Public procurement and innovation: is defence different?

Student thesis: Phd


Public procurement is increasingly being studied as a demand-side innovation policy tool, but existing research assumes that defence procurement is different from non-defence public procurement. Defence procurement thus gets side-lined in public procurement and innovation studies. The aim of this thesis is to respond to this gap in knowledge by studying public procurement in military and civilian contexts from different perspectives to understand whether and how defence is different. At the core of this thesis are three original research articles. The first is a systematic review of the literature on public procurement and innovation, analyzing the content of ninety-nine journal articles published between 1976 and 2017. The paper documents the evolution of existing research, highlights dominant and overlooked themes, and characterizes the corpus. The second article applies institutional theory to understand challenges in public procurement. It focusses on words and vocabularies as indicators of institutional logics. Topic modelling of texts related to four procurement projects in the UK (Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, Ajax armoured vehicles, railway rolling stock for Thameslink and Intercity Express programmes) shows significant differences in the vocabulary choices of the participants involved in the public procurement process. Vocabulary differences (and, by extension, institutional differences) are more likely to be found in the field of defence than in the field of public transport (the civilian field under study). The third paper investigates public opinion towards major projects and observes changes in public opinion over time for the aforementioned projects. While there are some similarities in the factors that explain periods of positive and negative sentiment, there are some project-specific and sector-specific factors as well. It is also possible to observe the Anna Karenina principle in the relationship between the public and public projects: factors which explain periods of positive or rising public opinion are few in number and common across projects while factors behind periods of negative or falling public opinion are more numerous and sometimes unique. Studying defence and civilian public procurement comparatively reveals some similarities and some differences. The empirical work shows many assumptions pertaining to defence procurement (greater public legitimacy and the existence of imperfect markets and complex contracts) to be incorrect or to be found in cases of non-defence procurement as well. It challenges the belief that defence is peculiar. From a management perspective, there is scope for cross-learning and sharing experiences between defence and other sectors of the economy on matters of procurement and innovation. As a research project, this thesis also demonstrates the use of a variety of data sources (journal articles, parliamentary select committee hearings, newspapers) and multiple methods of analysis (text analysis in particular through word co-occurrence networks, topic modelling, and sentiment analysis). This methodological contribution is additionally valuable for the research community.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew James (Supervisor) & John Rigby (Supervisor)


  • sentiment analysis
  • topic modelling
  • systematic literature review
  • innovation procurement
  • complex products and systems (COPS)
  • megaprojects
  • defence procurement
  • public procurement

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