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IBES Alumni Story: Daniela Mühlburger

January 31, 2024

Daniela Mühlburger, BSc MA, investigated stakeholder engagement in the context of sustainability innovations in her Master’s thesis. The thesis was supervised by FH-Prof. Dr. Daniela Ortiz, Head of the Institute for Business Ethics & Sustainable Strategy (IBES) and the competence team “Change for Corporate Sustainability” (funded by MA23). In this interview, Daniela Mühlburger gives an insight into the research and writing process as well as the results of her thesis.

Daniela Mühlburger successfully completed her Master’s degree in Executive Management at FHWien der WKW in 2023. Her thesis is entitled “Managing Sustainability-Oriented-Innovations in the Rail Mobility Sector in Austria: Engaging Stakeholders in the Ideation Phase“.

What is your Master’s thesis about and what were the findings?

The aim of my thesis was to investigate how Austrian rail transport companies, as well as their suppliers and developers, involve their internal and external stakeholders in the ideation phase of sustainability-oriented innovations. To answer my research question, I first conducted a comprehensive literature exploration and then used qualitative research methods.

The interviews with managers and experts from Austrian rail transport companies revealed that diversity among stakeholders has a significant influence on the success of innovations. It turned out to be extremely beneficial to include people in the ideation phase who are not directly affected by a project in order to obtain a broader perspective. In one company, for example, two focus groups were held on the topic of family wagons. It turned out that the group that did not consist exclusively of parents, children and pedagogues was more productive than the one that only included people who were close to the family concept. I was also pleased to see that “sustainability” is now a high priority for companies. At the same time, however, it became clear that there is still a lack of standardized measurement tools for sustainable activities and the success of innovations.

What was your personal motivation for the topic?

The decision for my thesis topic resulted from my long-standing interest in and personal commitment to sustainable development. This enthusiasm was reinforced by the inspiring support and guidance of my lecturer Daniela Ortiz, who later became my supervisor. Her focused teaching and enthusiasm for corporate sustainability motivated me to deepen my knowledge in this area. I was also able to draw on the expertise I had already acquired from my Bachelor’s thesis, in which I also conducted research in the field of mobility. This experience gave me a deeper insight into the topic and encouraged me to develop further in the direction of sustainable innovations in the field of mobility.

What surprised you?

One unexpected finding was the significant impact of certain conditions on a sector’s ability to innovate. In particular, outdated laws in rail transport and different stakeholder interests in terms of politics and finance, among other things, proved to be obstacles to innovation in interviews.

What challenges did you encounter? How did you overcome them?

At the beginning of the process, I had difficulties focusing on the research question, as most students probably do. Daniela Ortiz gave me valuable food for thought here. Studying the literature was also extremely helpful in narrowing down the topic area.

In general, the theoretical part of the thesis was more challenging for me than the empirical part. On the one hand, finding and compiling suitable literature was demanding, on the other hand, I occasionally found it painful to delete what I had already written when this was necessary.

And how did you experience the supervision process?

The supervision process was intensive but extremely helpful right from the start. Daniela Ortiz gave valuable tips – from organizational matters to academic work. Her many years of experience in supervising theses were evident. I also received support from other colleagues at IBES, which opened up exciting new perspectives for me.

Where do you see potential for improvement in terms of stakeholder involvement?

Building on the realization that it is important to integrate different stakeholders in the ideation phase, I see great potential in the increased involvement of women and young people.

What advice would you give to students who are about to write a thesis?

When writing a thesis, I can highly recommend first getting a comprehensive overview of the literature and then reading specific articles. It is also important to cite correctly and thoroughly right from the start. The use of a citation program can be extremely helpful. Good time management with buffer days is also essential, as unforeseen obstacles can always arise. In the last few weeks before the submission, it was helpful for me to take days off and spend them with a colleague in the library. This allowed us to motivate each other, clarify citation and formatting issues and take regular breaks.