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architectural evolution, functional emergence and diversification in engineering systems


The evolution of the architecture of long-lived complex Engineering Systems have important consequences and can happen in unexpected ways. This work explores this issue through the study of the architectural evolution of Municipal Electric Utilities (MEUs) and their diversification into broadband services in the United States. Our research seeks answers to questions of process (why and how did this happen?), impact (what was the economic effect of this evolution?), theory (what is the phenomenon that explains this evolution?), and method (how can we study such changes?). This research makes four main contributions. First, it uncovers a new behavior of complex technological systems: small technological and contextual changes affecting internal components and functions can produce the emergence of new external functions. Second, we propose a new framework to study the architectural evolution of socio-technical systems. Third, it offers evidence that, in the case of MEUs, this behavior is observable and measurable. Finally, the thesis provides a framework with which to formulate intervening policy measures.