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Involving customers in innovation: knowledgeability and agency as process variables

Linda D. Peters (Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK)
Andrew D. Pressey (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Alan J.P. Gilchrist (Lancaster University Management School, Bailrigg, UK)
Wesley J. Johnston (Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 5 March 2018




Recent research places an increased emphasis on the inclusion of the customer in value creation, learning and innovation processes; yet, there remains a gap in the understanding of just how such customer involvement may work. This paper aims to address this gap by examining two aspects of customer involvement – their knowledgeability and their agency. In addition, three boundaries (semantic, syntactic and pragmatic) across which relationship development occurs and which may facilitate and/or inhibit value co-creation, collaborative learning and innovation processes have been explored.


Three case studies have been used. Two were large-scale construction projects in the UK, and one was a global professional accounting firm in the USA.


Customers may become frustrated if not allowed to exercise their agency. However, their involvement can create tensions for suppliers who may have to become more tolerant of divergent goals. In respect of knowledgeability, it was found that constraint satisfaction is important in allowing customers to reconcile their personal knowledge schema with the collective schema. However, it was also noted that customer knowledgeability brings with it challenges for suppliers, who must find ways to add value for such customers.

Research limitations/implications

A number of further questions relating to the agency and knowledgeability of customers and their inclusion in value co-creation, collaborative learning and innovation processes have been posed. The need for guidance in identifying and minimising the barriers to crossing semantic, syntactic and pragmatic boundaries between customers and suppliers has also been highlighted.


This study makes an important contribution to research in the field, in that how the inclusion of the customer in business networks alters current assumptions and practices is investigated.



Peters, L.D., Pressey, A.D., Gilchrist, A.J.P. and Johnston, W.J. (2018), "Involving customers in innovation: knowledgeability and agency as process variables", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 164-173.



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