From caterpillar to butterfly


The Dutch innovation platform wants to broaden the concept of Dutch 'innovation power'. One of the stumbling blocks most often encountered is what is often referred to as the 'knowledge paradox'. Groen, Vasbinder and van de Linde (2006) describe this as the phenomenon wherein knowledge created by scientific research does not lead to economic activity anticipated by scientists and policymakers. The authors describe a chasm. On one side of the chasm knowledge is developed that meets the norms of scientific researchers. In this case, the criteria used are peer review, publications, and the frequency with which others may refer to these publications. On the other side of the chasm the knowledge is exploited. Scientific knowledge is combined with practical knowledge in order to solve problems or to develop new processes, products and services. This chasm became obvious when organisations came up with new innovative products, processes and services although they hardly invested in 'official research' or specific 'innovation departments'.

A common way of thinking to bridge this gap is to attempt to make scientific research more accessible and amenable to implementation. In my work however I found it not to be helpful to think in terms 'transferal' from scientific knowledge to practice. I compare it to instances in which it was discovered that training did not always help people improve performance. We started to think in terms of transfer too: transfer from training to workplace. This appeared to be an inefficient way to use our energy. It proved more fruitful to redefine what we see as training. This lead to the notion of workplace learning: design learning at work and in practice.

According to the same line of reasoning, transferal will not help us in overcoming the knowledge paradox. It is more productive (and about time!) for science to connect to the developments in practice and to make joint efforts (researchers and practitioners) to reach a state of innovation. This means that we have to look for new research methods and new ways of communicating results. No transferal is needed but rather a transformation of traditional science.
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In the article (for the special issue on Performative Social Science) I plan to write with some colleagues, we will go further into this matter, describing the unconventional research methods that we have developed during our research work:

  • The design of an exhibition with ‘pieces of art’ in order to reflect upon research results.
  • The use of posters to present research results.
  • The use of theatrical monologues.

Groen, T., Vasbinder, J. W., & van de Linde, E. (2006). Innoveren, begrippen, praktijk, perspectieven. Utrecht: Spectrum.