‘Innovation biographies’ can be described as a research approach which combines different methodological building blocks, namely narrative interviews, ego-centred networks analysis and triangulation procedures. With a distinct focus on the small scale process level, the key interest of innovation biographies is to re-construct a specific innovation process from its first idea until implementation and to uncover relevant knowledge flows and their dynamics through time and space (Butzin & Widmaier, 2015). Combining these research methods, along with the micro-level unit of analysis, allows to integrate dynamic changes into the construction of innovation networks.
The narrative interview(s) with a key person that has closely accompanied the innovation process represents the central mode of data collection. Via snowballing, further interview partners that have significantly contributed to the innovation process are identified. The actors can be based both within and outside the innovating organisation (e.g. collaboration partners). Based on these interviews and subsequent desk research, the social network of the innovation is identified and mapped. The network’s central node is neither a person nor an organization but the innovation process itself. The network’s actor composition is combined with geographical and time data (Butzin, 2013; Butzin & Widmaier, 2015).
Inspired by the ‘follow-the-thing’ tradition (e.g. Cook, 2004), innovation biographies follow specific development processes throughout time and space, thereby exploring relational actor configurations and knowledge dynamics associated with the innovation process under investigation. Innovation biographies expand the idea of ‘follow-the-thing’ to ‘follow-the-idea’, keeping the open and explorative direction of research (Ibert et al., 2014).