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The Technological Gatekeeper A Definition


The gatekeeper construct describes scientific and technical information flow both within the firm and as
a link to the external environment. Individuals who fill this role have also been described as
organizational "boundary agents" (Organ, 1971). In working toward a definition of the term "gate-
keeper," studies have found that individuals who are named by others in the organization as key sources
of technical information are also most likely to be identified as having the best technical ideas. These
individuals also tend to differ from others in the organization regarding external communication
channels. They tend to have a wider expo- sure to scientific and technical literature, publish more
papers, attend more profession- ial meetings, and have more personal contacts

external to the organization than do their colleagues. : Prior studies examining the gatekeeper
phenomenon have gathered data in highly technical industries, e.g.,: the aerospace in- dustry. These
industries are characterized by :rapid changes in relevant technologies and by relatively high levels of
uncertainty about sources of information in the environment that are appropriate to the future of the
re- 'search mission of a particular firm. One focus of the present study was to determine if the
gatekeeper construct would be found in industries and firms with less change in 'their environments. :
Data were collected from individuals working in R&D laboratories of six large corporations in the
Midwest. Two firms in each of three industries were selected for this study. The industries were:
computer manufacturing, food manufacturing, and paper manufacturing. The industries were selected
to vary on a continuum of uncer- tainty of the technical environment. : Duncan's (1972) measure of
perceived uncertainty of the environment was given to individuals comprising research units of the six
firms. Each industry was found to be 'homogenous on the mean level of uncertain- ty. However, there
were significant differences, regarding perceived environmented uncertainty, between industries, The
highest perceived uncertainty was experienced by the food manufacturing industry, followed 'by the
computer and paper manufacturing industries. : In the food and paper manufacturing in- dustries, the
selected firms were well match- ed in terms of size and general research dir- ection* The two firms in
the computer in- 'dustry were not matched in terms of their general research direction. The research
unit 'in one computer company was focused on the development of computer hardware. The other
computer firm's research unit de- velops software. Every effort was made to