Transferring soft technologies: exploring adaptive theory | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 4, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1474-2748
  • E-ISSN: 2040-0551


It has been suggested that the social sciences would benefit if researchers forged a high-level, creative and dynamic interdependence between theory and research, rather than having them remain as relatively separated domains. This has been termed ‘adaptive theory’, as models, frameworks and conceptual schema are seen as evolving and generative. Adaptive theory asserts that theory construction can be, and should be, subject to continuous improvement - sometimes incremental, sometimes radical. However, few case studies examine how dynamically adapting theory within the research process works in practice. This article describes an attempt to explore adaptive theory through an action research case study of the transfer of a ‘soft’ technology. The setting for our study is the transfer of a ‘soft’ technology from a UK university to a mining corporation in Africa. We begin by ‘setting the scene’, summarizing the evolution of technology transfer and suggesting four dimensions that define technological softness. Then we explore how aspects of a soft technology, continuous improvement (CI), were transferred. Finally, we examine our experience and consider whether we did, in fact, adapt theory or extend understanding of the applicability of extant theories. We conclude that standalone theories were not challenged in a fundamental way but gaps were found and the ways in which theories were configured for use changed markedly.


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