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Unravelling acceptance in the light of technology: Insights, perspectives and a research approach

The notion of acceptance is a prominent framework for understanding the implementation and use of digital technologies. It has thus informed much of the existing scholarship in the fields of management and organisation, as well as information systems research. In what follows, members of the project "Transforming Digitally" reflect on the concept of technology acceptance from their different disciplinary perspectives.

Developing theories and models related to the acceptance of technology has been ongoing since the early 20th century and continues to evolve (Buck 2009; Davis 1993; Neil and Richard 2012). This progression has occurred within various theoretical frameworks, encompassing inter alia cognitive, emotional, motivational and behavioural issues, as well as personal reactions (Hernandez, 2017; Weeger & Gewald, 2013). The concept of technology acceptance delves into how and why individuals or organisations adopt and apply new technologies. Hence, acceptance is understood as a necessity for a technology to benefit employees and organisations. But what constitutes the acceptance of any technology is answered differently by different disciplines.

In information systems research, the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) underpins this field with the aim to understand the adoption and use of technology. It suggests that the perceived ease of use and utility directly influence intentions to employ specific systems, which in turn affects usage behaviour (Venkatesh & Davis, 2000). This is extended by the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology which incorporates various factors that influence technology acceptance. These include performance and effort expectancy, social influences, such as peer pressure from colleagues and managers (Eckhardt, Laumer, & Weitzel, 2009), and facilitating conditions, such as training, technical support and individual characteristics (Venkatesh et al., 2003).

Beyond theoretical models

Despite their comprehensiveness, these models often manage to explain only around half of the total usage (Venkatesh et al., 2003). Consequently, further research is needed on contextual factors such as organisational culture, management support, system compatibility and perceived risks associated with technology adoption which can also significantly influence technology acceptance.

In a management context, successful technology acceptance is understood as leading to enhanced operational efficiency, better decision-making, improved customer engagement and innovation (Davenport, 2013). However, challenges such as resistance to change, cost considerations and the need for proper training are also relevant (Kettinger et al., 2008). As literature in this field has shown, especially in relation to digital technologies, organisations must adapt by fostering a culture of continual learning and digital literacy among employees (Bharadwaj et al., 2013). Indeed, this aligns with the Knowledge Behaviour Gap Model (KBGM) that emphasises the importance of knowledge as a central predictor of technology acceptance (Stibe et al., 2022), thereby focusing on the individual rather than organisational perspective.

Fundamental misconceptions?

From a sociological standpoint, the notion of acceptance carries some fundamental misconceptions. Firstly, it presupposes that what is being offered must be advantageous for those accepting (Lucke, 1998). Secondly, it indicates a lack of understanding, implying that employees or management personnel require more information or knowledge (Lewis & Sahay, 2019), as indicated in the KBG model. Moreover, acceptance puts forward a rather deficit-oriented understanding that sees the participation of employees in change processes as an unavoidable, albeit very critical endeavour (Bitsch, 2016). In this manner, acceptance relies on a rather static and passive understanding of humans and technologies which overlooks the fact that contemporary work environments constitute a dynamic undertaking (Orlikowski, 2007). Additionally, whether a certain technology may be accepted is also embedded in the wider configuration of a company that includes specific work requirements and hierarchies and that may also hinder or support the uptake of any technology (Pfeiffer, 2019).

Certainly, the different disciplines are dissimilar in terms of their specific viewpoints. Sociology favours a relational perspective and asks: How is acceptance configured in the respective organisation and how can it be achieved in relation to distinct stakeholders, such as management personnel and employees in specific departments? Moreover, what kind of qualification is needed and how might that differ in various work contexts? Furthermore, how are employee representatives involved in the process? Thus, from the perspective of sociology it is not the individual functionalities that are relevant, but how a particular technology integrates into existing work practices and how employees participate in the process (Schönian, 2023; Hirsch-Kreinsen, ten Hompel, & Kretschmer, 2019; Suchman, 1997). The management perspective asks similar questions, but considers organisational and leadership questions, in particular: What kind of organisational conditions must be in place for technology to be accepted? How will leadership change due to digital technologies? In fact, concerning change management, we know very little about the way leaders and managers use digital technologies and under which conditions different stakeholders accept and use them (Kanitz & Gonzalez, 2021).

An interdisciplinary research approach

As can be seen, while information systems and management research have overlaps in the theories and models used, such as the TAM, management and sociology research have overlaps regarding those utilising the technology. Indeed, the distinct foci and perspectives of information systems, management and sociology research as well as their intersections in terms of theories, models or levels of analysis highlight the need for an interdisciplinary research programme.

Hence the programme being undertaken is looking to provide a comprehensive and more holistic understanding of technology as well as its impact on individuals and organisations. It aims at identifying the relevant moments of participation in the implementation process and favours a proactive understanding of employees whose scepticism or even resistance must be treated as relevant insights into and appreciation of a project involved with change. As a first step, examining the use and adoption of technology requires qualitative research into these processes, especially in understanding why certain technologies are being adopted as well as how that informs productivity gains and change management. Accordingly, the bidt project “Transforming Digitally” investigates how digital technologies can be leveraged in organisational change processes to address well-known challenges in a better way, by focusing on the acceptance of such technologies.


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