My thesis is a book!

At the moment my hallway is full of boxes. Each of them containing 15 dissertations. It was a great experience to finally being able to 'touch' the text, and to send it to my dear colleagues, family and friends. And, finally, I could admire the end result of the cover made by my friend and artist Mai Marie Choon Dijksma. It is actually a modern interpretation of the 'see-throughs' of old Dutch painters such as Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hoogh. An electronic version of my dissertation Learning to innovate can be found under 'articles' on this website.   

Blogging practices of knowledge workers

Weblogs of knowledge workers could contribute to establish new relationships and to the development of new ideas in organizations. This is one of the findings of researcher Lilia Efimova who will defend her dissertation entitled 'Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers' this afternoon. She focused in her research on the blogging of knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are not likely to conform to existing power structures. Rather they use their own network to keep informed and to get things done. Weblogs turned out to have an important role in this.

Read more:

Defense of my thesis: 'Learning to Innovate, a series of studies to explore and enable learning in innovation practices'

24 Sep 2009

Last months I have been busy writing my PhD-thesis. And now I have some good news to share: it is finished! Last week I was notified that all members of my graduation committee agreed upon the public defense of my dissertation on September 24. My dissertation is entitled: ‘Learning to Innovate, a series of studies to explore and enable learning in innovation practices’. At the moment I am busy preparing the text for being printed.
Next to my dissertation, the publishing company Bohn Stafleu van Loghum will publish a toolbox in which my colleagues Paul Keursten, Marloes van Rooij and myself translated the insights from the research for people in practice. It will be in Dutch.
The research that I worked on for the last five years deals with how people learn in innovation processes. I have carried out various studies in which I reconstructed innovation practices that were finished and monitored ongoing innovation practices. The analysis of these studies, combined with a literature review, led to a set of design principles. These principles were validated in practice and via an expert consultation. Subsequently, more than 100 practitioners took part in one of the four types of design labs. This study helped to find out the extent to which the principles helped the practitioners to design their own innovation practice. Some findings:

  • For innovation, the personal involvement of people is essential. It works well to take one’s own motivation as a starting point (instead of a general or organizational goal).
  • For the design of innovation processes, it appeared to be important to combine a personal approach (one’s own affinity, creativity and ambition) with a more systematic approach (a rational analysis, making use of previous experiences and developing the necessary abilities). A combination of these two approaches seems to be most promising to create breakthroughs in an innovation practice. 
  • People in practice work on innovation (their ‘work’) and are not occupied with ‘learning’. Although the concept of reflection takes a prominent role in theories on learning, participants in innovation practices rarely practice this.

Database with tools and reference material

Browsing the internet in search for articles on the use of critical friends, I came across this great website from ICVET. This group promotes new ideas and practice in teaching and learning. You can find numerous topics: from appreciative inquiry, action research and evaluation to workplace learning and working with groups. For every topic they give a short introduction, a selection of related websites and articles. These links contain practical tools, ideas for ways of working (see for instance this list of 'icebreakers').You can access the A-Z-resources via this url:

Rethinking our educational system

My colleague drew my attention to this video. Creativity expert Ken Robinson challenges the way our educational system is set up. He makes a plea to change our system in such a way that it provokes creativity, rather than kill it. His talk makes you aware of some of these strange things embedded in our educational system. For instance, says Ken Robinson, we tend to see our body primarily as a form of transport for our heads. And what to think of the story in which a doctor needs to tell the mother of a small girl that couldn't sit still at school "Your daughter isn't sick, she's a dancer. Take her to a dancing school)". This talk is on the website, a site with a rich collection of inspiring video's by 'the world's greatest thinkers and doers'. 

Personas to guide your design process

The atmosphere was very relaxed and lively at the EXPO. At this exposition students from the faculty Art Media and Technology (Utrecht school of the arts) presented their graduation projects. There were fun and innovative things. One group designed an INStable. A table that shows how often each of the persons sitting there, talks in comparison to the others. Another group made a tool to facilitate the working process of a multi disciplinary design team. They used a method of goal directed design that was developed by Cooper. What I found particularly interesting was the use of personas. It is a method used by software designers but I see opportunities to apply it in other design processes as well (e.g. the design of learning programmes). This is how it works: you define different characters that represent users of your product. Each person in the team 'is' one of these characters. When making decisions about the design, you don't say 'well, I think we should make an extra module here..' but you look at it from the perspective of your character (you are the character): 'Jennifer would definitely need some extra support here, it would make her, being a starter in the field, insecure having no...'. I think this method could help in design to:

  • focus
  • come up with new ideas
  • make decisions based upon future users instead of on a particular designer's preference
  • stand strong when you come up with a radical new solution for something

Read more:

Interesting new weblog...









My colleague in South Africa Mark Turpin has started a weblog on learning and social capital in South Africa (an interesting combination with a lot to learn from). He makes interesting and sharp observations, it is great that his thoughts are now made public via this blog. The url is:

Inspiring Ideo Method Cards









I bought myself this cool box filled with cards. On the front of each card there is a picture that makes you curious, the back shows a method that can be used as a source of inspiration during an innovation project. Ideo is an organisation that helps companies to innovate. They explain their success as a design and innovation firm by their habit of placing people at the centre of the design/innovation process. These cards show some possible ways of doing that. The cards each belong to one of four categories: 'learn' 'look' 'ask' 'try'. And that's what makes these cards so useful and interesting I think: all methods actually rely on powerful research activities. Observing ('look') and Interviewing ('ask') how people do certain things, how they experience them, is just so interesting and it enables you to really understand new points of view. Analysing these results ('learn') will lead you to the design of an experiment ('try') that will help you to move along in the innovation process.

Although many of the cards are focused on the design of products, they offer interesting starting points for all kinds of research activities. They might be used as methods that help you in an innovation or design process, they might as well serve as a perfect toolbox for the innovative researcher. Some examples:

  • Narration
    HOW As they perform a process or execute a specific task, ask participants to describe aloud what they are thinking.
    WHY This is a useful way to reach users' motivations, concerns, perceptions, and reasoning.
    EXAMPLE In order to understand how food is incorporated into people's daily routines, the IDEO-team asked people to describe what they were thinking while eating.
  • Personal inventory
    HOW Document the things that people identify as important to them as a way of cataloging evidence of their lifestyles.
    WHY This method is useful for revealing people's activities, perceptions, and values as well as patterns among them.
    EXAMPLE For a project to design a handheld electronic device, the IDEO team asked people to show and describe the personal objects they handle and encounter every day.

From fairytales to spherecards: Towards a new research methodology for improving knowledge productivity








The Forum Qualitative Social research-journal, (one of the online open-access journals) has published our article! We, that means me and some of my research-practice-colleages, are very proud of this new and unusual publication in this noteworthy journal. It is a contribution to the special issue on performative social science in which we give a new perspective on the collaboration between research and practice. In our article we combine a solid foundation on the basis of literature with msn-conversations, pictures, lively examples of innovative research methods, and we develop a new model that presents a connection cycle. The model puts into words the stages of co-production that researchers and practitioners go through when collaborating with the aim to be knowledge productive. The model connects the learning cycles of both researchers and practitioners. There are six stages of co-production: 1) curiosity, 2) approach, 3) experience, 4) ideas, 5) knowledge creation, and 6) knowledge productivity. Enjoy reading the article!

We had a great time in Lille!








Lille is a beautiful city, and we had a great time at the conference! Here are some of my impressions:

  • It was great fun to present our papers at the conference in unconventional ways: We presented the three types of supermarkets we had found in our research, by reading three stories, each written from the perspective of the researcher visiting that supermarket. We invited people to choose for one of the three shops (family/student-house/firm) to work in. The family supermarket was the most popular shop (amongst women!).
  • We engaged the participants to get to know the design principles by asking them to fill out a small self-test. It is quite a challenge to work with a test like that with academics... They will usually never just fill out such an instrument, they would always reflect upon the items and the test itself as well... But there was no need to worry: we had a very interested audience and it was great fun to hear all their comments and ideas!
  • There was a nice session where we could 'meet the editors'. Two editors (Kenneth Bartlett of Advances in Developing Human Resources and Peter Kuchinke of HRD International) told us about their journals and the publishing process. My colleague and me are very enthusiastic to do a proposal for a special issue on knowledge productivity! It was so motivating to hear that these editors are open for all kinds of new plans and ideas. There are no restricting formats (except for quality of course!).
  • There were some good presentations! Not only content wise but also the way they were presented. One of the presenters, George Boak, had a nice way of presenting results: he divided the results-section of his presentation into 'the expected' and 'the unexpected'. I'm going to remember that one!
  • Maria Cseh gave her reflection on research that produces characteristics of 'innovative leaders', 'successful change agents' etc. These researches tend to produce endless lists of all kinds of traits that altogether remind you of a 'superhuman'. She said: "Isn't it strange.. none of my friends has all these characteristics, but somehow we can go along really well, how come?". It is very true I think that these traits will never in itself make someone succesful. It is always something that happens in the relation as well.