useful if you were choosing case studies to investigate your research area?

The first case study park, Cambridge Science Park, had been established by an elite university college, in a ‘sunrise’ (well considered) location in South East England. The second, Aston, was set up by a technological university on derelict land in an inner-city urban manufacturing heartland – Birmingham. The last, Heriot-Watt, was set up in a vibrant Scottish city, Edinburgh. The in-depth case studies not only looked at the park firms and their characteristics: links with the university – academic/industry links; with other park firms – synergy; links space and position in the regional, national and international economy; industrial sector; whether the firms were new, relocations, independent or parts of larger companies; and so on. The case studies also looked at the rationale for the science parks, their histories, relationship with universities, and so on.

Activity 28

Read the paper ‘Science parks: a concept in science, society and “space” (a realist tale)’. The first part is on pages 412-414. The second part is on pages 414-420.

Question 18

What does it have to say about conceptualization? i.e. what was the popular conceptualization and what did their research reveal?

Question 19

How do the different methods assist the reconceptualization ‘in our terms’?

Question 20

What differences emerge in this specific research project between causation in the initial conceptualization and in ‘our’ reconceptualization?


Conceptualization is often seen as belonging either to the beginning of the research process (leading to a research design) or to the end (after data are collected). This paper argues that conceptualization and reconceptualization is possible (and required) throughout research. The paper first lays out the popular conception of science parks ‘in their own terms’ by articulating the arguments of science park advocates and practitioners and drawing on the literature. As the paper says,

‘...it is difficult to derive from the policy literature exactly what is expected to occur as a result of this spatial juxtaposition {science park by HEI} but a large amount of textual analysis and a range of interviews enabled us to establish four processes as being the most important. These are: first, the creation of employment...,second, the establishment of new firms, third, the facilitation of links between industry and academe, ...and fourth, the generation of firms operating at very high levels of technological sophistication.’

The questionnaire survey of park firms and a range of interviews (both research tools were discussed in Activity 2), together with documentary evidence (a literature survey including ‘grey literature’ is discussed in Activity 1) cast some serious doubts about this conceptualization. The three case studies allowed further reconceptualization. Each case had been chosen to be spatially, technologically, academically, and economically different. This allowed a reconceptualization of the process of causation of technological development.

The causation in the initial conceptualization concerns what will happen if science parks are set up, namely employment, high technology firm creation and academic-industrial links. The causation and powers suggested in the re-conceptualization are altogether different, more complex and less uniformly positive.

More generally, the idea of reconceptualization can be used to think about the ways that social shaping of technology perspectives have allowed a reconceptualization of the study of technology policy and innovation – bringing in a more nuanced approach than that of the state/market dualism and the linear model of innovation as discussed in previous blocks and particularly in “Mode 2” approaches. The process aspect of policy making and application is brought out clearly in this paper and is a direct critique of prescriptive approaches to policy – that science parks will automatically and necessarily bring high tech employment and force academic industrial synergy. The paper and research is strongly suggestive that innovation requires systems and that successful regional and national systems of innovation require more than science parks. These issues of spatial innovation clustering and innovation systems were discussed in unit 3. Thus, the paper finishes by having articulated some elements of a new conceptual framework for researching science parks.

I want to say a little more about case studies. You may recall the Stephen Potter article ‘Managing the design of an innovative green transport project’ that you studied in unit 1. This also demonstrated the utility of a case study approach. In the science park paper multiple case studies are used. These are chosen carefully to obtain replication and contrast to ensure that the case study is not simply reduced to comparing outcomes. The point is to ‘get inside’ the cases, to see how they ‘work’ and hence to investigate in detail whether the mechanisms at work are the ones envisaged in the theoretical ideas originally put forward.

The next four sections concentrate on getting information from people or the generation of primary data.