Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.65 MB)

Exploring the paradoxes of addressing sustainability in commercial research: A study of scientist views

Download (1.65 MB)
posted on 2021-12-08, 12:01 authored by Ashby, Mary

Research scientists increasingly engage in commercial research as well as face the need to address sustainability by taking into account the social, environmental and economic consequences of development activities. This role often entails addressing contradictory imperatives. Though paradox has pervasive effects on science work and managing for sustainability, it remains underexplored in these contexts. This research is positioned at the novel intersection of three bodies of work: sustainability in the context of science work, commercial research, and paradox in management and organisation. It engages a sensemaking perspective to examine the experiences of research scientists with managing sustainability in commercial research and explicates the tensions they perceive, as well as the ways in which they respond to them.  The study is primarily based on a set of 44 semi-structured interviews conducted with research scientists across four Crown Research Institutes in New Zealand. It offers two sets of findings. First, it identifies three main paradoxes research scientists perceive and elucidates their dynamics. These include the paradoxes of service ethos, role identity, and professional integrity. Second, it explicates perceived responses to these paradoxes, both constraining and productive. The former comprise the practices of opposing, isolating, over-committing, and suppressing. The latter, productive responses, consist of a range of management tactics premised on differentiation or integration. Differentiation tactics include diversification in scope of services, variation in work organisation and responsibilities, and incrementalism. Integration tactics used with external parties comprise identifying financial synergies between public and commercial projects, (re)framing problems and solutions for clients, (re)positioning across roles and identities, as well as harnessing economies of scope by co-authoring with clients.  This research contributes to the literature on research management by casting the emphasis on perceived paradoxes to be navigated when addressing sustainability in commercial research. It also offers a secondary contribution to the literature on paradox in management by contextualising organisational paradoxes and their management in science work. Specifically, it provides new insight into the ways by which scientists’ engagement with sustainability cuts across ethos and shapes their views on professional integrity. It also contributes to a nuanced understanding of role identity by focusing on the tensions research scientists at Crown Research Institutes experience in the dual role of advocates of change towards sustainability and allies of business. Altogether, this work extends existing organisational research by offering insights into scientists’ experience of paradox and its management when engaging with sustainability in commercial research.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Business School (Faculty of Commerce)


Riad, Sally; Davenport, Sally