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The venues of high tech prediction: Presenting the future at industry analyst conferences

Pollock, N   Williams, R

Information and Organisation   25 (2) 115–136

DOI: 10.1016/j.infoandorg.2015.04.001

April 2015

This paper attempts to understand the apparent paradox that although industry analyst information technology (IT) predictions often turn out to be ‘wrong’, there appears no obvious decline in the number of predictions made, the appetite for this kind of knowledge, or the standing of those producing this kind of insight. This begs the following questions: How do industry analysts come up with predictions? Who or what is involved in their shaping? How do they establish their efficacy? How do they and others evaluate these predictions? And what value do they have for those who consume them? We have been able to examine these issues empirically through ethnographic study of one of the key interfaces between the production and consumption of predictions: the industry analyst conference. In departing from studies that foreground its ‘accuracy’, we describe how this knowledge is subject to more plural methods of evaluation and accountability concerning its utility. We show how industry analysts gauge the utility of their knowledge through interacting with and provoking reactions from conference audiences. We analyse these interactions not simply as a means to socialise this knowledge but as a space for the simultaneous production and validation of predictions and the role of the audience as offering a new form of ‘public proof’. We also describe how these conferences have led to a reshaping of the kinds of experts and expertise involved in producing and communicating this knowledge. Our material is based on interviews with a number of industry analysts and observations of the conferences of the leading industry analyst firm Gartner Inc.