Customers driving a firm's responsible innovation response for grand challenges: A co-active issue-selling perspective

William Y. Degbey, Elina Pelto, Christina Öberg, Abraham Carmeli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Grand challenges vary across industries and call for firms to craft a responsible innovation response to effectively address them. However, key questions concerning why firms embrace responsible innovation and the process by which they respond to grand challenges have yet to be fully answered. We integrate an issue-selling theoretical lens and the customer role from an innovation perspective to theorize about the different influencing motives that customers exert on their corresponding supplying firm to craft a more responsible innovation response to grand challenges. Based on qualitative data collected in almost a 10-year period from multiple respondents across eight customer firms and two supplying firms, we identify three core motives—regulatory, business opportunity, and socio-environmental motives—that propel customers to influence supplying firms to craft different forms of responsible innovation responses. Our research also reveals three vital socio-human capital pathways—human capital, socio-behavioral, and relationship—which, in turn, foster a co-active engagement in addressing grand challenges innovatively and responsibly. In so doing, this research advances novel theorizing on co-active engagement in responsible innovation where the customer acts as the primary champion and the supplier as the implementer. We discuss the important implications for customers and other stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-402
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Product Innovation Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Journal of Product Innovation Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Product Development & Management Association.


We thank the Editor and the anonymous reviewers of this journal, as well as the 2023 Spring‐term SCANCOR seminar participants and Director at Harvard University (Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, USA), for their helpful and constructive comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. William Degbey acknowledges the Foundation for Economic Education (Liikesivistysrahasto), Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, and the Kaute Foundation in Finland for supporting this research. In addition, Abraham Carmeli also wishes to acknowledge the support of The Solomon Lew Center for Consumer Behavior and The Henry Crown Institute of Business Research in Israel.

FundersFunder number
Kaute Foundation in Finland
Foundation for Economic Education
Marcus och Amalia Wallenbergs minnesfond


    • co-active engagement
    • grand challenges
    • issue selling
    • responsible innovation
    • sustainability


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