Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Nicole Haggerty


This dissertation advances the concept of IT encountering, defined as the process whereby individuals pay attention, interpret and respond to cues suggesting changes to IT, in ways that appear sensible to them, and it studies IT encountering in the context of small businesses.

I review the literatures on organizational IT adoption and IT selection, and conclude that these literatures have relied on assumptions which leave unattended important aspects of the process leading to choice: the adoption literature presupposes the saliency and significance of a focal technology to a decision maker, and the IT selection literature generally assumes that suitable IT alternatives are known to the individual making choices. The reliance on these assumptions has resulted in blind spots, which have in turn led to deficiencies in our conceptualizations. I discuss these blind spots, some historical and methodological reasons behind them, and their theoretical implications (i.e., the perpetuation of the pro-innovation bias, the absence of search from our theories, and the unexplained gaps between competing explanations of IT choice).

The IT encountering perspective draws primarily on the behavioural, sensemaking, and mindfulness research traditions. Those foundations inform the empirical study, which was based on a longitudinal qualitative design, and included event-driven interviews with small business owners. The findings of the study uncover crucial aspects of the cognitive work and behavioural responses carried out by business owners during IT encounters. These aspects are composed together into a process model. My findings are consistent with previous work in noting a considerable time lag between awareness and adoption of IT innovations among small businesses, and in highlighting the crucial role of knowledge therein. The findings also differ from prior research on this topic, especially by considering a much wider range of responses and outcomes lying in between adoption and rejection of IT (e.g., tinkering, experimentation, downscaling), and by taking into account the dialectics and temporal limits of effected IT change.

This alternative perspective opens up research avenues beyond the context of study, and can also guide research efforts more attuned to the views and needs of such fundamental socioeconomic actors as small businesses.